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As we get ready for Fall, and our new adventure into the unknown, let’s get organized. Having a plan is a great way to help decrease anxiety over starting something new.

Many kids have started school, whether virtual, in person, or a hybrid program. Typically, around this time of the year, I am asked questions about how to help children organize their materials, backpacks, lockers, desks, cubbies, and homework stations. The questions this Fall aren’t very different, apart from more focus on how to set up an organized home school environment for virtual learning. I’ve done a video about setting up a virtual learning station at home on the Playright Occupational Therapy Channel on YouTube, so check that out. (Virtual Home Classroom Environment Tips – Remove Distractions – Playright OT)

First and foremost, develop a reasonable schedule for your children. If you have more than one child engaging in virtual schooling, it can be tricky to manage materials, sound/noise and privacy, as well as equipment. Add parents working from home virtually, and this is even more challenging. A large whiteboard or chalkboard that can be easily modified as needed can be a good option for posting everyone’s schedule. Or, you may find it helpful for each child to have their own personal schedule, so they only need to look at their own, and aren’t confused by everyone else’s schedules. For the younger child, I like velcro schedule boards, available at teacher supply stores, or you can make your own with thick poster-board and sticky-back velcro strips. That way, you can take pictures, laminate them or cover them in clear contact paper, add velcro and presto, you have a schedule board. Children, and frankly adults too, need structure, and that is why the schedule is #1 on my list.

Second, consider your child’s individual learning style. If your child is primarily a visual learner, color code their notebooks and even their schedule. Use highlighters, and even colored paper or colored overlays to improve visual attention. When they are at the screen, make sure they take eye breaks every 15-20 minutes, and note that they are at least 24 inches from the screen. Adjust lighting, both in the room and on the computer, to maximize the visual image without excessive eye fatigue. Use visual cues and materials to support learning.

If your child is a kinesthetic learner primarily, make sure that they can change positions often. Have alternative seating options and allow them to stand when they need. Periodic movement breaks are critical for children that are movers. Gauge how long they can tolerate sitting before they need an opportunity to move. Stand up and do wall push-ups or jumping jacks, or use a ball chair or rocking chair, or a sit and move cushion in their seat to allow them to get movement. Kinesthetic learners need hands on materials, and may show better comprehension when they have manipulatives to interact with during learning.

If your child is primarily an auditory learner, make sure they have adequate headphones that allow them to hear the instruction without interference from ambient background noise. Also, if you have multiple children logging onto virtual learning simultaneously, try to set them up far enough apart that they are not distracted by each other. Read instructions aloud together to give them the auditory advantage, rather than expecting them to read all the instructions, with the potential of skipping over important information.

Third, incorporate helpful routines. Many of us are not organized by nature and need supports to help us stay on top of things like papers and assignments. Help your children learn such strategies by setting up routines and putting it on their schedules. For example, every Monday morning, start the day with Sort and File. Go through papers together and discard those no longer needed, correctly file those still needed. Create bins, folders or drawers for: Work In Progress, Completed Work, etc. Do this together once weekly, and keep the day and time consistent. Monday tends to be better than Friday, because of the temptation to skip it on a Friday due to weekend mentality.

Other routines to consider putting on the schedule include: Mapping out Assignments on a Calendar; Listing projects and outlining what needs to be accomplished each day; and Breaks! Everyone needs breaks, and when your child knows when they will occur, it makes it easier for them to focus on what needs to get done. The amount and duration of breaks is child specific and will require careful observation, and perhaps some trial and error, taking into account age, grade level, and individual differences. Balance is key, so consider when breaks will be most advantageous for your child. Also, consider what input they need during breaks: sensory play, fresh air, physical exercise, or food. Try to avoid using any electronics for breaks, because the purpose of a break is to refresh and give the body and brain a break.

As Fall begins, let’s invigorate ourselves and organize a successful new school year for our children!