What Is a Learning-Rich Environment?

He's a curious kid
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Homeschoolers have a language of their own that may sometime be confusing to outsiders or newbies. One such term is learning-rich environment.

For some, the term may seem self-explanatory. For others, it may sound intimidating. They may wonder, if I don’t create the perfect environment for my kids, am I going to be a homeschool failure?

Of course not! The definition of a learning-rich environment may vary from family to family, but all definitions will probably encompass a setting in which children are encouraged to learn through natural curiosity and exploration and in which the tools for doing so are provided.

Some common components of a learning-rich environment may include some of the following:

Books

There probably isn’t a homeschooling family on the planet for whom a learning-rich environment will not include access to books. To create a setting in which natural learning can take place, children of all ages should have easy access to a variety of reading materials.

Easy access may mean bookshelves placed low where young children can reach them. Rain gutter bookshelves provide a highly visual storage idea, which often encourages young readers to explore.

Easy access also means placing books in high traffic areas of your home. You may have bookshelves in bedrooms or your living room (or even your dining room!) or you may use your coffee table to strategically place books you think will interest your children (the unschooling art of ).

A variety of reading materials may include books, magazines, graphic novels, or comics.

It may include biographies, historical fiction, non-fiction, and books of poetry.

A learning-rich environment will include ready access to the written word and the freedom to use the materials at will. It's important to teach children how to properly care for books, so you may wish to start with providing free access to sturdier reading material such as cloth or board books if you have young children.

Tools for expressing creativity

A learning-rich environment will typically include ready-access to tools for kids to express their creativity. Depending on the age of your children, these tools may include:

  • Play-doh or modeling clay
  • Art supplies such as paints, brushes, or chalks
  • Musical instruments
  • Cameras – digital or video
  • Craft supplies such as glue, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, or construction paper
  • Handicraft supplies such as knitting needles or crochet hooks, yarn, sewing notions
  • Blocks or LEGOs
  • Blank paper and crayons
  • Old magazines and greeting cards

I’ve had young children, so I understand about kids, art supplies, and messes. However, to encourage self-directed creativity, it is best to allow open access to art supplies and tools for creative expression. To offset the potential for disaster, you may wish to consider having a specific area in your home for art or leaving only water-based and washable art supplies openly accessible – and don’t even buy glitter. I learned the hard way.

You might also consider teaching your children to cover their work surface with a plastic table cloth and provide smocks (over-sized t-shirts work well) for art projects.

Tools for open-ended play and exploration

A learning-rich environment will also have the tools necessary for open-ended play and exploration.

Dry beans can make the perfect math manipulatives, but can also double as the substrate for a sensory box.

Old boxes of varying sizes can be used for building a fort or creating a stage for an impromptu puppet show. Preschool and elementary-aged children can enjoy self-directed learning and play with items like dress-up clothes; old dishes and cookware; or small notepads for playing restaurant or store.

Children of a variety of ages will enjoy having access to items such as:

  • Binoculars or a magnifying glass
  • A microscope and/or telescope
  • Field guides
  • A child-friendly computer or laptop with safe-search options

Older kids may enjoy taking apart non-working electronics and appliances. Just be sure to take the proper safety precautions first.

The idea is to provide the tools to let your children’s imaginations and natural curiosity take over and direct their playtime.

Learning stations

Learning stations are not necessary for a learning-rich environment – particularly if all the elements of the stations are readily accessible to children – but they can be a lot of fun. Learning stations or learning centers need not be elaborate. When my children were younger, our “math station” was a clear, plastic box filled with items such as:

  • Rulers
  • A plastic clock for learning to tell time
  • Counting bears
  • Regular playing cards (adaptable for a variety of math games)
  • Buttons for counting
  • Tangram pieces
  • A set of plastic shapes
  • A set of die
  • Play money

We had a writing center that was made up of a tri-fold presentation board with a a variety of writing helps (such as a word wall of common words and a printout of a hand with the 5W questions, “Who, what, when, where, and why?”). The board was set up on a table which held a dictionary, thesaurus, a variety of paper, journals, pens, and pencils.

You might also consider creating learning centers such as:

  • A reading nook
  • A kitchen center
  • A science/nature study center
  • A geography center

Again, learning centers don’t have to be elaborate. They can be stored in cabinets; boxes or baskets; on top of a bookshelf; or on a wide windowsill. The key is to make the elements of the learning station visible and easily accessible so that students understand that they are free to explore with the items.

Creating a learning-rich environment can also be as simple as a purposeful use of your home and materials. For example, if you have an interest in astronomy and would love to share that with your children, pull out all your astronomy books and strew them about your home.

Let your children see you studying the stars through your telescope, and point out to them some of your favorite constellations.

Creating learning-rich environment may mean simply capitalizing on the everyday learning moments and demonstrating through your actions that learning never stops and isn't confined to the 4.5 hour/180 day school year (for example) that your state requires.

It may mean simply being okay with the potential mess and with the kids using all those great math manipulatives that you purchased at the homeschool convention for something other than their originally intended purpose.

You may discover that creating a learning-rich environment is more about your attitude than the articles in your home.

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Bales, Kris. "What Is a Learning-Rich Environment?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 13, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-learning-rich-environment-4026037. Bales, Kris. (2016, April 13). What Is a Learning-Rich Environment? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-learning-rich-environment-4026037 Bales, Kris. "What Is a Learning-Rich Environment?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-learning-rich-environment-4026037 (accessed November 20, 2017).