Room to learn?

When school term starts again there’s always a flurry of new interest in home education. As well as the usual questions about exams or socialisation (read this) there’s another one that always gets asked:

“But where are the kids going to learn?”

The thought of learning without a classroom seems to make people anxious, as if without this ‘school’ room the children wouldn’t be able to learn at all.

It’s based, of course, on the familiar view we have of learning only ever taking place in a classroom in a school. But just because that’s the way it’s done in the system, it doesn’t mean to say that it is necessary, or the only place a child can learn, or that learning can’t happen effectively without it.

Like any studying we’ve ever done at home, any space can be adapted to fit a purpose, we just have to get creative with it. We can use whatever is available from the kitchen table, bed, living room floor, sofa.

Most home educating families live in a family house and use general family spaces for learning activities. Some start out with a routine that involves grouping round the kitchen table for example, but soon find that in reality, learning can take place anywhere.

For children learn best when they are stimulated, interested and comfortable. That could just as easily be on the floor or in the garden, as in a more formal setting with table/desk and chairs involved. Reading together on the sofa is as effective as upright at the table – probably more so because the child associates it with a pleasurable experience and pleasurable experiences are usually ones that they remember and want to repeat. E.g. maths is just as effective whether it’s on the sofa, on the floor, or chanting or doing quizzes in the back of a car.

In some ways, different settings and experiences can aid learning, stimulating memory. A more formal setting that’s repeated day after day can become boring and easily forgotten.

Many home educating families who have seen their children learning in a variety of settings would go so far as to say that the world is their classroom, finding that they learn as much when they’re out, wherever it is, as they do at home. Valuable learning can happen incidentally from an everyday outing, field trip or visit, stimulating conversation, inquiry and investigation. Even a trip to the park can provoke that. Travel or new stimulating experiences are more examples and offer subjects to research further.

But it’s also the case that formal learning can be conducted outside or in different settings as much as incidental learning can. Just because it’s more formal learning doesn’t mean it needs a more formal space. You can take study anywhere you’re prepared to do it – a library for example, or cafe. One of the essays with the highest marks I ever attained was put together sitting in a field where I was undisturbed and enjoying the quiet surroundings.

Dedicated learning spaces are not a guarantee that effective learning will result. So don’t always stick with formal learning spaces and routines. Get creative – the more stimulating they are the better. It is often the most unlikely situations that stimulate the most lasting results.

And do let me know if you’ve had some unusual and crazy ones – I’d love to know!

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