Designated Space for Schoolwork – Make sure to set up a workspace with intention. While it may be easy to have children hop on the couch or sit at the kitchen table, having a space that is specifically used for academics will help them to compartmentalize and associate the space with focus and learning. There should be a concrete difference between a place to work and a place of rest. Ensure that this space is distraction-free and set away from the hustle and bustle of the home. Give your child some autonomy by allowing them to decorate their space and take ownership. A small desk, a card table in a quiet corner or a small bedside table set up in a private space are all options for workstations that children can make their own.
Remove Distractions – Take a moment to sit down at your child’s workstation and note any potential distractions. Some will jump right out, such as a TV or box of enticing toys within their line of sight, but some may be less obvious. Are they near a window facing a busy street or a dog park? Is there a substantial amount of visual clutter around their desk, such as busy posters or a family photo collage? Is their desk covered in mail, knickknacks, or arts and crafts supplies? If removing items is not an option, consider creating a physical barrier between your child and any environmental distractions by using a desktop study carrel/shield. Taking these distractions away will help a student to focus their energy on attending to school, as opposed to ignoring it and resisting distractions.
Organize Materials – Depending on your child’s age, they may need help organizing their workspace to be prepared for the day. For our young students, consider using toolboxes or tabletop organizers to hold their materials. A toolbox may have crayons, markers, scissors, pencils, erasers and glue sticks. If your child benefits from sensory supports, consider a toolbox with manipulatives, as appropriate per occupational therapy (OT) recommendations. Children are often very visual learners and may benefit from color-coded or designated folders for each subject or class they are taking. If a workspace is shared, keep your child’s personal materials all in one location, such as a personalized storage container that is easily portable, accessible and organized. Finally, remember to consider digital organization. Students are often told how to label and save documents by teachers at school. With the move to remote learning, children may need assistance organizing documents, folders and classwork on their computer so that they can easily find everything in the moment.
Adequate Lighting – Assess the lighting in your student’s workspace by checking to see whether there is any glare from the sun on the screen, whether they could benefit from a desk lamp to better illuminate their paper and determine whether there is a specific location with good natural light. If natural light is preferred, it’s best practice to position your electronic at a right angle to the light so the light is neither in front nor behind the screen. Avoid fluorescent light bulbs whenever possible. One more thing to consider is the fact since this past March, students and professionals alike have noticed an increase in headaches and visual fatigue due to spending substantial portions of the day in front of a screen. Technology is visually straining. Consider investing in a pair of blue light-reducing glasses, a newly popular solution to this problem that has shown promise for improving adolescent sleep, mood and activity levels (Algorta et al., 2018).
The Rule of 90 Degrees – When sitting at a table, children’s hips, knees and elbows should all be positioned at 90 degrees. Feet must be firmly planted on the floor. This helps to create a solid foundation. When children have a strong foundation and postural stability, they are set up to freely and accurately use their fine motor skills. Being grounded allows for easier writing, typing, cutting and manipulation of all the tools necessary for learning.
Appropriate Furniture – To meet the Rule of 90, it is important to consider the furniture that your student is using. Furniture needs to be the correct size or be modified to help children fit comfortably. If a desk/table is positioned too high, it will cause extra strain and fatigue. If your child’s feet do not reach the floor, consider using a step stool or fortified box for their feet. With regard to the chair itself, avoid options that spin and slide around as they are often distracting and make it difficult for children to pay attention.
Perez Algorta, G., Van Meter, A., Dubicka, B. et al. Blue blocking glasses worn at night in first year higher education students with sleep complaints: a feasibility study. Pilot Feasibility Stud 4, 166 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40814-018-0360-y
About the Co-authors:
Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services. She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.