Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. Parents can also play a huge role in nurturing their kids' education – in fact, the more support a child has at home, the more likely they are to achieve at school. Experts agree the family home is the first and best learning environment, even once kids start school. And it all begins with knowing how to provide a positive learning environment at home.
Create a Dedicated Space
First up, set up an area where learning can take place – this shows you value education enough to give it its own area. “Having a dedicated space at home provides a place where the child can take ownership of their learning,” explains Sydney teacher Alex Jones. Choose somewhere quiet and away from TV, tech and toys. Then, embrace your inner Marie Kondo by going on a decluttering spree – research suggests clutter is linked to procrastination – and show your budding academics how to keep their workspace free of distractions with some easy to use storage. Lastly, make sure they have all the stationery gear they need, ready to go. “You don’t want them to break the ‘creative flow’ to find a pen,” says Alex.
What To Try
- Bergen 1 Drawer Semi Assembled 1100mm Oak/Black
- Italplast Desk Organiser Tinted Purple
- J.Burrows 9 Drawer Chrome Trolley Multi-coloured
Communication is Key
Talking with your kids about what they’re learning at school shows you’re interested in their education – and getting into this habit might encourage them to go beyond one-word answers in their teenage years! “Fostering an accepting environment will encourage children to talk openly,” says Alex. Try asking open questions, not just ones that have ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. And you can make the chat less stressful by steering it towards engagement and away from achievement or what marks they got. “Rather than quizzing your child on academic performance, focus on interesting things that happened that day,” says psychologist Rebecca Cefai, director of Growing Gently Psychology. “Instead of ‘How was school?’, ask questions such as ‘What made you laugh?’ or ‘What’s something interesting you learnt today?’ ”
Check in regularly with the school, too: keep on top of newsletters so you know what’s going on and how you can help out – it can make your little one feel special to have you there – and use parent-teacher nights and online portals to chat about how they’re doing in class and what you can do at home that might help at school. Research from the University of Auckland suggests when schools and parents work together, kids do better.
Communication is Key
Knowing what they’re learning helps youngsters feel motivated. “Being engaged and interested is a great start,” says Alex. “If parents are supportive and enthusiastic, it shows the child that what they are doing is worthwhile.” And who knows – you might just learn something from them! Teachers may share what they are working on each term as part of their communications; otherwise chat to your kids about what topics they’re studying, so you can think of games, family excursions or kid-friendly TV shows and movies that tie in with each subject.
And try to keep high expectations in check, says Rebecca. “Adopt a ‘growth’ mindset – making mistakes is part of the learning process. When your child gets things wrong, support them to keep trying and find the correct answer.”
Try Active Listening
Communication is two-way – being a good listener is vital. If kids feel heard, they’re more likely to come to you when they’re upset or worried. “Active listening is truly listening to what the person is saying,” says Rebecca. “This means focusing on the moment and trying to find the key messages and feelings that your child is saying. Show you’re listening by looking at your child and avoiding distractions, such as your phone.”
Lead by Example
You can also help create a positive learning environment by being a good role model. Studies show that if there is a culture of learning at home, the young ones of the family are likely to have better academic skills. Rebecca recommends being mindful of “your own perceptions of learning. For example, if you refuse to pick up a book and read it, your child is likely to refuse too.” Let them see you absorbed in reading or a puzzle, discussing the news, or looking up the answers to science questions you find interesting. And involve them – when you are learning a new recipe, growing herbs in the garden or listening to a podcast – let them join in and learn with you.
Make Learning Routine
Kids thrive on structure. Studies show organised activities such as dinnertime, bedtime and reading can help children perform at school. Try scheduling homework, bedtime and reading and quiet reading time – after dinner each night, for example. Experts also believe technology use can negatively impact sleep quality and wellbeing, so consider an evening cut-off time from the iPad or electronic games.
What To Try
- J.Burrows Whiteboard and Accessories 900 x 600mm
- Learning Can Be Fun Reward Chart Jungle
- Monkey and Chops Weekly Activity Planner
Don’t Forget Downtime
We never thought we’d take an early childhood education lesson from The Shining, but it turns out ‘all work and no play’ is a bad thing – because young children actually do their best learning as part of play and hobbies. US researchers believe play is highly beneficial to children’s language and learning skills, while registered play therapist Katie Summerfield points out that “play is important for cognitive, physical, social, emotional and optimal brain development.” When they’re playing, kids “can put into practice educational and social concepts and learn by trial and error,” she says. You can steer fun-time into educational areas without them even knowing they are ‘studying’. Work on their basic maths playing ‘shop’, as you count items and coins; tackle a kid-friendly crossword or write a play together to boost language skills; and set up some painting time to teach colours and creativity.
Keep Things Comfortable
Don’t forget the physical aspects of a positive learning environment. Research suggests children are better learners when they’re at a comfortable temperature and have a well-lit study space, preferably with natural light. So try and set them up near a window, in an area that isn't too hot or cold. A healthy snack before tackling homework can also help kids maintain focus – nothing is as distracting as an empty tummy!