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A home learning environment is a reflection of the overall home environment and family interactions in and around the home. “For me, a learning environment is one where we adults show that we ourselves are continuous learners and allow them the kids the space to explore, try new things, and take learning as a fun and daily part of their life,” says Sudiksha Joshi, a learning advocate and founder of WeAreAlwaysLearning.com.
In a home learning environment, children learn to investigate the world through a family context and are provided a blueprint for learning, behavior, and attitudes. Creating a positive learning environment in your home can thus foster new skills and encourage active learning among children. We’ll teach you how to create a physical learning environment in your home and recommend eight practices that are conducive to your child’s cognitive growth.
When creating a home learning environment, there are two major factors to consider: the age of your child and their interests. According to Susan Landry, writer at The Sparrow’s Home Blog and former educator, “the age of the child matters a great deal. And playing into their interests, especially if this is a new endeavor, will help.”
What works for a toddler will not be the best method for a high school senior. Adjust your home learning environment based on your child’s age to best suit their educational needs. An environment for toddlers should be literacy-rich and foster opportunities for structured, rule-governed play and unstructured, imaginative play. Include a library of books and a structured play area that has wooden puzzles, stacking activities, and pretend cooking sets. For older children, you may not need as many toys to encourage learning. Perhaps a quiet corner with a chair, desk, and ample lighting is enough.
“Far more important than the physical learning environment is the parent’s ability and willingness to follow the child’s interests, which scientific research clearly shows is how children learn most effectively,” says Jen Lumanlan, host of Your Parenting Mojo podcast. What motivates them? What sparks their interest? What do they love learning about?
The first step in creating a home learning environment is to dedicate a specific space for learning. According to Lumanlan, “I think the most important reason to do this is because it shows the child that you value their learning enough to give it physical space.” This is not to say that the learning environment has to be expansive or expensive. “It can be a separate room (although if it’s too far from the rest of the household you may find the child doesn’t want to use it) or it can be as simple as a desk or the end of the dining room table that you don’t use for eating,” says Lumanlan.
Find a distraction-free zone that has excellent light, low noise, and a comfortable temperature. Make sure there is a place to sit and lay out work. We recommend using a home office, den, or quiet kitchen nook. Avoid using a bedroom as your child’s learning space: Not only are there too many distractions, but bringing work into a personal space can turn a safe zone into a stressful environment.
Genevieve Gorback, early childhood educator turned stay-at-home mom (SAHM) and on the Board of Directors at California Kindergarten Association, says, “When looking at your space, think about your child or children. Are they the type of kids who will climb on anything? If so, give them a safe space to do that. Is your son a budding artist? Create a ‘yes space’ with a splat mat and (washable) art supplies. If your daughter is an engineer extraordinaire, give her enough space to build whole cities with her blocks.”
Jocelyn Bates, a homeschooling mother of three and art therapist, recalls how dedicating a space for learning in her home has been helpful for the entire family. “We have a homeschool table where [the kids] know they can get creative at any time. They have art supplies openly available at all times as well as science kits, craft books, rulers, and pens and microscopes.”
After designating a safe space for learning, focus on removing distractions. Too many toys, books, and supplies can crowd a space and create a feeling of chaos. Create an orderly environment by decluttering the learning space.
According to Gorback, “Open shelves with a few items on each shelf is best. Kids should feel comfortable choosing their next activity without having to ask you for help opening boxes or reaching high cabinets. No need to pack the shelves with tons of toys, as children learn better when they have a few highly engaging items to choose from.”
Additionally, having multipurpose furniture in the learning space can reduce feelings of clunkiness and provide adequate storage for children to access materials. “Storage is a must for a fully functioning classroom. Consider multipurpose furniture that will save on space, such as a bench that doubles as storage for books and supplies,” says Nicola Croughan, interior designer at Blinds Direct.
Following along the lines of an accessible, distraction-free learning environment, ensure the space is functional. Croughan recommends creating various learning stations where different subjects and topics will be covered. “For instance, you could zone off a creative corner for art projects, a desk for writing, a cozy area for reading, and a dedicated spot for mathematics,” says Croughan.
Though your home learning environment should be functional, it should also be inspiring and motivating. Inject your child’s personality into the space by showcasing their projects and making it a colorful and fun environment. “Your décor could double as another learning tool—consider the alphabet, colors, animals, and maps,” says Croughan.
According to Bates, “A dedicated homeschool space is bound to look different for each family. What I feel is important is letting each child in the family mark the space to be theirs in some way. Maybe a picture, a sign, a special something.”
Unless your child is required to work with a computer, tablet, or phone, keep all of these devices out of reach. If technology is absolutely necessary, set an appropriate time limit for your child to use the device. For example, if your child’s assignment is to write an essay on the computer, give them 30–45 minutes to research and an hour and a half to write. Allow your child to reference the web while writing, if needed.
By establishing daily routines, your child will get into a regular habit of getting work done. Set aside 20 minutes to read or do homework every day. After your child gets into a rhythm, you can begin to observe and understand their interactions: when they crave food, when tempers flare, when they start to mentally fatigue, etc. This will help you adapt to their learning methods and help you understand when they might need encouragement or help.
Having a home where all systems and appliances are functioning properly is key to minimizing distractions. It’s hard to have a quality learning environment when something like the HVAC is malfunctioning or the plumbing is leaking. We suggest looking into a home warranty to help save you time and money. We recommend reading our Choice Home Warranty review, our American Home Shield review, or our review of Select Home Warranty to help give you an idea of your options.
Now that you know how to create a learning environment in the home, implement the following eight practices to help your child feel confident and comfortable when learning at home.
When you make learning important, children will value education. “Reading aloud to children promotes learning, but perhaps less obvious is having parents and caregivers who themselves read for enjoyment,” says Nancy Schimmel, a former school librarian.
According to Joshi, “Reading is by far the easiest and most effective way to create that learning environment. I started reading to my daughter shortly after she was born. She also sees me reading. Now, reading is an essential part of her life. I don’t need to tell her to read; she wants to read.”
It’s important to note when your child starts avoiding a particular task or homework subject. Joshi recalls her daughter becoming disinterested in math. “She could add and subtract, but she was confused about the different signs (the addition, subtraction, and the equals sign). Once we realized that was the issue, we addressed it. Once she got it, that entire week she had us asking her to give her different math problems for her to solve,” says Joshi.
Instead of doing things for your children, do things with them. Children can learn self-reliance and confidence through participating in everyday activities at home and knowing they can contribute to the family gives them an important sense of self-worth and belonging. For example, if you find that your child is not understanding a math problem, don’t solve the problem for them. Instead, ask them what they’re having difficulty with and then give them the tools to reach the solution on their own.
“I realized how easily I started expecting my daughter to know some things as she started to communicate with me effectively,” says Joshi. “I jumped on to fix things for her, like the way she had gift-wrapped the birthday present for her friend. I also focused on getting her to write the words with the correct spelling. She, in turn, reminded me that she was only 5 (then). So, I am mindful of catching myself before jumping to fix things or ask her to fix things.” Instead of doing things for your children, you will be creating and maintaining a safe space that allows for mistakes.
“Open-ended play is the key to letting your child’s imagination soar, which in turn, helps strengthen those brain connections and deepens their understanding of the world. Try to provide wooden blocks, a play kitchen, blank paper on an easel, and books and books and books,” says Gorback. “At such a young age, the best learning opportunities for children come from play, not from academics.”
Not only does child-directed play contribute to cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development, it also encourages self-confidence and boosts self-esteem.
Learn a new skill with your child to improve learning habits. “I and my daughter have learned to make slime together, painted and took up drawing together, and have even started a small garden,” says Joshi.
Because hobbies are expressions of personal accomplishment and a means of self-discovery, they can help a child set goals, make decisions, and build self-esteem. Find out what your child is interested in and get them involved with sports like yoga or cross country, music, art, and other community activities.
To maintain a positive learning environment at home, serve your children healthy meals and snacks. Antioxidants, Omega-3 essential fatty acids, and whole grains are all essential nutrients for brain power.
Take advantage of non-traditional opportunities, like going to the grocery store, museum, or nature center, or doing a home improvement project. An important practice here is talking to your child as you explore. For example, at the grocery store, show your child weird fruit in the produce section and tell them what it is and where it comes from. You could also show your child how you’re choosing your groceries (by quality, price, etc.).
At the nature center, point out things your child may not notice (like an animal’s scientific name or which animals live in your area). Ask questions of docents that children may not think to ask. This is especially important of young children. By spending time together and communicating, you’ll create new learning experiences for your children and make learning more fun.
One last tip to remember when fostering a positive home learning environment is to let your children fail and be transparent about your own failures. “Hearing our stories of when we stumbled give her the permission to be okay, to mess up, to fail, to not be hard on herself, and therefore to allow that space to grow and learn,” says Joshi.
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