The right learning environment

By Enid Westerlund 14 May 2022, 8:11PM

From the simplest daily task to the most challenging scenarios, everything has to promise  some sort of personal benefit or we will have no motivation to do it. “What’s in it for me?’… 

For example, it’s the weekend and you wake up on Saturday morning debating whether to hike up the Robert Louis Stevenson hill [Mt Vaea] or sleep in. 

Your self-talk might go something like this: 

1. Saturday is my only day off from work but exercise is also good for the soul, so I will  get up, get dressed and go for my hike. If you hop out of bed and head on out then you’ve identified the benefit and taken action to secure it for yourself. 

2. Well, I do have a lot of things to do today but I need a bit more rest as it’s been a really  busy week. I will sleep in. In this case you’ve also identified the benefit of proper rest  and have taken action to secure it for yourself. 

Whether or not the choices make sense, the more appealing alternative is the one you will choose. This process is said to be exactly the same when you make harder decisions such as a career change, changing schools, doing a favour for a friend, going into farming instead of a corporate job, renovating your house and anything else in which you must weigh the benefit against the effort or risk.  

DePorter in his book acknowledges that if we want to be successful learners, we have to  create interest in what we are learning and link it to the real world. We’ve heard the  complaints from many students such as ‘oh what’s the point of learning this maths, it’s not even going to help me at work!’ or ‘I have no idea why the teacher is teaching this foolishness when we know it’s not going to be used anywhere after this class’. We make learning harder for ourselves or others by creating these obstacles in our minds but the chances are, when we choose the subjects we want to learn, it’s because the motivation is already there. 

The Montessori way of learning is a less restrictive environment than our current education system. It follows the child who chooses for herself or himself what activity, subject he’ll learn in daycare. Montessori is not for everyone but I was intrigued when my daughter started learning at 15 months old.  

Although there is no specific structure in the way babies learn at Montessori, it’s a peaceful, almost magical environment where babies take turns learning particular hand eye coordination activities, cognitive processes and life skills. By the time she was 17 months old, she knew all her colours by sight and could identify shapes by name. I did not know what a pentagon or hexagon was until I was in Year 4, 8 years later! 

It confirms that the learning environment is so important for young minds as well as what the  atmosphere is like. Teachers play the most important role in our children’s learning. Do you remember your best teacher? Do you remember their names? 

Do you also remember the teacher that slapped you at school for the first time? The one that shot down your confidence from which you never recovered in primary school. The one that called you dumb and useless? Yes, I remember these throughout school here. Some of the teachers were awesome which were few and far in between. 

Some were just  plain mean, cuddling their favourites while putting others down daily. Looking back and  remembering this makes me want to homeschool my own budding learner. Every parent wants to protect their child from the world but for me, I’d rather create an environment where my child is happy and willing to learn as opposed to negative talk and comparison to  other children. 

Music is another part of learning that we sometimes forget. This creates a comfortable and relaxing mood. This is important in quantum learning because it actually corresponds to and affects your physiological conditions. Under stressful working conditions, your blood pressure and pulse rise. Your brain speeds up and muscles tense in response. During relaxation and meditation, your blood pressure decreases and your muscles relax.  

I’ve been fascinated with learning styles over the years and even more now with a three-year old at home. I try to find ways to inspire learning as she is now beginning to read a few  words. She’s also been teaching herself the skeletal system in the last few weeks and is truly  fascinated with the human heart and digestive systems. 

Using visual reminders to maintain a positive attitude and colourful posters or photos has helped speed up learning in our house. She also has to go outside everyday and interact with her environment through play, gardening, turning over small rocks and singing to the birds.  

As we enjoy another peaceful Sunday Samoa, remember that your learning environment is  extremely important. This is not just for children. Adults continue to learn whether in family situations, careers and relationships. So, we too, need a helpful, colourful, inspiring environment and company. We may not be able to escape the workplace and its culture but we can certainly create this magical atmosphere in our own small cubicles! Have a great Sabbath.

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Health
By Enid Westerlund 14 May 2022, 8:11PM
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