Step 3: A Learning Environment

Step 3: A Learning EnvironmentThe perfect environment in which to learn might include a library filled with rich literature neatly packed into floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. There might be a light-filled room in which serious studies could take place with tables, comfortable workstations, and plenty of storage space for supplies. The perfect environment in which to learn might include an activity room full of Legos, Tinkertoys, solar system mobiles, art supplies, science equipment, and a media center. It might also include a twenty-acre backyard full of farm animals, stocked ponds, and garden paths.

Don’t have a place quite like this? The perfect environment in which to learn will depend less on the rooms you decorate than on the atmosphere you cultivate!

 

Relationships

So much of what we do in educating at home revolves around setting up an atmosphere conducive to real learning. Cultivating such an atmosphere involves being aware of what our children are thinking, what their interests are, and what they need in order to accomplish their goals. The best way for me to accomplish this is through my personal relationship with my children. If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then homeschooling is one percent academics and ninety-nine percent relationship! After all, education is a broad term that touches on the heart, mind, and soul of our children including their mental, physical, and spiritual training. That training is best conducted within the confines of a nurturing relationship with our children. In our home that relationship is strengthened when I take time to listen — really listen — to all that excites and interests them; when I take the time to look into their eyes when they speak to me; when I take the time to pass on that hug of encouragement or touch of understanding; and when I take the time (and it does take time) to lovingly address matters of character before they develop into something more than a simple bad habit. It is through our relationships that we have the potential to teach heart-to-heart.

“Charlotte Mason taught that the Christian world view, properly applied, produces an atmosphere in which the child is accepted just as he is. He does not have to prove himself, pass a test, or show particular talent. He is valuable and unique. He is loved by God, valued and respected by Him. His mind is not looked down upon; he flourishes in the invigorating atmosphere of sharing truly worth-while interests with people who like him as a person. His own ideas and choices count. There is an atmosphere of hope and sure expectations…. The atmosphere is stimulating because there is a common bond, too, in the area of enjoying knowledge…. I would rather my child had a limited curriculum and access to limited educational resources, and yet learned by basking in the atmosphere of someone who had true pleasure in the books that were pursued, than that he should go to some well-equipped and soulless situation where, theoretically, he could ‘learn’ at optimum speed.” — Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake

 

A Receptive Atmosphere

Parents are a child’s best cheerleaders. We can listen, understand, empathize, train, guide, and inspire! As mentors we can appreciate each child as an individual; recognizing the gifts with which he has been blessed that make him who he is. If we are receptive, and understand the traits that make up each individual child’s personality, then we will be better able to encourage him along the way. If we can see things through his eyes, we will be better able to know when to slow down to overcome a weakness or to speed up to avoid frustration, to inspire his creativity, and to encourage him to take every thought captive.

 

A Consistent Atmosphere

All children thrive within a consistent routine. When they have this constancy of knowing what to expect next, it is easier for them to develop good habits — habits that will serve them throughout their lifetime. Some families will operate on a schedule, others will prefer to work in time blocks, and still others from a to-do list. While the organizing principle may vary, the goal remains to provide our children with a consistent routine.

If my child knows that he is expected to have his bed made each morning before coming down to breakfast, there will be much less grumbling, and complaining — particularly after the first or second time he tests to see if I “really” mean it, and finds that I most certainly do!

 

Time to Think

In today’s world our children are typically over-scheduled. Mom runs a taxi service from one activity to another, and the child’s entire day is organized for him. Children (as well as adults) need time to think — to absorb all that they are learning and coming into contact with. This is not to imply they need unscheduled time to sit and play a computer game! These unscheduled minutes can be used to read a book on their own, work on a favorite project, enjoy a hobby, work with their hands, or take a walk outside. In short our children can use these unscheduled minutes to just “be.”

 

Time to Read

What family doesn’t enjoy snuggling on the couch and sharing a great book? While it is certainly important that every child have the time and space to enjoy his own reading pursuits, family reading is also an important element of a rich learning environment. The shared experience, the characters we come to know, and the lively discussions fostered become part of our family culture. Providing time and space to read with our children instills in them not only a love of reading, but also the notion that reading isn’t something we do solely in a “school” setting.

 

Time to be Inspired

Children need plenty of time and space for engaging in their own creative pursuits. It is during this time that they discover and cultivate their interests. For young children this time may have more of the appearance of play than learning; but let us not discount the learning that takes place through imaginative play. When we see that our child has developed a new interest, we can encourage him to pursue the interest by providing him the time and resources he needs to follow it to its end.

 

Time to Explore

Education doesn’t just happen inside four walls. We all grow through outdoor exploration. But it is especially important for children to have an opportunity to appreciate God’s revelation in nature. Nature exploration doesn’t have to be a “schoolish” activity. Rather, the more natural the interaction, the more meaning a child is likely to attach to it. So prepare to get dirty, house bug collections, and watch tadpoles turn into frogs!

 

Further Reading

3 Considerations When Setting the Atmosphere
Ideas for teaching heart-to-heart.

For the Children's SakeFor the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
This warm and enthusiastic book encourages respecting each child’s individuality, providing a rich learning environment for our children, serving our children, providing for their growth, expecting excellence, developing good habits, and creating an atmosphere of acceptance; in short, “nurturing the minds and spirits” of our children.  Read our entire review.

Learning Environment
Other thoughts on creating a learning environment.

Relationships: The Key to Mentoring
“Without these relationships any education is void of the living stuff that makes learning stick.”

Scheduling
Ideas for setting up a routine.

Living Books
Time to read.

10 Helps for Nature Study
Resources for enjoying nature from our DIYHomeschooler site.

 

Helps from others:
  • The Love and Lure of Nature Walking
    “Many of us don’t live on acreage with ponds and meadows to scout out, and it is more difficult for some to find safe parks and places to explore. Yet, if we truly believed that taking time to get out into nature was critically important, wouldn’t we have a new desire to pray for and seek out special spots to view the natural wonders that are close at hand? Even in the heart of city life, one can find so many great examples of natural phenomenon, and nature is always as close as our own backyard. We even know one family who strolled through cemeteries, enjoying lovely trees of all kinds, ponds, flowers, birds, insects, and more with their children. If you believe in the need, you will find a way, so here are seven extra special reasons to get up and get out!” Article by Jane Claire Lambert (Five in a Row).