You know what they say….mess causes stress; but when it comes to kids, clutter isn’t just about creating stress but also about getting in the way of Learning, impacting on a child’s ability to stay focused thanks to the numerous distractions it presents.
Hmmmm….but if you are anything like me, you’re probably constantly battling mess and clutter in the home (arghhhhh!)…so the question is…how exactly do we go about creating a Healthy Learning Environment for children to help them fulfill their potential? I chat to professional organizer and child development specialist Stacy Erickson to find out exactly that in this installment of Expert Editions.
Why is a healthy learning environment for children important at home?
Home is the very first Learning Environment, and it is (ideally) where we spend most of our time. Learning doesn’t just happen in school – it happens at all times. Learning isn’t just academic – as we are growing up, learning happens in ALL areas of life.
What does a healthy learning environment consist of?
The most important thing to remember when setting up a home learning environment is that there always needs to be an opportunity for growth and exploration. Make it easy for them to research and experience the things they are interested in – or, even the things that you’d like to promote to them. Are they starting to explore writing? Have a clipboard with a pencil attached handy. Are they an older child who shows interest in journaling? Make sure they have their own notebook (and maybe fancy pens!) to make it more fun.
What sort of effect does clutter (and chaos!) have on a child’s learning potential?
Decision fatigue has become a very real thing in our society. When people have too much to choose from, they shut down and don’t make a decision at all – or, if they do make a decision after looking at too many options, they are less satisfied with that decision.
I think this plays into home learning and play environments very much. If you have SO many toys to choose from, you’re not going to be able to determine what you really want to play with, and may retreat to less valuable activities (think: begging parents or caregivers for the ipad!). In fact, a recent survey by SpareFoot.com found that parents believe they could get rid of a third of their child’s toys, on average, without them even noticing! Time playing with one thing also decreases, which reduces valuable independent play time that helps kids develop a sense of focus, which is imperative for carrying out tasks completely in life.
How can parents go about creating a healthy learning environment for their kids? Please could you share some practical tips?
Have less out at one time. If you have 20 things on a shelf, consider taking away half and leaving only 10 things out. Many parents think their children will get bored with this, but in my experience, it always increases focus and independent play time. It also makes the clean-up process more likely to be carried out from start to finish (less to clean up = less overwhelming = kids are more likely to do it!)
This can include things like: Instead of having 100 books accessible on a low shelf, put them up high and take 10-15 out at a time in a basket, where kids can put them away easily after use.
Making things easier to clean up can also extend to stuff like art supplies. Consider putting art supplies in gladware containers rather than the original cardboard boxes that they come in. Often, the packaging that they come in is made for marketing, not storage.
How can we include our children in the creation of this environment?
Usually when it comes to a full room organization, I suggest having parents tell their children they are doing a clean out, and then get the kids out of the house for the day when it is going on. Most kids are just not emotionally ready to get rid of a bunch of stuff at once (heck, most adults aren’t – according to SpareFoot’s survey, 91% of Americans have kept or considered keeping a household item out of guilt!). It won’t go well if you try to declutter without them around. Do be upfront with them about the fact that you will be getting rid of things, but get it out of the house before they have time to go through it.
To involve kids in decluttering, have them start picking out one item a week to choose to get rid of. You can build up from there.
When it comes to setting up a new space, make sure you consider your child’s learning style. Are they wanting to talk and ask questions while they do their work? Homework supplies stored by the kitchen table are going to be more helpful for them than an isolated desk in their room.
Have them choose a few new items to make a space feel special – this could be a rug, a pencil box, a pillow – just don’t overdo it, or you’ll end up with more clutter!
What about the non-physical – things like rules, conduct and so on?
Make sure that rules around these things are clear, stay consistent and don’t flip-flop. Some families write their values on a chart on the wall – if you decide to do this, keep it simple with only 1-5 rules, and state them positively.
You also have to make sure that your environment supports what you want the kids to do. If you want your three-year-old to put away ALL their toys at the end of the day, you’re going to want to make sure that you don’t have too many toys out. Putting away several items at the end of the day doesn’t come easily to many people, so expecting younger kids to do it isn’t always realistic.
If you expect your kids to put their shoes away when they come in the door, make sure that the spot that you want them to go is clearly defined, easy to navigate and not already overflowing with shoes.
These things seem simple, but there are so many times I have seen families who want their kids to put their coats away, but then don’t have an easy place for them to put them!
So once we’ve got organized, how do we keep things this way?
It takes maintenance, and maintenance isn’t always easy! Expect to spend a significant amount of time every week putting things away – this is, of course, WAY easier when everything in your home has a designated space and everyone knows where those designated spaces are.
The more stuff you have, the more time you can expect to spend putting that stuff away – this is why keeping less stuff is a great idea! According to the SpareFoot survey, 52% of Americans describe their home as cluttered, and 94% have an excuse for keeping items in their home they don’t even use or need.
When you declutter, be consistent with involving your whole family in the process – even if they’re not always doing things to your standards.
If there was only one thing you could say to parents about creating a healthy learning environment for kids it would be….
Keep in mind the individual needs of your children as people. What works for one kid might not work for the other kid. Honor and celebrate their differences – you can find strengths in just about anything if you look.
Anything else you would like to add?
Always remember to have fun! Our homes should be a place that we absolutely love. If it’s not, start making small changes that address what you envision for your home and life.
For more information on getting your home organized visit Home Key Organization.
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