With parents working from home and children moving to remote learning, spaces in our homes are being shared more than ever.
Every situation is unique, but below are a few suggestions to help you share space and maintain your sanity.
Define spaces. If there are specific areas required in the home (for example a private space for virtual meetings or a desk for student work), these areas should be identified and known by everyone. Workspace at home can’t always be a separate room, but a defined, separate space (even a desk/table in a corner of a room) is a goal. To reduce interruptions when someone is using a “private” space, create a sign that lets others know you need time to focus. A simple “At Work” sign hanging on the door (or back of your chair) might be enough to stop interruptions. This strategy can encourage independence in children and let parents or siblings know when a student is focused in a project.
If a space is only to be used for play, try to define the space with sponge mats or a rug so children will understand where the toys and games are to be kept.
Have a work free zone. Equally important to defining space for work is having work-free zones that allow family members to connect and communicate. This type of space is helpful in getting working family members to disconnect from work and unwind.
Create physical boundaries. Physical boundaries will help to define space and remind people that there is a specific purpose for the space. Boundaries do not need to be elaborate and can be as simple as a couple of houseplants or a piece of furniture. When a separate room with a door is not possible, families need to get creative about marking out space. Try creating a room divider with a curtain that can be pulled across when the space is being used, or even setting a free-standing cardboard divider (leftover from science fair!) on the table to let others know not to disturb.
Keep a routine. With activities outside the home cancelled, especially in-school learning, there is still a need to keep some sort of routine. Routines provide an outline of what will happen throughout the day, and benefit both children and adults. Maintain mealtimes, chore times, exercise routines and any other regular activities as much as possible. There are many free on-line classes and courses that can be used as a virtual substitute for previous routine activities.
Post a schedule. To keep the entire family clear on the plan for shared space, it is helpful to have a posted schedule. Schedules are not just for work, but also for school, meals, chores, and other daily family activities. Schedules may help limit the overlap of people who need to make calls or have online meetings/classes at the same time. Multiple people requiring the internet at once can be problematic if your home connection is limited. Sometimes it is worth the effort to move a virtual work meeting if it means it won’t overlap with your child’s online classroom session. There may be less frustration and interruption when everyone understands the daily schedule.
Everyone helps. More people spending time in the house every day will mean more chores need to be done. More meals will be eaten at home, more dishes will be used and rooms will get messier quicker. Getting everyone involved in keeping the house clean is a win-win solution. Younger children can assist with gathering laundry or doing dishes, while older children can help with meal preparation. Children will learn new skills and build confidence and parents will find their workload lessened.
Re-think the way space is used. Many households have single use spaces in their homes. This may not be possible now. Look at the spaces in your home and determine how else they could be used. Consider using non-traditional spaces like the garage or a porch/sunroom for exercising. Kitchen space may become the science/math/home economics lab for remote learning. A private corner in the dining room may be the best place to handle virtual work meetings. When rethinking the use of rooms in your home, remember to discuss your thoughts and plans with the person who has been the primary user of that space. Their buy-in to your repurposing plan is important.
Get rid of clutter. Less clutter equals less cleaning and less frustration in finding things. Donate or sell items you don’t need and assign each person the responsibility of keeping their own papers and belongings in one tidy spot.
Whatever changes you make within your home to accommodate sharing space, make sure the ideas are communicated with everyone in the family. Understanding the plan and why changes are being made, will lead to greater space-sharing success.