With schools around the nation returning for the 2020-2021 school year, many families have chosen for their children to learn virtually, at least for the time being.

Here are some great tips for making a space in your home that will help your child or children excel!

Create a good workspace

Every home is different, naturally, and so students need to find a spot that works best for them. But it’s recommended to create a dedicated place to study rather than reclining on a sofa with a laptop, in front of the TV, or while sitting up in bed. Having your own work area — with good lighting, a comfortable desk or table, and with a closed door (space permitting) — should all help keep kids in the mental zone for school, and free from everyday distractions. If a lack of space means you must “integrate” into the household instead of “segregate,” try to find a spot that’s quiet and comfortable, and perhaps consider noise-cancelling headphones if siblings (and parents) are also working under one roof.

Essential gear

Arguably your most important tool is a computer. You may not need to buy a new one for a student, as most school-related applications – collaboration tools, word processing, web browsing, and such – shouldn’t require a lot of horsepower. That said, older PCs and Macs will take longer to boot up, run applications slower, and may not be conducive for multitasking effectively (see computer upgrade options below).

If your computer doesn’t have an integrated webcam for video conferencing, you can pick up an inexpensive external one online that plugs into an available USB port. Some students use their smartphone, which has a camera, for video calling into a classroom.

If you do a lot of talking, a handsfree microphone headset is recommended for convenience, sound quality, and comfort.

Upgrade options

Should you need to buy a computer, at least there are several back-to-school deals to take advantage of. You’ll need to decide on an operating system (Windows, Mac or Chrome), form factor (laptop or desktop), brand, and what technical specs (specifications) you need.

With operating system, stick to what you’re used to, but take the time to find out what platform the school would prefer you to be on (a curriculum may dictate what kind of device you need). On form factor, a laptop is portable, which can be easily moved around the home, but a desktop has a bigger monitor and keyboard, and you can upgrade components over time, if desired (such as a better video card or more storage).

When it comes to choosing a processor, the engine that drives your computer’s performance, try to buy a little more than you think you need today, so you can grow into it (and not have to upgrade so often). In other words, if your school suggests a machine with an Intel Core i5 processor, stretch a little further, if you can, and pick up a beefier Core i7 processor, to futureproof your investment.

On brand, stick to a company you’ve had a good experience with or ask a friend; ask the retail or online store what their return policy is like in case you don’t like what you bought.

Laptops extras

You can turn a laptop into a full workstation. That is, don’t forget you can attach a more comfortable keyboard to a laptop (yes, even though it already has one), which would have larger keys and allow you to position it however you like on a desk or table.

Similarly, you need not be stuck squinting into a small 13- to 15-inch monitor as you can add an external one, if you like, to the laptop’s HDMI, USB-C or VGA port.

And an external mouse – opposed to a laptop’s built-in trackpad – is recommended for ergonomic reasons. Some mice are wireless, while others will need to be plugged into an available USB port. Running out of USB ports? You can pick up a “hub” that lets you plug several devices into one USB port.

Wi-Fi tips, and security too

You’ll want strong and reliable Wi-Fi when schooling from home. You might need to move a little closer to the router or install a “mesh” system to broaden the range of wireless Internet in your home (especially for larger or older homes, with, say, concrete walls). If you’re working near the modem, a wired connection is more ideal – for better speed and reliability – so you may be able to plug an Ethernet cable into your laptop or desktop.

Finally, it’s incredibly important to protect your schoolwork, and other files, from various threats. Sure, you may have all your files in the cloud, like on Google Docs or OneDrive, but it doesn’t hurt to back up your important work on a regular basis – and an offline solution, like an external hard drive or USB stick, can minimize the damage if hit with a cyberattack, hard drive malfunction, power surge, and other threats.