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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Oefinger

Back to (Virtual) School: Tips for Setting up a Virtual Learning Space

School is back and so am I. I took some time off work this summer. I hope you were able to, as well.

Most of the Bay Area is starting off the school year with distance learning. Like many of you, I’ve been thinking about this shift a lot. While we received a taste of virtual learning this spring, rolling out a fresh, new school year - with all its promises - on a fully virtual platform feels different. It somehow seems more serious. Instead of “let’s just survive until summer,” we are now accepting and acclimating to new norms. What does this mean for our kids? How will their mental health be impacted? What about their social skills? What about all the other important functions of schools – meals, counseling, specialized support, social-emotional learning, extracurriculars… etc.? How will virtual learning further widen equity gaps? Oh and the screen time… how does all this screen time impact a developing brain? And so many more…

These are important questions (and somehow only peripherally related to the grave health and economic concerns that are also central to a global pandemic). Sadly, I do not have answers, but I am interested in exploring and thinking about these topics as we move through the school year. Setting up a conducive virtual learning space is one step for helping students ground in their school work and experience success this school year. Here are some tips for setting up a virtual learning environment for the students in your home:

1. Consistent workspace. Carving out a consistent space and time for schoolwork is helpful. With virtual learning (like working from home), students have minimal separation between school and home lives. Setting up the frame of where and when work happens can increase focus and productivity.

2. Pack a bag. Many of us have limited space, especially if much of the family is home. If your child shares a desk or workspace, encourage them pack a school bag or “portable desk.” Keeping materials together and organized can support students in staying focused and on-task.

3. Limit auditory distractions. Quiet spaces often work best for distance learning, especially as students engage in synchronous lessons. Headphones may be helpful in limiting auditory distractions. White noise may also be helpful in drowning out background sounds.

4. Limit visual distractions. Working in a quiet corner of the home or maybe while facing a wall can help reduce visual distractions. Clear, clutter-free workspaces can also be helpful. Instead of having all of their school supplies available at all times, perhaps only take out the materials necessary for the immediate assignment.

5. Prepare materials in advance. Just like students may pack their bag the night before school, they can prep materials before class. Think about: computer, charger, Zoom/Google classroom links, passwords, wifi connections, class readings, etc.

6. Turn down the tech distractions. During virtual learning times, try to limit the technology distractions. Silence cell phones. Set devices to Do Not Disturb mode. Turn off the notifications on the computer. These interruptions divert cognitive capacity (brain power) away from schoolwork. Frequent interruptions can make it hard to focus, learn new information, and understand dense material.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. What’s working for you and your family? Please reach out – I’d love to hear from you. -Dr. Lisa.

DISCLAIMER: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not imply nor establish any type of therapeutic relationship. It should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. If you think you need immediate assistance, call 911 or your local mental health crisis hotline.


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