Make Your Home an Ideal Learning Environment
by jan pierce
You are your child’s first teacher and your home is your child’s first school. You spend a good bit of time every day setting the tone for behaviors, encouraging first steps, and pouncing on those teachable moments to mold your children into the happy and successful people you want them to be.
But, are you missing some opportunities to support your child’s learning? Kids will thrive in a home that makes learning a priority and creates the proper balance between direct teaching and “give it a go on your own” kinds of involvement. Every child needs a different blend of the two—some children need direct instruction before they’re willing to try something new, and others are rarin’ to go without a lot of introduction.
Here are some guidelines for making your home a comfortable place to work, play and learn—a place where efforts are valued over a finished product and where it’s just fine to try and fail along the road to success.
Model a Lifestyle of Learning
My father was an avid fisherman and fishing was a family sport. We often hit the water before the sun was up and fished (and ate) all day long. I learned early on that fishing equipment was next to sacred and that I could impress my Dad with my fishing skills.
It’s like that with any sort of learning. If your kids know you think reading, or playing music, or playing chess at a high level is cool, they’ll think so too. It isn’t the subject matter that’s important, it’s the fact that children will believe learning new things is important, if you show that you believe it is.
So read some books, do some home improvement projects, learn to grow flowers, or learn a new language. Your kids will notice both the effort and the expertise, but more importantly, they’ll know that you value learning.
Children need to do hands-on exploration as they learn. They enjoy molding clay, they love cutting and pasting. When out of doors, they enjoy gathering materials and building forts. Parents don’t need to join in the creativity, but they can help the process by providing materials. Make it a habit to have a good supply of paper, pencils, markers, glue, and all the other stuff of artistic endeavors. Allow kids to use simple tools (with appropriate safety precautions) and marvel at their creations.
You might keep a supply of old clothing and props for the dramatic sessions that will take place after reading a particularly good story. Encourage kids to act out their favorite fairy tales, or encourage them to write a book about their latest interest. Use their love for heroes to encourage creative extensions such as giving a play, writing a poem or singing a new song.
Expect a bit of a mess along the way. Creative processes are worth a few spills and piles of rubble.
Follow Their Lead
Right now my youngest grandson is enamored with dinosaurs and volcanoes. He talks about them, knows dinosaur names, understands that volcanoes erupt and learned that one of the theories about dino demise was a large volcanic eruption back in the day. So, when he came for a visit I made sure to have dino and volcano books ready to read and enjoy.
He spent a lot of time creating caves out of playdough for plastic dinosaur figures and re-enacting dinosaur adventures. We read the volcano books and learned to identify the cutaway parts of a volcano.
What are y our children excited about right now? Do they love to plant seeds and watch them grow? Do they want to learn how to speak Spanish or how to cook a pizza? It pays to notice the things your kids are interested in and support their learning in those specific areas.
Find Programs, Classes and Other Local Learning Challenges
Signing the kids up for classes in dance, music or sports can be expensive and time-consuming. Most parents do it anyway. But don’t overlook the free activities available through school or church projects, local youth programs and your local library. Let them try a variety of activities and then if they take off in drama or music, the cost of classes is well worth the price.
Be Their Cheerleader
Whatever your child enjoys doing, it is your privilege to be their cheerleader. If they love art, then make their next birthday gift an array of art materials. If they love to write, provide the paper and pencils or a keyboard. If they love to play chess, learn a few moves and play along. It’s easy to root on the sidelines of a soccer game, but might require a bit of inspiration to cheer on a quieter child who enjoys reading biographies or studying insects. Find a way. It matters.
Remember, you’ll always be your child’s number one teacher. Make the most of that role and create an environment in which learning is as natural as breathing.
Jan Pierce is a retired teacher and reading specialist who writes about education, parenting and family life. Find Jan at janpierce.net