What does going back to school mean to you and your family this year? - Celebration, Florida

Traditionally, this unofficial end of summer is met with a tinge of sadness for the lost carefree days of lazy fun, sprinkled with a hint of excitement that comes with shopping for school supplies, wardrobe essentials and a new backpack. With the start of the 2020-2021 school year, our usual anticipation has been replaced with questions and fears regarding whether or not we SHOULD go back to school, WHAT school will look like, and HOW we keep our students and teachers safe. In the shadow of the pandemic, many plans will be approached as fluid and subject to change by necessity, but for those of us opting for distance learning from home, we need a plan.

For starters, we need to identify Who will be working from home. Some parents have been fortunate to be able to transition to working from home during the quarantine, which may make home schooling easier to manage. How many children? What are their ages? Understandably, the needs of an elementary school age child will be different from those of a high school student. Depending on their ages and need for supervision, working from home may require sharing space that has been allocated for school.

The next question involves What kind of work will need to be done – by student and grown-up alike. Obviously, laptops and tablets will be needed for distance work, so you may need to check with your internet provider to avoid lag in service or “dead zones.” Other considerations may include access to headsets or a printer, as well as how to limit distractions for taking tests or participation in video conferences.

As we look to create a new learning environment, Where to hold school at home is probably the most obvious concern. The mother of a high school age daughter in Celebration shared her plan for creating a dedicated School Zone in their home. “I’ve decided to use the dining room table for all school-related activities. She has a desk in her room, but I want my daughter to get out of bed and dress for each day as if she was going to school, even if she is only walking to the other side of the house,” she shared. This parent works from home and plans to supervise from the opposite side of the dining room table, just like a tandem desk in a traditional office space.

It may make sense to devote space in a more public room of your home, such as a seldom used breakfast nook, the dining room (formerly reserved for holiday family gatherings) or hidden space in the living room. The console table behind the sofa could be repurposed as a desk, or the unused spaces to the left and right of a fireplace or TV focal point can be reworked for studying. Think about replacing an end table or creating a study cubicle under a staircase.

If distance learning follows a similar bell schedule as traditional school, When we hold class has been predetermined for us. However, time of day considerations will need to be made so as not to disturb meal schedules or younger children napping. Taking breaks will be necessary – for the mental and physical well-being of everyone involved. Remember how much students LOVE lunch and recess!

After answering the previous questions, How we create a dedicated school zone in our home is largely dependent upon having a checklist and being organized.
• Work Surface – Existing tables may suffice, but remember that corner desks take up less room. Dual purpose furniture, such as a bookcase with a secretary desk top, may help with storage too.
• Appropriate Seating – A straight back chair will help with focus and posture, even if a task chair with wheels seems like more fun. The height of the seat will depend upon the work surface provided, such as the difference between bar stools and counter stools.
• Good Lighting – Natural lighting is always best, but the window view may create the temptation to daydream. Control heat and glare with stylish window treatment solutions. Consider an overall ambient light source in the ceiling of your learning space and something closer to the work surface for tasks.
• Control Noise – Remember to keep cell phones on silent, manage television interruptions and control access to music and social media.
• Ample Storage – Removing clutter and distractions will be important to successful learning and keeping your home tidy when school is not in session. Be selective with school supplies and make sure everything has a home when not in use. Repurposing the china cabinet or buffet in a dining room, finding space in a storage ottoman or bench, hiding supplies in decorative baskets or in plain sight as décor, such as a centerpiece of writing utensils will work.

Finally, Why? This school year is unprecedented, and it's only just begun. Our ability to be creative and flexible will be important in the success of distance learning for our children. We need to be patient with ourselves, tweaking the process along the way until we hit our stride for the whole family. Remember, our children need us and this too will pass.

Mrs. Mazariegos is a graduate of The Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhaban, New York and an active member of the American Society of Interior Designers. She recently opened her Design Studio and Workroom in Celebration at 600 Market Street. She is a local resident and mother of two.

This story appears in the September 2020 edition of the Celebration News