Online schooling is on the rise in South Africa, and more families are opting for the flexibility and other benefits of at-home learning.
However, it’s important for parents to be mindful of providing a child-friendly workspace that is conducive to learning. A safe, comfortable and well-organised environment is essential for your child to thrive at their online school.
When lockdowns in 2020 shut schools down, architect, Henriette Frohlich opted for online school for her son, and saw how fellow parents were struggling to set up suitable workspaces for their children at home. She realised that there was a great need for affordable child-friendly workspace furniture that was locally made.
Alongside her husband Markus, an engineer, they started work on designing and producing smart and adjustable furniture and launched HF Design. Henriette says, “Most parents embrace the need to invest in a good curriculum, but few pay attention to their child’s learning environment. We encourage parents to create workspaces for their children that are accessible. That way your child can control his/her own learning experience and journey, without having to be directed/guided by parents. Also think about improving lighting, reducing noise and ensuring your child is sitting comfortable on workspace furniture that is made for his/her bodysize. That way your child will be set up for a lifetime of learning.”
Henriette and Markus will be joining Koa Academy Principal, Mark Anderson as well as Occupational Therapist, Nasreen Cariem for a free parent’s webinar ‘Setting Up for Home Learning Success’ on Tuesday, 14 June from 7:30pm to 8:30pm. Nasreen says that parents of at-home learners need to be on the lookout for the tell-tale signs that the child’s workspace is not working well for them.
“Be aware if your child is regularly distracted and inattentive, or not completing tasks,” she says. “It’s also important to hear them if they are complaining about their learning set-up. It can be easy to assume that children may be acting out or presenting excuses, when in fact their struggles with their learning environment are real and need to be addressed so that they enjoy being in their workspace.”
Mark highlights a fundamental for at-home learners – “Emotional safety is key,” he says. “This is the parent’s number one job for a child learning at home and will be the greatest indicator of the child’s academic success. We all learn best when we feel secure and in control. When you are setting up your child’s learning space, consult them! They need to be personally invested in their own workspace. Set your child up in a space that is calm, clean and has good lighting. It doesn’t have to be dead quiet, but it does need to be controlled. Give them a dedicated space for their learning where they can store everything they need, such as their computer and stationery. It doesn’t have to be big, but it does need to be theirs. This is particularly important for younger learners who are still mastering the practicalities of executive functions like following a schedule and meeting deadlines.”
Henriette highlights 3 basics for an at-home learner’s workspace:
The most important thing is lighting – “If your child is struggling to absorb the content, they will lose interest quickly. Bad lighting may also contribute towards poor eyesight later in life. Many parents place their child’s desk near the window, which can lead to blinding natural light or overheating of the work area. Best is to position your child’s desk perpendicular to the window, allowing natural light to fall on the desk. Natural light is the best, followed by indirect light.
The second most important thing is comfort – “Your child must sit comfortably at their desk. The desk and bench or chair should be set at the right height, so as to strengthen core muscles and prevent slouching and discomfort. If a child is not sitting comfortably, they won’t sit for long.”
The third most important thing is noise management – “Is your child’s workspace in an area that is shielded from disruptive noises? You can use room dividers such as plants, bookshelves, screens or curtains to create a private space for your child and make quality headphones available for online sessions if they are sharing space with other members of the family. Ensure that your child can control the noise in their area, so that they can focus and concentrate when necessary.”
Nasreen agrees with Henriette’s top priorities. She says, “For both older and younger learners, a well-organised space with adequate lighting is of utmost importance.
An environment which is relatively free of distractions helps to enable concentration, and a comfortable chair and desk with the right ergonomics will allow for prolonged sitting as well as writing comfortably. The child’s work area doesn’t have to be expansive but there should be adequate space for school materials, stationery and online devices.
In making set-up choices, parents need to consider their children’s particular needs and learning styles. Some siblings work well sharing the at-home learning space, others may be territorial and do better on their own.
For some children, having the family around in the background promotes accountability and ensures they don’t feel lonely, while other focus better if they are on their own. Obviously, the family’s resources in terms of space available, furnishings and storage systems also need to be taken into consideration.”
Parents of at-home learners have a host of questions when it comes to setting up and organising a workspace for their child. Should siblings share an at-home learning space? Is it okay for my child to do their schoolwork on their bed? Is an entry-level laptop adequate for online school? What are the best storage hacks for school materials? I’m working from home, should my children share my workspace so that I can keep an eye on them?
Mark, Henriette, Markus and Nasreen will be unpacking the answers at the ‘Setting Up For Home Learning Success’ webinar for parents on Tuesday, 14 June from 7:30pm to 8:30pm. Join the conversation which includes a Q&A session with the experts. Register here