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Creating a Homeschooling Environment that Works


Guest post from Graham Coath

I want to begin this article with some honesty in case you are already thinking about not reading on because of the title. I know where you are coming from. Homeschooling prior to lockdown I got a 'D' grade if I was lucky. I was no super parent, I certainly didn't do enough homeschooling to have any bragging rights. What entitles me therefore to write this article, indeed, this series of articles around homeschooling as this is the first in a mini-series. Well, I meet these criteria;

  • I am a parent. Five children, four boys and one girl ranging from 4 years up to 19. So I understand what learning looks like at different ages with one child about to start school and the other just entering their second year studying film at university.
  • I understand ergonomics and environments. I have been working in the field of ergonomic adjustments off and on for over 20 years and as part of my business I conduct workplace assessments for clients, helping them to improve their working environment.
  • I understand something about educational trends. This month I am co-hosting an event called the Edtech Thought Leaders Network Event and prior to starting up my own assessment business I have just spent the last five years involved in various educational technology businesses where our audience was further and higher educational professionals and the conversation was always about pedagogy and learner inclusion.

In this series, I want to share with you what I have learnt both through my career and my experience as a parent, especially since Covid-19 where I was thrust into homeschooling on a daily basis as part of the family routine.

Homeschooling Environments

So when we talk about creating a homeschooling environment what does that mean? Do we need to suddenly re-decorate every room to look like school with artwork on the walls and clay models drying on the window ledges? Rows of computer tablets on small desks and stacks of those trays that always end up eating some items of clothing before the end of term?

Well not every room but yes you need to expect some creative 'mess'. With five children here this house is always a hive of creativity and much of the space is taken up to allowing that creativity to flourish. For anyone who loves those 'designer house' television shows where everything is white and nothing is on the floor..don't have five children. Or if you do change your mind about what space should look like.

The first key point is... depending on the study that is going on and at what academic level, different physical spaces will be needed. My youngest school learner who was 6 during lockdown needed lots of open space, places to create, draw, cut, stick but also more tidy space to focus when it came to writing work or maths.

My 11 year old and 15 year old both needed to do a lot of computer based work. So quiet space with room for books, a computer or tablet and somewhere to write. We are fortunate to have several rooms here but even here at times during lockdown shifting between rooms for some of our young learners was required in order to find peace to carry on with tasks.

Good Ergonomics

From an ergonomic perspective, the priority should always be to help your family study effectively and comfortably. These two things have to go together. It is no use giving someone something you think will help them to be more comfortable if they can't get on with it!

All our rooms are well lit and where we could we went outside for some sun when computers weren't needed. Good light is essential if you don't want everyone to end up with poor eyesight before they are 30. If you don't have good light, invest in some task lights or just better house lights.

For the youngest, helping them sit at the right height at the dining room table was the priority. This large work surface made most sense. It had enough space around it to have drawings laid out for cutting and sticking and then space at the end for writing or using a tablet. There were three really useful bits of kit we used here.

  • seat cushion for the dining room chair. Which not only raised the sitting height but also made sitting on a hard chair for any length of time much more comfortable. A laptop stand to raise the tablet up when watching videos
  • copy holder to hold sheets of paper or books more vertically to avoid poor back and neck postures when writing or reading. The Kensington one also becomes a white board which is great for doing sums on!

For the older children their needs were more around computer work. So we sat them at proper home desks. They then used either operator chairs or static chairs with adjustable back support which can help to turn a chair with no back support into one that gives good support to the lumbar spine and helps prevent slouching.

All the older children were provided with laptop stands and separate keyboards and mice for their computers. As the eldest moved rooms regularly he used a more portable wireless keyboard from Kensington and their small SureTrack Mouse which comes in cool colours too, ideal for a 19 year old where credibility is as important as anything. As my 15 year old had a permanent set up he used the Kensington Pro Fit Ergo Wireless keyboard with vertical mouse which he found more comfortable for all that typing he was doing. The teachers really worked him hard! He certainly did the most computer work.

Mix it up!

As I also say to workplace clients, my advice at home for good home study - mix it up! Studying without breaks away from the desk becomes unproductive. So making sure that time at the desk is broken up with times of play, family walks, even dare I say it helping with family chores! Is all good for ensuring that physically no one is sat for too long without moving and that they remain keen to learn. Days should always end with tidying up and some praise for all the good effort. If you start the following day in a mess you will end up with a bigger mess. Planning the day ahead the night before is also essential so you can get an idea of what amount of time and input from you is required.

So I hope this has given you some food for thought about homeschooling. If you have anything you would like to share please comment below.

I look forward to exploring more topics around homeschooling with you through my regular articles on here and the up and coming video blog during the coming month.