Seeds planted in ideal conditions produce a bountiful crop. So it is with a child’s intellectual growth. Just as sunlight, water, and rich soil stimulate the growth of garden vegetables, ideal elements motivate your child to learn at his or her greatest capacity. Such elements are often found in engaging classrooms, but they can also be cultivated in any room of your home. As parents, you are your children’s first teachers, so why not provide the ideal environment in which your children can learn? Here are the essentials of an ideal learning environment, an environment that not only allows your child to understand what you teach, but to master what you teach.
Children learn best when they feel safe enough to take risks, make mistakes, and ask questions. Yet, our homes do not always allow for this. With so little time between after school and bed time, the patience of parents can run thin. Misspelled words in a book report or mistakes on long division can seem more like an annoyance on a school night than an opportunity for growth. Still, it is best to tackle your child’s homework mistakes with grace. When you do, you help your child understand that making mistakes is a part of learning. If you lash out instead, your child may view homework as a bother more than a benefit, causing him or her to become frustrated, shut down, and get discouraged with learning. Creating a safe environment for your child’s learning also applies to non-school tasks. Remember this when your pre-teen spills milk or your teenager forgets an item on the shopping list. Instead of harsh criticism or disapproval, think of ways you can help your children learn from their mistakes.
A collaborative environment is one where children work with others, either sharing information or sharing tasks related to a specific goal. You can provide a collaborative environment in your home by making your children complete tasks with other family members. You may, for instance, charge your son and daughter with figuring out a more effective way of washing the dishes jointly, or you may have your two teens work together to make Sunday brunch. Completing such tasks collaboratively gives your children the ability to see things from different perspectives and come up with creative solutions. It also gives them the experience of working with others, a skill they’ll inevitably use throughout their lives.
Children learn best when what they learn is useful to their everyday lives. Relevant learning surpasses telling your 10-year-old that “money doesn’t grow on trees.” Instead it allows your child to earn money for those designer gym shoes he really wants to have. Before teaching your child new information, ask the question: “How can my child apply this to his or her life at this moment?” Such questions lead to relevant ways of learning. Making learning relevant, or applicable to their every day, allows your children to practice what they learn, eventually enabling them to master it. Relevant learning also makes it necessary to revisit the same skill throughout your child’s life, modifying the teaching point according to age-level. (i.e., making new friends in kindergarten will look very different from making new friends in high school.)
Evaluative & creative
Good teachers don’t want students to simply “know” and “remember” information; they strive for students to “evaluate” and “create” what they have learned, two of the highest levels of learning, according to educational psychologists. Outside of the classroom, you can make learning evaluative and creative by taking simple rules that you usually tell your child — such as “never touch the stove,” and having your child judge whether the rules are effective (evaluative) and/or write new rules for other areas of the house (creative).
Think of other ways you can have your children assess what they learn and produce something new from what you teach them. For example, instead of just explaining how they can earn respect from others, have them assess the lives of individuals they know, and identify those who are the most respected. Then allow them to create new behaviors that embody respect in order to add them to their own lifestyle.
Remember to use these tips to set the stage for your children’s learning, so that your children may learn in the most ideal way.