What do you need to make your home a successful learning environment? Probably less than you think! Your focus should always be on helping your children–and your whole family–have a successful learning experience, in the moment and life-long. And that, as it turns out, doesn’t require a huge investment, and you may just discover you already have most or all of the most important resources. Search out less expensive ways of learning, more creative and adventuresome ways of learning, ways of learning that broaden horizons and encourage innate originality and wonder!
Learning spaces: Learning can successfully take place in a myriad of locations–around the kitchen table, in a corner of the public library, or even under a tree, as is common in many parts of the world.
Creativity, questioning, enthusiasm, desire to learn: What is really necessary is eagerness to learn, modeled by the parent, and shared by the child–things like creativity and questioning, which all children are born with, and enthusiasm and personal desire to keep on learning for all of life on the part of both the child and the learning facilitator (parents should see themselves as fellow-learners and partners, rather than traditional teachers).
Basic resources to learn and experiment with: It can be handy to have some basic resources to learn and experiment with (ever hear of kitchen science? or spending time at the local pond? paper and pencils and other simple supplies?). And research access to learning resources (many of which are free, like libraries, and others available very inexpensively–have you recently checked out your local thrift store? or waited to buy school supplies until a day or two after school starts and the school supply sales are suddenly truly sales? Asked the local school what you can borrow? Checked out local organisations that offer free or low-cost literacy programs?
What about technology? Don’t worry about the expense of fancy technology: computers, tablets, smart phones, etc. Purchase a basic computer if you can, or use publicly-available ones at schools or libraries.
Needs, wants, wishes, demands: Determine what you truly NEED, as opposed to what you want or wish for, or what someone else demands you need.
A list of simple items to consider:
- some loose-leaf paper (plain and lined) and a dollar-store binder, or a couple notebooks (cheap ones)
- a couple pencils and a sharpener and eraser, possibly a pen or two, and some crayons or pencil crayons or felt pens (bought at school supply sales a couple days after school starts and marked down 75% or more!)
- reasonable lighting (natural light is lovely; a small desk lamp with focused light is helpful)
- maybe a simple dictionary and thesaurus (paperback, purchased from a thrift store or a bookstore clearance rack or school supply sale … or use online dictionaries if you have a computer, tablet or smartphone)
- a relatively quiet and peaceful space to sit for reading and writing, perhaps the kitchen table or a couple cushions in a corner with a clipboard (for when your student isn’t up and about, exploring and learning hands-on).
- set aside a “learning hour” for the whole family, in which you turn off the TV, video games, cell phones, etc., and everyone, including parents and guests, engage in learning activities.
Purchase other items over time as you find great deals or really need certain things: That’s it? Well, certainly the items above are the basics (though there are plenty of students world-wide who would consider many of these items to be luxuries). As your child’s studies proceed, you can purchase or borrow other items as they are truly needed (advertise your needs on Freecycle or on community or homeschool swap and shop groups). Over time, you’ll collect a good variety of resources, and build your home learning space very inexpensively.
Model life-long learning with your children. Have everyone spend some learning time together. Read, draw, do homework, go outside and explore nature, bake (math, chemistry, etc.!), check out the library. Go on free field trips. If you absolutely can’t do it at home, check out the many free or very low-cost community resources.
Joy and adventure vs bling: You don’t need all the fancy posters and other “bling” found in many school classrooms in order to encourage your child: well-chosen words of approval for truly deserving effort, and sharing the joy and adventure of learning for its own sake are the best ways we can prepare children to love learning and make it a life-long adventure.
Creating a focused, distraction-free environment: You do need to provide a quiet, focused, distraction-free environment if possible. What are potential distractions?
- Technology (phone calls, text messaging, TV/radio, social media, internet, email);
- Academic (learning disabilities, not knowing what to do, inadequate notes from school, disorganised backpack, cluttered workplace, not understanding directions);
- Physical well-being (hunger, thirst, fatigue, discomfort, too much comfort);
- Auditory (street noise, nearby conversations, TV or radio or video games the child can hear, loud music, phone ringing);
- Social (siblings playing nearby or bothering the child, friends waiting in the house for the child to finish the homework, pets);
- Emotional (rewards, punishments, competition with siblings or classmates, parents arguing or other unstable home life, bullying or other abuse, anxiety or depression).
Some of these distractions are relatively easy to overcome. You can turn off the TV and cell phone. You can ask friends to come back at a certain time. You can make sure the child has had a healthy snack or a nap if needed. Ear plugs, a cardboard privacy screen (made from a used packing box) around the study area, a desk spotlight, the TV or video games turned off for the whole family during the child’s study time, are all easy things to do. Having a consistent schedule is also important (for example, a learning hour before or after supper each day). And make sure your child is getting enough quality sleep time, at regular times. Children of 5 to 12 years of age usually need 10 to 11 hours of sleep; teens generally need 8.5 to 9.5 hours. Note that school performance is shown to drop by up to two full grade levels when a child is sleep-deprived. If sports, lessons and other activities are cutting into sleep time, choose sleep! Also note that evening exposure to light from computer screens, e-readers, and even TVs can disrupt a child’s (and adult’s) sleep cycle!
But some other distractions are harder to solve, like learning disabilities, family issues, or bullying at school or in the neighbourhood. If you notice that certain distractions are really causing a problem, it may be wise to deal with them first. Having learning disabilities diagnosed, and receiving training on how to deal with them, will result in a much better learning environment. If you force a child to try and learn in a way that doesn’t work for him, you will destroy his love of learning, and cause damage to your relationship with him. It may be better to sort out these kinds of distractions first, and then use the best methods you can to help the individual child. Use professional help when you can, but there is loads of free information on the internet and in books, and many teachers and tutors will be happy to make suggestions and work with you. A little waiting time up front, dealing with issues before getting into academic learning, will be more than made up for in the long run by removing those kinds of distractions. The same goes for family issues: family counseling for even several months, rather than forced tutoring in an unhappy environment, will lead to much better learning in the long-term (get a referral from your family doctor). And so on.
Questions and comments: Have these tips been helpful? Do you have specific questions about any of them? Do you have other tips to share that have worked for your family? Be sure to share your questions and ideas in the comments! Thank you!
- Why children need parent-tutors
- Important activities parent-tutors can do well
- Building a Good Parent-Tutor and Child Relationship
- Learning Styles, Intelligences, and Behaviours
- Developing Individualised Tutoring–Tips for Parents
- Monitoring Your Child’s Progress
- Some Basic Learning Goals
- Home Tutoring Resources
- Suggestions for a Tutoring Session at Home
- Specific Suggestions for Primary Grades
- Specific Considerations for Intermediate Grades
- When to Consider Hiring a Tutor
- Costs of Tutors and Alternatives
- All Kinds of Learning Activities