The New Distance Learning Center and Home Office 2020

 

Dear Laurel,

Please, please, please do a post about how to set up a home office and distance learning center.

Not only am I working from home full-time, but I’m “home-schooling” my kids full-time. Or rather, our home has become a 100% distance learning center.

 

There are papers and clutter, and to use your favorite word, “crap,” EVERYWHERE!

 

Laurel, you have no idea. I’m up every day at 6:00 AM. Three kids, one who’s 16, and if I’m not supervising his every move, will be playing video games and looking at anime. Then, there’s the newly hormonal 8th-grade “you-are-not-the-boss-of-me” girl. She’s a pretty good student but an utter slob.

Finally, there’s my baby, a second-grader who’s struggling with reading, still.

Three children at three different stages and in three different schools.

What were WE thinking?

Did I mention our cat who chews paper left laying around? You know, the old “the dog ate my homework?” Well, it’s no joke!

And, just to add one more layer of paint, my job as a publication editor can be stressful.

All of this is in addition to the pervasive fear we face, just venturing out of our home.

 

The husband has to fend for himself. He’s a physician, so there’s no working from home for him.

 

Lucky guy.

However, by the time 8:00 pm rolls around and on top of work, supervisory duties, cooking, and cleaning, I’m trashed.

If we could just get a handle on the paper, clutter, disorganization for my home office, and distance learning center, I think that would help alleviate a lot of my stress.

Please, help! I’m sure there are many in a similar situation.

Best,

Alotta Klutter – (But please call me Lottie)

 

***

 

Okay, thanks, Lottie. Those who’ve been reading for a while can probably figure out that this is a fictitious “Dear Laurel” letter. However, at least one of those kids was mine, as was the paper eating cat. The others are situations I have heard of over the years.
And yes, I know all too well that crushing fatigue that I experienced being a working mom and raising two kids, not during a pandemic.

My heart goes out to everyone during this difficult time. But, for parents now faced with a brand-new school year and no end in sight to our new way of life, I can’t even begin to imagine.

So, just know that you’re not alone and that most of us are muddling through the best we can.

Therefore, please feel free to either vent or share some wisdom that might help others to cope.

As for me helping you with your clutter mess due to the homeschooling–

 

Well…………………………………………………………………………………….

 

If you read Sunday’s post regarding my bathroom vanity, you will fully grasp the folly of having me help you with anything having to do with organization.

It’s definitely not my strength.

However, I was a working Mom at home who did raise two high-maintenance boys into adulthood. That went on for two decades.

 

Therefore, for anyone interested, here’s my three cents.

 

In the case of Lottie, who more than has her hands full, I would see if it might be possible to hire an au pair. Ideally, of course, she would be living in your home. So, there would need to be space for her.

If all of the children have their own rooms, is it possible for two to double up? Perhaps your au pair is a college student or newly out of college. In exchange for room and board and a small salary, she would supervise the kids during the school day, make their lunch and perhaps even make dinner.

She could also help the kids tidy up their work stations.

 

Work Stations? Laurel, are you barking mad?

 

We live in a large city with two kids and two small bedrooms. Our entire home is 1100 square feet. And, no, we cannot move. We can’t afford to move. We paid over one million for our apartment and would be lucky to get $700,000 for it only five years later. That is if we could even sell it! As you know, after reading your post about Boston real estate, there is a glut of apartments for sale and rent in large cities.

 

Yes, I realize that many of you have enormous challenges in setting up a distance learning center.

 

But, this is when I think it would behoove you to enlist the help of professionals to help you clear out the current mess and create systems to make your home function more smoothly.

My own experience raising kids entailed family meetings and posted rules for conduct and expectations.

Rewards are given for completed tasks. Consequences are given if the rules aren’t followed.

 

YES! It’s horrible. You don’t want to be the police. I know that. I understand.

 

But, if you are still struggling with child-rearing, then you need to understand that your children aren’t your friends, not just yet. They are still learning how to be humans.

Yes, there are exceptions. My wasband and I used to call these “pretend children.” They are children who do what they’re told to do and virtually raise themselves without issue.

However, if you have “real children,” (rambunctious and sassy) they still need to be taught to care for their things and be given jobs to do around the house. They can be taught, it’s just more difficult.

In fact, this happens in their real classroom.

So, maybe just before lunch, there will be a 5-minute time to organize and tidy their things. The same will happen at the end of the school day, just before snack and free-time. Ten minutes- tops and done.

 

Please note that chores should be followed by a small reward of some sort.

 

I learned all of this because my younger son has special needs. However, these techniques will work for all children.

Now, did I say that they are going to comply? They might not– at first. That’s when they get a computer block on their games. Or, something like that. I used to hide my son’s Nintendo controls. When he did what he was supposed to do, he got them back.

OR, you could also tell them that in ten years, you are going to start a blog where you will write about them and their horrible attitude in great detail.

Okay, Mom. #whatevs #eyeroll

Just know that the hardships WILL pass. And, one day, your wild child may very well become your best friend. It happened to me.

I found this article that has some other great advice for dealing with distance learning.

 

As for your immediate needs in your office and in-home distance learning center, here are some things I recommend.

 

If you can swing it financially, I would call Done and Done for a consultation or in-home service.

Ann and Kate are geniuses at problem-solving your organizational issues and making the most of the space you have. You don’t need a lot of square footage to create a fully functional home learning space.

But, also know that Done and Done’s in-home services follow all protocols for wearing masks, distancing, and sanitization. Also, they offer virtual consults via Facetime if you are not comfortable having other people in your home.

 

Yes, it costs money, but a nervous break-down is going to cost you even more.

 

If money is super-tight, and spending it is only going to hasten the breakdown, then I would do the next best thing. That would be to sign up for their ten-module home organization course. This comprehensive course includes home offices and children’s rooms.

Also, I’m so impressed with the storage system for my bathroom vanity from the Container Store. If you recall, Ann from Done and Done Home recommended it for me. So, I went over to the TCS website to see what else they have.

 

Well, the Container Store has everything.

 

I mean, they have you completely covered when it comes to your home office and distance learning.

That is in terms of having places to put things. And, they are attractive too.

In addition, The Container Store offers free design and consultation services to set up your home office or distance learning center. Of course, they are ONLY using the products they sell. But hey, it’s FREE!

You could even involve your kids to pick out the pieces and colors they like best.

 

The Container Store storage carts Distance learning solutions

I think these carts are a great solution to help your kids keep their school stuff organized. Perhaps when they are not in use, they could go in a closet or be hidden behind a screen.

 

If you’re lucky, you can create a designated homework center in a separate space.

 

Since you might have two or more kids working on computers and listening to the lesson, they would all need to wear headphones. I imagine you’ve already figured that one out.

Please note that if you sign up for Done and Done Home’s organizing course or purchase anything at the link to the Container Store, I will make a commission. However, I only link to products, services, and brands that I love and have used or would use for myself or a client.

Of course, you do not have to have an office from the Container Store. Maybe you only need some drawer organizers and things of that nature.

This is another terrific article that might be helpful in creating your home learning center.

 

I know that some of you don’t have kids, but you might have grandkids. So, if this post might have some useful information, please pass it on to your grown-up children.

 

As for furniture, it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. However, a piece which will last a long time might be worth the investment.

 

blaire-smart-storage-desk-Pottery Barn Teen

Blaire Smart Storage Desk

 

Believe it or not, this stylish desk is from Pottery Barn Teen.

Over-all, Pottery Barn and their divisions have the largest and best selection of furnishings that will give your kids a leg up on their distance learning. This will take you to Pottery Barn Teen.

However, do check out these other sources.

West Elm

Wayfair

and Wayfair for desktop organization

Crate and Barrel

World Market

Target

Anthropologie

 

Anthropologie lacquered regency desk - older teen - distance learning

Lacquered Regency Desk from Anthropologie

 

 

Anthro always has interesting pieces if you’re looking for something with Boho flair.

 

I think it’s important to make your kids’ learning environment fun and appealing to them. So, include them in decision making. That is, unless they don’t care. It also depends if their learning space is separate or is going to be part of the family living space due to tight quarters.

Some may disagree with me. But, if your child’s best learning space is in their bed, then why not let them do that? They make laptop desks designed to use in bed or reclining on a sofa.

 

waverly-loft-bed with desk underneath pottery barn - distance learning

Waverly Loft Bed with a desk underneath by Pottery Barn

Pottery Barn Loft Bed Desk

Another cool loft bed from Pottery Barn Teen. It also comes in a stained wood finish.

 

Speaking of tight quarters.

 

Pottery Barn has these very cool loft beds that maximize the available space. All you would need here is a bedroom that’s 8′ x 10′

I’m finishing up the post with a widget that’s filled with furniture that I think would be great for kids of all ages. And, some of it works for young adults, too.

 

However, my philosophy on kids’ furniture is that if the kids are eight years old or older, to do full-size furniture.

 

That is, unless they are especially tiny, or you have other even younger kids. I’ve never been one to make kids’ rooms typically juvenile, in any case. You can always change out the smaller accent pieces as they mature. There are a lot of great ideas in the widget.

Please click on any image below for more information.

 

 

Carolyn, in the comments, has an interesting situation with an older student who had a lot of equipment and needs space to spread out.

 

I gave her some ideas which you can see in the comments if you scroll down. (if you’re on your cell phone, you have to open a link to read the comments.)

Below is the Pottery Barn Modular desk. There are dozens of possibilities with different pieces and tops to create a lot of desktop and storage space.

 

build-your-own-bedford-modular-desk-two person desk

build-your-own-bedford-modular-desk-Pottery Barn

But, here’s where I think a great bonding project would be to involve your middle or high schooler in the process of setting up their room. Maybe you could pick a time and research it together. But, as I always say, if your situation is an especially challenging one, I would enlist the help of a professional who can help you sort it out.

 

For a more adult post about home offices, please go here.

And you might enjoy this post about a kid who chose a horrible shade of green for his wall color.

 

I hope that you found this information useful. Please share any tips you’ve discovered that have made your lives easier while your kids are distance learning from home.

xo,

 

PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!

 

5th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2018 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

  • Valerie L. - September 13, 2020 - 11:08 AM

    I am converting a guest bedroom into an office for when I’m teaching from home. Room for desk with a great view under two big windows. However, there is no way to make videos or meet with my students (and staff at meetings) without them seeing the bed behind me, which does not seem appropriate. I need a desk with an “L” I can pull out to view the only good wall when live streaming or creating videos. I would love suggestions; the only ones I’ve found are massive or the IKEA Malm.ReplyCancel

  • Nancy - September 12, 2020 - 1:02 AM

    I went back to school at 40 and used a wooden door with IKEA legs. I put all the many wires down the door knob hole. You really do need a large surface with a laptop and 2 monitors, etc. I feel SOOOOO sorry for these parents and kids shoved into an alternate lifestyle. Hopefully they can grow closer at least. Your son, Cale, is adorable! Isn’t it great to have your adult children around?!?!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - September 14, 2020 - 12:39 PM

      Hi Nancy. Well, it was great while it lasted. Alas, he was only here for a few days.ReplyCancel

  • TJ - September 11, 2020 - 6:50 AM

    I will preface this by saying I’m not a crisis schooler. I’ve been home educating my kids for a decade and have six of them, including one with a lot of extra accoutrements because of significant special needs. And we live in a fairly small house (under 2200 sq feet) with three kids to a bedroom.

    Work stations are nice but totally not necessary.

    The work cart option is the best and most flexible of what you listed, along with picking up throughout the day. Our school day takes from 7:30-2:00 at a minimum for the older kids, but even they take breaks to help the smaller ones pick up the toy and school mess before each meal and bedtime. It’s non-negotiable for sure. Working at the kitchen table is our solution for the ones who need more mom help, but the older kids do better with lap desks and hanging out on the floor of their room, as we just don’t have space for loft beds in the bedroom (yet, it is on the list).

    The most important component is just having a HOME for the stuff and therefore a place for it to return with the cleaning. But if the stuff exceeds the home it may be time to thin the kid supplies and toys to make it all fit. My life is pretty much an endless edit of school supplies and toys because that’s what they’re using here, all day and every day. But not having too much extra stuff on top of the essentials really streamlines and makes possible home education with minimal drama.

    Welcome to the jungle, everyone 😉 It’s a trying time and if you weren’t planning your life around it, a huge adjustment. But the clutter, at least, is very manageable with a little space making. Seriously seriously grab a rolling cart per kiddo!ReplyCancel

  • Kristin Sponaugle - September 11, 2020 - 12:44 AM

    You might also check out IKEA, and especially some of the IKEA hacks floating around on the internet. Young House Love did a kids desk/workstation using IKEA file drawers with kitchen counters on top, and it looked great.ReplyCancel

  • Ana - September 10, 2020 - 4:57 PM

    Good post. I was looking for desks for my next home which will be smaller….but this brings up memories. I home schooled my boys for 11 years. I was lucky enough to create a spot in our basement so the mess was out of my eye sight. The best thing we made was a double sided bookcase on wheels and put on a Formica top. The height was the same as a kitchen island. Well, it’s actually 1/2″ taller because the installer fortified the counter top. We could wheel it around the room and did plenty of projects and studying on top of it. I bought adjustable height chairs on wheels that went around it or other desks. I can’t imagine what Cale is having to go through to figure out music education online. Kudos to him!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - September 14, 2020 - 12:45 PM

      Ana, thanks so much for the tips!

      As for Cale, he has a summer gig (this was his fifth year) as the music director at a day camp in Boston. Of course, this year, it was virtual, and for only half a day. So, they had numerous meetings in the spring to figure out how it was all going to work. And, then the camp was for 5 weeks and it went well, I understand.

      That gave him a tremendous leg-up in terms of his year-round teaching online. But, yes, it’s not ideal. However, he’s very good at figuring out ways to make it interesting and engaging for the kids.ReplyCancel

  • MARY D SHUMAKER - September 10, 2020 - 4:17 PM

    We are re-doing our office and are trying to add tons of storage (tall cabinets). My husband will be working from home permanently. We had California Closets come up with a design but I’m worried that it is too “sterile” and doesn’t have any personality for a home office. White shaker style tall cabinets, filing cabinets on one side and long desk ( 104 inches) with 2 drawers on each end. Balboa Mist walls and desk top in what they call Adriatic Mist which is “grayish with grain). Ideas?ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - September 9, 2020 - 7:36 PM

    SO, thank you for the suggestion. I will pass it along.ReplyCancel

  • Inna - September 9, 2020 - 3:30 PM

    I’m homeschooling two out of three, the youngest is a toddler. Let’s just say this has been…interesting, to say the least. A few tips that may be helpful, is to first, keep each child’s books/stuff separate. I have a separate small book case for each child, it helps locate things quickly and maintains some level of organization. Another thing that is immensely helpful are checklists. Helps my kiddos stay on task, and provides encouragement to complete assignments as they check them off. Helps me stay sane as well, haha!
    Create a workspace with them, they will be far more likely to use it. Although, as long as they’re learning, it can be on the bed or couch too, whatever helps get the work done.
    Finally, try to keep the clutter to a minimum. Daily updates are much easier than trying to back track on weeks worth of accumulated clutter.
    Hopefully, this is helpful to someone!ReplyCancel

  • So - September 9, 2020 - 12:49 PM

    This is supposed to be a reply… Kathleen, do tell your sister about
    Miss Nati’s Music Box from Kalabash School of Music in San Diego (free on youtube). The kids are the perfect age for it and it’s just so creative and wild and wonderful.ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - September 9, 2020 - 12:37 PM

    Laurel, these are some great ideas. My sister, a young 69 year old, is working part time from home, and is now the educator for 3 of her grandchildren.
    The first grader is struggling with the entire concept of computer education. I am going to suggest she get a small desk and rolling cart for his things. It may give him some comfort to have his space. The other 2 are 8 and 10 so they are sailing along.
    These poor little ones who are just beginning to learn reading are in for a challenge.
    Thank you so much! Oh, I bet the boys and girls love Cale. We need more male teachers!ReplyCancel

  • Carolyn - September 9, 2020 - 9:37 AM

    All of these desks are lovely but completely impractical for anyone past about grade six. You need room for a monitor, a keyboard, textbooks and a binder to write in. My daughter is taking animation at the university level and her tech equipment, including drawing tablets, big and small would not fit on a desk of the depth we are all used to. I’m sure she’s not alone. I’d have loved to see this post make an office desk work in a kid’s room in some attractive way including all the equipment older kids need these days.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - September 9, 2020 - 9:54 AM

      Hi Carolyn,

      Oh gosh, I have no idea what equipment older kids need these days. So, you know more than me on that topic. For a large desk that’s not too expensive, you could also use two filing cabinets and then get a large wooden top to go over them that you first paint or stain. OR, you could even use a flat door without any holes drilled in it. If it’s too big, then it could be cut down. If you need a hole for the wires, you could do that as well so they don’t have to drape down the back. It is best to have it fitted with plastic so the wires aren’t constantly being rubbed against a sharp surface. I’m sure that exists in a lot of hardware stores. Or, you could try googling large desk for teen-ager. Or, how to make a large desktop. Something like that. ReplyCancel

  • Mary Ann Shimer - September 9, 2020 - 9:09 AM

    Great advice – I am a middle school teacher – and EVERY DAY students are off looking for what they need b/c they do not organize their area – I LOVE that idea!

    Any suggestions for a teacher home office? I painted my daughter’s old bedroom “quiet Moments” as a soothing relaxing color for my office, and added textured white cotton drapes from Pottery Barn. I have set up my laptop, monitor, document camera, graph paper, pencils and calendar on my desk. Where could I get a comfortable, CUTE desk chair? Should I get pattern?? And –ReplyCancel

  • Robin - September 9, 2020 - 9:08 AM

    Against my (not better) judgment, my son moved his “gaming” chair into his room to use as his desk chair. With its high back and soft roomier seat, it allows him additional comfort and wiggle room while being online most of the school day. Highly recommend!ReplyCancel

  • Vicki - September 9, 2020 - 9:06 AM

    Three kids in three different schools…my kids are spaced three years apart, so I did actually live this situation for three full years! It is truly a “what was I thinking?” event that you have no choice but to deal with when it happens. Not an easy thing to deal with; we survived, but I hated most of it – especially when they schedule parent-teacher conferences for two of the schools on the same night.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - September 9, 2020 - 9:17 AM

      Hi Vicki,

      I had a lot of acquaintances over the years who had the same situation which is what made me think of it. OR, they had three kids in high school at the same time on the parent’s open-house night. It was so much fun to see them split themselves in three!ReplyCancel

  • KA - September 9, 2020 - 8:47 AM

    You can also get similar carts at Michael’s – in a much wider variety of colors!ReplyCancel

  • Parnassus - September 9, 2020 - 5:02 AM

    Hello Laurel, What self-respecting kid could limit his possessions to a few organizing drawers in a rolling cart? When I was in high school, I used to wonder sometimes about the load-bearing capacity of the floor joists. Fortunately, no cracks appeared in the living room ceiling.

    I looked at the Pottery Barn site, and while I realize that their mission is to present the furniture and allow the customers to personalize it themselves, people today do take their cue from these catalogs, and I was dismayed at how bland and unoriginal all the rooms seemed to be. And what’s with this sickening trend to spell out a kid’s name on the wall in giant letters?
    –JimReplyCancel

  • GL - September 9, 2020 - 4:04 AM

    One extra source for the furniture, not I think mentioned: those three different-coloured carts for supplies are Ikea’s Raskog. Very useful, sturdy, easy to put together and with an adjustable centre shelf. I know, I’ve got 5 of them and am considering getting a sixth.ReplyCancel

  • SoCalK - September 9, 2020 - 1:44 AM

    For Lottie: While you organize, distract your second grader with Miss Nati’s Music Box, free on youtube. It’s an eclectic and vibrant series of short music lessons from Kalabash School of Music in San Diego. Comes with printable activities. Apologies if this sort of comment is not encouraged. Thank you.ReplyCancel