- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

To create a good learning situation, home-schooling families should take a look at several issues, including the physical environment. Although children can learn just about anywhere, certain circumstances will make it easier, and these may differ for each child. It’s important for parents to provide the environment that enables the best study atmosphere.

Elements that should be considered are:

mSound. Some learn better with normal daily sounds around them, some in complete quiet and some with music playing. Some like to learn by listening to tapes or the sound part of videos about a subject. If the environment is too noisy, consider ear protectors to create quiet; if the room is too quiet, you may want to keep some music playing or the door open to rooms where conversation is going on.

mLight. I like a brightly lit room, with equal access to light everywhere. My husband prefers a darkened room with light only on the book or material he is studying. Some people want blinds and curtains to shut out the distractions of the outdoors, while others need that “green space” as a mental stimulant.

• Furnishings. A desk or table probably is helpful for writing or math work, but a lot of other study can be done on a sofa, the floor or another area. Work with the children’s own patterns here. If they like to curl up on one side of a sofa to read, provide one for your schooling area. If they like to spread things out on the floor to organize them, invest in clean, comfortable carpeting. Do they like to draw? Put in a drafting table or an easel or white board so they can sketch out their thoughts. Visual stimulation, such as maps, posters, charts or artwork, can be important.

• Storage. Bookcases, bins, drawers and shelves can make it much easier to keep track of materials and resources. File cabinets might be a good idea to keep track of projects and papers. Use labels, three-hole punches and colored binders to differentiate among various types of items. You may have a math binder, a poetry folder and an art portfolio. The storage should fit the student’s needs, not the mom’s decor.

• Time. One of the biggest advantages of home-schooling is the ability to fit study to the child’s own sleep needs and energy pattern. My son often sleeps most of the morning away but studies until 6 or 7 at night. Some children I know do their best work from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. But some love to rise with the sun and have their work done by noon.

Try to work with — not against — your child’s natural time clock. It eliminates frustration and accentuates his or her feelings of capability to deal with information.

• Movement. We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that learning takes place in stillness. However, research shows that activity helps stimulate new neural pathways and supports memory and problem solving. Getting up, moving around, sprawling on the floor, doing some exercise or dance or yoga or other activity are all helpful. One of my daughters chose a certain time each day to do yoga stretches, which helped her center her mind and focus her energy. If you find your children getting stuck or losing their focus, try adding some opportunities for movement.

• Creativity. Playing music, dancing, drawing, singing and writing stories are great ways to refresh the mind. Please note: This doesn’t mean “taking a piano lesson” but “playing around on the piano.” One is learning and practicing technique; the other is relaxing with a certain art form.

Let your children pick up a guitar or bang on the drums or do some watercolors when the studies are getting too dry. They will have more energy later to apply to the books.

• People. It’s important to consider how various people add to or distract from the study situation. If your child needs focused quiet time to study, a chatterbox who learns by discussing will be a real source of frustration. However, your social child may only really learn when there’s another child there with whom to work.

• Food. Are your children big breakfast eaters? Do they want a warm lunch? Do they like to eat with someone or alone? Working with their nutritional needs is an important factor in keeping their focus and energy.

Home-school parents often find that it takes a certain amount of experimentation to uncover the best mix for their children. If you find that certain things cause irritation, try to fix them, and observe whether it improves the situation or not. The discoveries we make may provide important clues to the students’ later careers, as well as their current learning styles. Good luck.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.



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