Is your home a safe haven for learning? A place where your little ones can reach their full potential? The role of a child’s home learning environment cannot be underestimated.
How Does the Home Environment Affect Learning?
When the home environment is conducive to learning at home, children are able to thrive because their home and the people around them make it easy for them to succeed.
According to Marike de Witt, author of “The Young Child in Context: A psycho-social perspective“, research shows that the quality of a child’s early environment is a prerequisite for overall brain development and that a stimulating and effective learning environment will positively affect all other learning areas later on.
Children need space, time, materials and an accommodating environment that nurtures their sense of security – an important emotional need. They need an environment that is conducive to learning and allows their brain to grow and develop.
So what is the home learning environment and what does it involve? There are several aspects to it:
- The physical environment in which they live
- The physical things around them
- The people around them
- Their interactions with the world and the people
Your children’s learning environment is as much about your relationship with them and how you interact as it is about what is in their bedroom. It is the total package and whether their entire life experience allows them to learn optimally or not.
How to Create a Positive Learning Environment at Home
Creating a rich learning environment is not at all difficult. It just requires a little effort to create a home with good learning spaces for children.
It goes without saying that children need the basics to be taken care of first – food, shelter, medical care and hygiene – before any meaningful learning can take place.
Then there are many factors that will have a great impact on learning optimally.
Any parent reading an article like this has probably already invested lots of time and energy in helping their children to thrive. You may already have created a wonderful learning retreat at home, but here are some extra tips and ideas.
This is a list of 21 ways to create an environment conducive to learning, some of which are inspired by Joanne Hendrick, author of “Total Learning: Developmental Curriculum for the Young Child”.
1. Give Unconditional Love, Attention and Emotional Support
The first and most important factor for a child to be able to learn, and one of their major emotional needs, is their sense of self and belonging.
Children’s emotional needs are met by parents who are loving, available, present and supportive. No child can really thrive without feeling loved and heard.
Feeling secure and having a loving family life goes a long way to creating a motivation to learn in children. Children need self-motivation to learn and will develop this in a happy home.
2. Give Your Child Access to Books
Children who read are at a huge advantage intellectually. They have better:
- Language and conversational skills
- Problem-solving abilities
- Understanding of concepts
- Listening skills
- Life skills
- General knowledge
- Emotional maturity
- And more…
These children come from homes where they are exposed to books and reading all the time. Create a reading environment at home, but not just through exposure to children’s books.
Parents who read have a far greater impact on their child’s future love of reading as they set an example for them to follow.
They also learn that reading is a relaxing leisure activity, not one you do as a chore, which is how some children feel when reading is a part of their homework from school.
Expose your young child to many kinds of books for varied experiences – picture books, fiction, nonfiction and reference books – such as dictionaries or children’s encyclopedias.
Don’t forget to visit a library too and teach your child about lending books or swap books with a friend and return them once they are read.
The best time to instil this habit is to read your child a bedtime story every night. Try also to encourage reading during the day.
3. Provide Rich Sensory Experiences
From the time of birth and right through the first years children learn through their senses – their seven senses:
- Balance (vestibular)
- Body awareness (proprioception)
Home should be an environment that is rich in sensory stimuli. Children need continuous experiences to smell and taste new things, see and hear various sounds, and develop their tactile senses.
They should also be moving non-stop to stimulate the extremely important senses of balance and body awareness.
Expose your child at home to these kinds of activities:
- Listening games
- Reading aloud and reciting rhymes
- Puzzles and matching games
- Preparing meals
- Gardening – smelling and touching plants
- Movement – rolling, hanging upside down, running, jumping, twirling, climbing through things, into tunnels, etc.
4. Create Functional Spaces for Different Activities
When children have separate, functional spaces they tend to use them and thus get greater exposure to learning experiences. This works much better than having all their toys and equipment in one pile somewhere.
Try to make the following spaces and areas available, whether in the bedroom, playroom, living room or even outdoors.
You don’t need to have everything in your child’s bedroom and in fact, it should be a tranquil, relaxing environment for sleep so keep some of the activities outside of the room.
- A table designated for art activities with materials and supplies on hand. This can also be used for moulding with playdough.
- An easel or area outside for painting with brushes on big paper, or messy art such as finger painting.
- A quiet corner of the bedroom for reading, with a small bookshelf and some cushions or bean bags to relax on while reading.
- Outdoor areas for sand and water play (a small trough filled with water or sand and some cups and utensils will do). This is also a good place for science experiments and other messy play.
- An area for quiet games (this also works well in the bedroom) such as matching games (download matching cards in my FREE printables set at the end of the post), card games and puzzles.
- A big area to construct and play with blocks, Lego and construction toys. Keep the blocks in a big tub in another room of the house and have a carpet or mat to sit on and construct. Box construction with waste materials also works in this space.
- An area for fantasy play – with dress-up clothes and props.
It is great to structure spaces like this because instead of having tons of things in the same place and feeling overwhelmed, your child can decide whether he is in the mood for a quiet game, to go outside and get involved in a messy activity, to be creative and draw or build something, or wind down and read a book.
5. Buy Educational Toys
Children should have plenty of exposure to educational toys and equipment. The important thing though is to understand what educational toys really are.
While there is a place for plastic toys that sing and have flashing lights, plastic phones and tablets, etc, these are all very similar, provide the same type of stimulation and are limited in their creativity.
As the default, choose old-fashioned toys that have been around for ages.
For real learning, every home should have these kinds of basic educational toys:
- Wooden blocks
- Construction toys and Lego
- Wooden puzzles
- Threading and lacing toys (string, beads, etc.)
- Educational games (e.g. memory games, matching games)
- Board games (e.g. snakes and ladders)
- Balls and beanbags
6. Follow a Daily Routine
One of the essentials of creating a positive learning environment is following a good daily routine.
Children who know what is expected of them and can predict how their day will go feel secure and are better able to learn.
Routine gives the day a structure and gives the child a sense of being in control and not feeling lost, confused or anxious.
They also behave better when in a routine because they tend to accept their routine without wasting energy challenging everyday activities.
For example, a child who has clean-up time every day after playtime is more likely to tidy than a child who is nagged throughout the day to tidy their room; a child who is allowed to watch their favourite programme after breakfast for half an hour will cooperate better than a child who refuses to play because he wants to watch TV all day instead.
7. Create a Language-Rich Environment
Children pick up language primarily from their parents. Your home should be a language-rich environment.
Have discussions with your children throughout the day – in the bath, while cooking, while packing away the laundry, driving, at bedtime, etc. The everyday business of life is filled with opportunities for discussions.
Another perfect time to extend your child’s vocabulary is while she is playing. Ask her questions about what she is doing and offer new words to introduce her to the concepts she is discovering as she plays.
- That tower of blocks is really tall and is leaning to the side
- Can you tell me about the shades of colours you’ve used in your painting? Are they dark or light?
- If you pour this jug of water into the wider jug, do you think the amount of water will be more, less or the same?
If your children learn how to speak by listening to you, then it makes sense not to use baby talk or shortened sentences (e.g. give mamma).
Model the correct language by using simple, clear, grammatically correct sentences and your children will imitate you and develop good language skills.
“Language is the single best predictor of school achievement and the key to strong language skills are those back-and-forth fluent conversations between young children and adults [source].”
8. Instill Independence at Home
Is your home set up for your children’s independence or are they completely reliant on you to get by?
It’s important to create an environment of trust at home where your children know they are able and expected to carry out basic (age-appropriate) tasks for themselves.
As a general rule of thumb – don’t do for your children what they can do for themselves.
The irony of parenting is that you invest everything you have into making your children independent from you one day. The more they are reliant on you, the less capable they become as adults.
Set your home up so your kids can do things for themselves. Some examples:
- A stool to reach the sink or basin
- Basic food preparation utensils within reach
- Toys and equipment within reach
- An accessible clothing cupboard to dress themselves
9. Engage in Meaningful Experiences
If you are going about your day – cooking, watering the plants, wrapping gifts for a birthday party – and your children are being distracted (for example by the TV) so you can get it done quickly, they are missing out on life’s many experiences.
Now it’s understandable that you really do need to get things done as quickly as possible sometimes but don’t let your children constantly miss out on the daily happenings of life. This is where most learning happens.
The more you involve them in your daily chores and tasks, the more meaningful experiences they will have.
Even simple tasks, such as packing away the laundry, have so many hidden educational benefits:
- Matching and sorting skills (e.g. socks)
- Number concepts (counting items, finding pairs, etc.)
- Fine and gross motor skills (e.g. closing buttons or folding sheets)
- Improved vocabulary and language (chatting while sorting)
- Visual perception (different sizes, colours, patterns, etc.)
- Sensory stimulation (different textures and fabrics)
- Learning about responsibility (through chores)
- Bonding by spending time together
10. Be Completely Engaged and Present With Your Child
Because of my background in teaching – and seeing the effects clearly in the classroom – I am quite consistent about controlling the amount of screen time my daughter has.
This is quite an enlightening article about the effects of parents’ screen time on their children.
We seldom stop to think about the effect it has on our children when we are tuned out.
It’s time to get off our phones and connect with our children!
11. Expose Your Children to Music
A home filled with music is a home filled with learning. Here are some ways to incorporate music into your home:
- Sing rhymes and songs daily.
- Play music games like musical statues.
- Have basic instruments available (bells, tambourines, drums, etc).
- Get creative and make your own instruments together or improvise (e.g. two pot lids for cymbals, pots and a wooden spoon for drums, rice in a cup for a shaker).
- Play music often and dance together.
Music is filled with rich learning benefits. Just by singing rhymes with your children, you will be developing their phonological awareness as they learn to identify rhymes, patterns, sounds, syllables, etc.
12. Give Everything a Place
When every item in your home has a place – Marie Kondo style – then every item is respected and used appropriately.
Toys that are kept in a heap or all thrown into a big box, or worse – scattered around a room – create a feeling of chaos and do not inspire much learning.
Make sure your children’s things have a home and they can help keep them tidy. It is unrealistic to expect everything to be neat and tidy all the time but create an environment at home where things are respected and looked after.
When your children can see the things on a shelf they will be more likely to use each one and replace them than they will if faced with a big heap of things.
The best way to encourage this is to model it throughout the house. Your children are unlikely to keep their area tidy if the whole house is in disarray.
13. Make Areas Pretty But Practical
Create an environment at home that is attractive but practical. You don’t want to have so many glass finishes that your children are afraid to move or white couches they are not allowed to sit on.
A home should be a comfortable place. Go for warm colours and calming textures that are not overwhelming.
The same goes for clothing – unless for a special occasion, don’t dress your children in clothing with an instruction to not get dirty during their playtime. The dirtier your children are when they come home from school the more they have learned!
14. Display Your Children’s Work
When you place your children’s sculptures on your desk or pin their pictures up to a board in your home you are giving the message that you value their work and efforts.
Children love to see their artwork displayed. It makes them feel proud and motivates them to keep putting effort into their projects, especially if their parents have acknowledged them.
Here are some fun ideas for displaying children’s art.
15. Provide Various Art Materials
Children are naturally creative beings and need to be able to express their creativity daily. They learn many things through drawing and painting:
- They develop fine motor skills.
- They progress through the stages of drawing development.
- They build a pencil control and the foundation for formal writing.
- They learn about concepts as they draw what they are thinking about.
- They learn planning skills and depth perception.
- They build their concentration span.
- They develop their visual perception.
- They use drawing as a healthy outlet for emotions.
- They develop creativity.
- And many, many more things…
In order to foster this expression, art materials should be readily available at home.
You need only have the essentials – wax crayons, pencil crayons, markers, chalk, etc. Offer different kinds of paint too – watercolours, liquid paint, powder paint, finger paint, etc.
Lastly, as long as children always have paper available – preferably large sheets – they will draw. In my classroom, most children drew two to three pictures a day during their free playtime.
16. Encourage Outdoor Play
Very young children learn through their bodies and through free play. The best place to move and learn freely is outdoors.
Children who are indoors all day – sometimes transfixed to a screen – are very limited in their learning and are missing out on so much essential playtime. Time to play freely is one of your child’s basic physical needs.
Make sure your children spend a large block of time every day outdoors – whether in a garden or park.
In order to develop their gross motor skills, children should be climbing, running, rolling, skipping, hopping, pushing, pulling, and hanging every day.
Screen time has its place but it should never replace outdoor free play.
17. Improvise Outdoor Equipment
Are you making full use of the space in your garden? There are many ways to improvise and add things into a garden – without having to buy expensive equipment – that will build your kids’ gross motor skills.
Any piece of equipment you leave out will pique interest and encourage kids to be creative and find a way to play with it.
Here are some ideas for outdoor equipment:
- Old ropes
- Cardboard boxes
- A ladder on the ground
- Wooden planks to balance along
- Toys with wheels
- A tyre or wooden swing to hang on a tree
- A tub with sand and water
18. Go on Educational Outings
A healthy learning environment is not just about learning at home, but also outside the home.
You may often take your children out for fun and entertainment, but when last did you take them on a truly educational outing?
Children are always filled with excitement at school when going on outings with their class. Create the same excitement at home by planning an interesting outing together. Here are some places you could go to:
- The zoo
- A nature reserve
- A museum
- An art gallery
- A mint
- A library
- A theatre production
- A vintage car show
- A science fair
- A planetarium
19. Allocate Chores
And while we’re on the topic of independence, chores are an absolute must for small children.
They must learn that a home runs well when the family shares the load and everyone does their bit. If mom and dad (and possibly even a helper) are doing lots of chores to help the family, small children can also contribute with simple, age-appropriate tasks.
This teaches children about respecting their belongings, understanding and appreciating the time their parents put into looking after them and gaining a sense of pride by contributing.
Children also learn about consequences and being responsible. If they are expected to pack away their toys they will treat them with more respect than if someone else always comes in to clear the mess.
20. Eat (Mostly) Healthy Food
It may seem obvious but healthy food directly affects our energy levels and ability to concentrate.
Nowadays it can be tricky to stay healthy with all the non-nutritious options all around us constantly. Stick to the basics – whole, natural food – and you will be setting your children up for healthy habits throughout their life.
21. Prioritize Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important factors in optimal learning.
Children need a healthy dose of sleep every night in order to process what they have learned and be ready to continue learning the next day. A child who is over-tired cannot function properly or thrive.
A child’s sleeping environment is very important. It should be calming and should set the stage for sleep.
A good bedtime routine – such as a bath and a story – will cue children’s brains that it is time to sleep and also begin the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
Avoid letting kids be exposed to screens such as televisions, tablets, or phones before bed as they reduce the quality of sleep and have harmful effects. [source]
With your home set up and ready for learning, your children will be open to all you have to teach them.
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Monday 8th of July 2019
Your info has enhanced my knowledge. Thank you
Tuesday 9th of July 2019
You're welcome Wendyla! I'm glad the info is helpful.