Every year before your child enters their classroom and meets their new teacher, that teacher has likely spent hours, days, and lots of their own money creating the perfect learning environment for their students. Teachers know that the environment their students are learning in can have a great impact on their achievement and experience during the school year. Now that I'm out of the classroom, admittedly, this is one of the times of year that I really miss. While I'm tempted to put up a reptile bulletin board with cute borders and laminated posters for my 3 year old in our kitchen, I haven't done that. Yet. But I do constantly think of the environment in our home and ways that I can create a home that encourages our children to learn and grow. Im restraining myself and staying away from colorful bulletin boards in the kitchen for now, but here are some things I'm doing as my children go back to school that I think are even better:
Surrounding my kids with books. When I think about creating an environment that welcomes learning, the first thing that I think about is BOOKS. Never mind the fact that I have a mild obsession with children’s books and am a bit of a children’s book hoarder. Being surrounded by books is fantastic for building children’s curiosity, literacy, knowledge of the world around them… I could go on and on and on. I believe that one of the top things you can do for your child as a learner, from birth on, is to surround them by books and read to them, with them, and around them.
In my home, we have books in nearly every room. The boys each have bookshelves in their rooms, we have books in our room, and we have a shelf with books in our living room. Each of these areas does not have to have a lot of books (in fact, I could easily make the argument that less is more when it comes to bookshelves or baskets), but I like my kids to be able to constantly access books so that when they get the urge to explore one, they do!
Even though my husband and I rarely have a moment to sit down and actually read, we keep our reading material out for the kids to see. We want them to know that we love reading. We try to read in front of them, talk about our books with them and have family reading nights as often as we can. But sometimes life is super busy and we just have the books on the coffee table for show. At least that's a step.
Creating a place to display my kids' work. We obviously want our children to produce work at school that would make us proud. That work may be a piece of art they poured their hearts and minds into, a spelling test they mastered after nights of practice, or a check on a piece of homework after 5 missing pieces. We can help motivate our children to produce great work by finding a way to display their work in our home. A lot of us can remember the pride we felt when our parents put our latest math test up on the refrigerator. That pride is motivating! Luckily, today there are countless creative ways that parents have found to display their children’s work in an honoring but stylish way. In our living room, we have these 3 picture frames hung. There is a slot on the side where we can simply slide pieces of art or schoolwork in and out of the frame. Couldn't be easier! For details about these frames and some more easy and stylish ways to store and display your kids' work, check out this post.
Having learning toys (that don’t look like it) accessible. Puzzles, blocks, legos, circuitry kits, playing cards, play-doh. Many of these toys that we don’t immediately think of as learning toys are the best tools for helping children practice motor skills and learn counting, spatial reasoning skills, problem solving skills, how to read directions and more. I love these toys with “hidden” learning opportunities because they keep learning fun. After a long day learning and challenging their brain in a classroom, your child will likely not respond well to flashcards or explicit learning activities. Building a complex structure with legos, though? Sure! And the learning benefits will be just as strong.
Immersing my kids and our home in the arts. Research has shown that children’s IQ, language development, reasoning skills and test scores all improve with exposure to the arts. Beyond this, though, we want to raise children who are well-rounded people. I see my kids’ early years as a time for exposure – a time when I can expose them to as much as possible so that as they get older they have found something they are passionate about. So turn up the music and dance while you’re cooking dinner. It's just as important to your kids' development as homework. And it's fun too!
Having a clock in plain sight. One of the old-fashioned ones with two (or three) arms! Think about the world around us. How many analog clocks (with faces) do you see anymore? Probably very few. While this is fine for those of us who know how to tell time, what about your 1st or 2nd grader who is learning how to tell time and is expected to be able to do it with both digital and analog clocks? This is getting harder and harder to teach as children are exposed to analog clocks less and less. Your children will have an advantage if they’ve been exposed to an analog clock from an early age. We have this one, which I love because it is BIG, simple, easy to read, and from IKEA, so very affordable. Bonus points if you also buy your child a fun and stylish analog watch to wear as they walk into class on the first day of school.
How have you incorporated learning into the design of your home? Please share some ideas that I haven't thought of!