Kirsten Francis

Whether your family is making a long-term commitment to homeschooling or just trying to accommodate another semester of virtual learning, setting up a functional, efficient, and smarter workspace is essential. Make the most of your space and time with these expert tips to help everyone ace their daily routine.

Related: Virtual Summer Camps Are Opening Up to Help Kids Learn While Social Distancing

Don’t try to copy a classroom.

Most homes don’t have the space or resources to mimic a school classroom—which isn’t necessarily a drawback, says school architect Prakash Nair of Education Design International. Classrooms designed to accommodate dozens of children with a variety of skills and interests may be the norm, but that doesn’t always make them the best learning environment for your specific child. “The last thing you want to do at home is duplicate that,” says Nair. “What happens at school is probably the least important part of what real learning is.” Involving your children in your own day-to-day activities like cooking, paying your bills, working in your garden, or volunteering offers them hands-on learning experiences they wouldn’t get from sitting at a desk.

If you do need a dedicated workspace—either to complete assignments sent home virtually or to help your full-time homeschoolers focus on their tablework—Nair suggests a few key factors: a desk and chair properly scaled for your child’s height so they can work comfortably; as much natural daylight as you can access; and easy-to-reach storage for their supplies so they can stay in control of getting items out and putting them away. Other helpful elements include a space for creativity, whether that means painting, building, coding, or songwriting; sensory areas for younger children; designated spots where kids can be alone and where they can play socially; “restorative” areas where brains can get a screen-time break by being in (or looking at) nature; and a sense of privacy and ownership over their space, whether that’s by setting up their desk or simply decorating a pencil case.

Keep it organized.

Once you have the major elements of your space defined, smart organizing and storage can help you make the most of it—especially if the kids are working in a shared area, like the kitchen or family room. “Having a dedicated, organized space lowers the stress levels for everyone. We are creatures of habit, and kids especially thrive off of routines,” says organizer Marie Jackson. Put your cookie cutters in storage to make room in a kitchen cabinet for schoolwork supplies, invest in a rolling cart that lets you move supplies from room to room, or install a simple shelf for keeping supplies within easy reach. Clear spinning organizers and makeup trays offer compartments sized for markers, pens, pencils, and scissors, while a lidded bin with removable inserts allows you to sort study supplies, chargers, and headphones, or craft essentials in separate sections. “Organization saves time and allows children to be more independent when approaching tasks and assignments—this allows everyone more freedom throughout their day,” says Jackson. “Getting a functional system in place eliminates the chaos.”

Make it beautiful.

“Students need to have the feeling that ‘This is my space,'” says Nair. But families adding a homeschooling area to a main living space might not want to incorporate typical elementary school décor into their style choices. Jackson recommends kids’ desks from places like Crate and Barrel, The Container Store, and Wayfair to create a functional and attractive space, while designer Ashley June McClendon-Reese of House of June likes cube bookcases and colorful accessories. A bright, comfortable rug with plush pillows offers a cozy spot for reading assignments or afternoon snacks; a folding tent creates a quiet spot for writing; and framed classroom posters for younger kids—showing the alphabet, days of the week, months of the year, or sight words—add educational value without overwhelming your décor. “Typically adults will lean more toward neutral colors or solid upholstered pieces,” she says. “With the kids home, now is the perfect time to mix in some easily-replaced pieces to bring some energy and fun into the space.”