A Good Home Learning Environment
Practical advice and ideas for practitioners to implement in the setting and share with parents.
The home is the single most significant environmental factor in enabling children to develop the trust, attitude and skills that will help them to learn and engage positively with the world. A good home learning environment provides the love, security, stimulation, encouragement and opportunities that help children to flourish- a process that begins at birth, if not before.
What are the key elements that contribute to creating a good home learning environment? These elements can be divided into ‘the way parents relate to and engage with their child' and 'what parents and children do together’.
The way parents relate to and engage with their child
Research has found that the quality of a parent-child relationship during the first three years is fundamental to a child’s later success in school and their longer-term development and wellbeing (O’Connor and Scott, 2007).
A positive home learning environment is created when children are listened to, responded and talked to from birth, respected and valued as unique individuals and cared for in a warm, safe and encouraging atmosphere. Warm, loving relationships enable children to develop self-control and empathy, both of which impact on success in later life.
A secure attachment is related to greater self-confidence, improved social skills and higher school achievement. This is because a secure attachment in early life – a relationship which is loving, warm, sensitive and responsive - helps children develop empathy and self-control, which are important skills for later interaction and learning.
Secure attachments encourage children to be confident explorers and ready to learn about the world around them, whilst safe in the knowledge that they have a secure base to return to.
Early interaction includes parents communicating with their young baby/child through smiles, talking, touch and play. Positive interactions support the acquisition of physical, intellectual, language, social and emotional skills.
Research (Hart and Risley,1995) has found a direct correlation between parents talking to children and children’s later linguistic and intellectual development. The most effective interactions between parents and children incorporated the following:
- talking generally - using a wide vocabulary
- being nice - using praise and acceptance
- using language with high information content
- giving children choices
- listening and responding to children
- What parents and children do together
What parents and children can do together
When asked what they would like from staff in settings, parents requested “more information about what their children should be doing at different ages and stages and what activities they can do at home” (provider Influence on the Home learning Environment: Executive Summary pge7)
Throughout the following case studies we have referred to seven key activities that have a marked impact on children’s educational attainment and achievement. If parents regularly engage in these activities, such as singing songs and rhymes and sharing books they can enhance their child’s progress and development.
Research shows that children who experience a positive home learning environment are already ahead in both social and intellectual development by the age of three.
Human babies are born with an unfinished brain, which then develops at an astonishing pace; from 25% to 80% of the fully formed brain between birth and the age of three! This development is described as ‘experience dependent’.
At birth most, if not all, brain cells are in place; after birth, however, connections (synapses) are developed which pass information between these nerve cells. The more an experience (positive or negative) is repeated, the stronger the connection is made and thus retained; whereas those which are not used as often are shed.
Experiences parents provide for children in their early years provide the foundation from which babies and children grow to achieve their full potential.
Opportunities provided as part of a positive home learning environment must be set within an enjoyable context and might include:
- providing opportunities and encouragement to explore and develop independence
- going on visits i.e. to the local library, park, community activities
- creating opportunities for children to have friends to play
- providing real experiences that make sense to children e.g. cooking
- involving children in everyday routines
A good home learning environment offers stimulation for children of all ages; this includes providing babies with things to look at or explore by putting in their mouth and activities and resources which offer intellectual stimulation for older children.
The brain of a baby or young child who gets the interaction and stimulation needed for healthy development is literally larger and more completely formed by the age of three than the brain of a child who has experienced neglect.