As much of the country returns to school in some mode of distance or hybrid remote learning, you may be working to set up your at-home space to facilitate learning for a variety of ages and learning styles. Because our son received extended school year services this summer remotely, we have had an extra amount of time to practice – and adjust to- distance learning.
Here are some resources for back to school distance learning as you gear up for the coming school year.
Must-Have Resources for Back to School:
In the age of distance learning, a few essential components have emerged. They include:
School districts, internet providers, and local government entities are increasingly supporting families who need assistance with internet access. If the cost is not an issue for your family, it still may be worthwhile to contact your internet provider. I was able to use the chat feature (much better than sitting on hold!) to upgrade our speed, AND to get unlimited data for without an increase in our monthly bill. You won’t know what deals are out there without reaching out to the company.
If you haven’t sat in a school-issued desk in decades, you may not remember the hard surfaces, the awkward angle of some writing surfaces, and the frequent inaccessibility for left-handed learners. Seating is an area where your home environment should actually prove to be an improvement over school options. One of my children sits on a large Pilates ball most of the day – which has the added benefit of providing core-strengthening balance and stability. The other most often uses an upholstered kitchen chair, with or without a sensory disk in place. Both will occasionally switch to a couch or “desk” chair, depending on their mood.
Earphones or Earbuds
Unless your home is 1) huge and 2) pindrop silent (and our autism family is NEVER silent!) you will need some sort of earphones or earbuds for most of your family. In our house, everyone uses earphones except our autistic son; for him, it would just be ONE more sensory thing for him to manage. So he is loud, and skips the distracting wires and, um, chewable, earbuds, and everyone else uses headphones as needed.
Think critically about what non-technological activities can and should be done daily, and weave those into your distance learning schedule. Toothbrushing, mailbox checking, dishwashing, plant watering – the specifics don’t matter, the focus OFF the screen does. We usually encourage at least one break to be reading ON PAPER, and another to involve physical exercise – sit ups, push ups, walking or swimming.
Nice to Have Resources for Back To School:
These are a few things that are not at all necessary, but are very nice extra resources to support your back to school distance learning setup.
Google Home (or Alexa or…)
The brand is not important, but the functionality is. If you have a smart-home device already, then here’s a different use for it. If you don’t have one, then use the alarm feature on your phone or your child’s device for the same purpose. In our house we use the alarm feature to function a bit like bells would in a traditional school setting. They help remind us all when certain activities will be starting, when to take those afore-mentioned sensory breaks, and when the school day “ends” in our house.
If the device that your child will use for distance learning has a keyboard, then a laptop stand can help lift that screen to a reasonable height. One like this as a built-in fan, to cool the laptop, and extends to an impressive height, easily holding a larger device. This one has a slimmer profile, and doesn’t extend as high, but is great for smaller spaces and more easily portable and adjustable. Both were welcome additions to our house, and cost around $40 – a small price to pay for less shoulder and neck tension, and less eye strain.
If your child’s device is an iPad or other tablet, then a tripod can serve the same purpose – lifting the screen to a reasonable height, and often providing more stability that the “kickstand” that flips off the back of many standard cases. For our austistic son it was especially important to switch away from a laptop with a (tempting!) keyboard, and streamline with an iPad on a tripod.
Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
Once you have lifted your screen, you will find that the keyboard may not be at the most ideal height. Enter the wireless keyboard and mouse. By combining these devices (usually bluetooth-paired) with your laptop or tablet you can improve the ergonomics of your back to school distance learning set up.
This keyboard is similar to one we’ve been using.. I have used it that way to be a very portable note-taking set up at conferences and other similar events.
This mouse comes in dozens of colors and is easy to set up. On occasion, I have had issues when working in very close proximity to others with the EXACT same mouse – we have started “controlling” each other screens. So this one is best for when people will be working in separate spaces.
Making the Best of At-Home Learning
Distance Learning Special Education via The Piece of Mind Retreat
Educator Experience: Collected Thoughts on School Reopening and Distance Learning