By Chloe Hosid
The world as we know it has changed substantially and dramatically in response to the threat of COVID-19. Education is no exception. We’ve closed classrooms and moved learning into our homes and online. Students are learning in their bedrooms, at the kitchen table, on the floor, and in their backyards — we’re all making it work, but is there a way to make it better? How can you translate the benefits of a well-designed classroom into your at-home learning environment? The benefits of an optimized learning environment tailored to your student’s needs extends beyond finishing the school year at home and can offer the space your child needs for homework, studying, or exploring extra-curricular opportunities over the summer — a foundation for success for many years to come. Here are five guiding principles from architects from Corgan’s Education Studio for creating the best home learning environment with your child:
If there’s one thing that has become abundantly clear in recent weeks, it’s that things change, and they can change quickly. The importance of flexibility is a fundamental truth in education. A well-designed, effective learning environment must support the individual student and accommodate a range of teaching and learning methods for different types of content and tasks while also responding to ever-evolving technologies and sociocultural priorities. From facilitating more focused and reflective activities to hands-on projects and group-based explorations, spaces must harmoniously evolve throughout the day and the year to accommodate the full spectrum of learning experiences.
Lean into your child’s natural creativity, be open to changing things up, and emphasize multi-functionality. Spaces in your home may be activated in new ways if your student feels empowered to choose their learning space based on their task. Your staircase could function as theater style seating for your child to share what they’ve learned or to host a family TED Talks series, a blanket fort study nook in your student’s bedroom could be a prime spot for focused, reflective work or reading, and your backyard could become an outdoor nature lab. Ryan Connell, Vice President and Studio Design Director, recommends keeping an open mind. “By now, I think most families have settled into some kind of normal at home, but I think it’s good to keep checking in with our kids and ask what’s working well and what could be better. They are instinctively curious, so just try to be flexible and follow their lead. This is a rare chance for kids to shape their learning environment, so let them.”
#2: Restorative Spaces - Health and Wellbeing
Effective learning environments must balance psychological wellbeing, social and emotional support, and cognitive performance. While many students come to school with anxiety, depression, and stress under normal circumstances, current world events exacerbate these challenges and introduce new frustrations and emotions for everyone — underscoring the need for restorative spaces in our schools and our homes. To bring these elements into your home, focus on connecting with nature and creating space to move and to decompress. Find a quiet spot in your home for a cozy nook that feels safe and relaxing where your student can go when they need to unwind. Lay out a blanket or set up a hammock outside on a nice day, and take learning outside. If you don’t have a yard, consider adding plants to a sunny corner. Dedicate space for movement and exercise by rearranging furniture and making space to roll out a yoga mat or have a mid-afternoon dance party to clear their head. Fortunately, recent educational design has sought after replicating the benefits of home—replicating these familiar spaces with residentially inspired fabrics and finishes, comfortable furniture, and calming colors to encourage relaxation and creativity. Take advantage of your home’s natural ability to support your student’s holistic wellbeing, and find room for restoration to help them perform their best now and in the future.
#3: Individualized Spaces
Students come to the classroom with their own unique set of strengths, passions, challenges, and experiences that shape the way they learn. Effective learning environments must provide students with the support and the tools they need to learn in a way that works for them. This is a challenging proposition in shared learning spaces. However, as we shift to learning from home, the potential for a new, blended learning model (a mix between online learning and person-to-person experiences) in the coming months offers students an unique opportunity to tailor their learning environment to align with their needs and their goals. Allowing students to meaningfully contribute to the identity and functionality of their space provides them with a sense of ownership and responsibility that can increase engagement and improve learning outcomes. Striking the balance between stimulating elements and opportunities to focus can help keep the space interesting and comfortable while allowing your student to select the appropriate setting for their work.
Talk with your student about what they need in their learning space - you can use our visioning questions as a guide. Reflecting on their needs can help your student to determine the best location(s) in the house for them to learn and work on various tasks and activities. Allow your student to thoughtfully co-create their space with you or on their own so they feel empowered to engage with their learning in a way that works for them.
#4: Active Learning
Learning is not a purely cerebral process but one that engages the body. It is best supported by well-curated tools and technologies that enhance the learning environment. Allowing students to move and actively experiment within the physical, digital, natural, and social world reinforces learning with meaningful and memorable experiences. With virtual learning representing a significant part of your child’s education, it’s important to inject ‘real world’ learning into their day and to engage with technology in a way that inspires your student to create, explore, and solve problems, rather than passively consume digital media. Drawing from the Blended Learning model, online learning can offer self-paced learning opportunities while person-to-person experiences can dive deeper for exploring concepts, applying new knowledge, and developing creative and critical thinking skills. To create an active learning environment at home, take advantage of the infrastructure you already have in place. For instance, our kitchen is a ready-made laboratory for learning about science, health, and problem-solving through cooking and experimentation. Designating a space with a work surface where your student feels free to get a little messy and be creative can serve as an at-home makerspace. Gather some craft supplies and materials like boxes and other recyclables and organize a resources cabinet or cubby so supplies are always within arm’s reach to experiment, prototype, and explore new ideas.
Modern learning spaces focus heavily on creating spaces for students to work collaboratively and use collective interactions to reinforce understanding and communication skills and foster a sense of community. For example, mixed grade level “houses” with a centralized collaboration space connect students with their peers to encourage empathy and meaningful interaction. Working within the limitations of our individual homes requires us to adapt and rethink collaboration. To support your student’s ability to interact with their peers and their teacher, set up a designated space for your student for conference calls so they can engage as naturally as possible and without interruption. Providing access to power, strong Wi-Fi, an appropriate background, sound mitigation (closing a door or a secluded location), easy access to class materials, and a work surface to take notes prepares your student for successful digital collaboration. You can also find creative ways to establish a sense of community within your home. An intentional, shared workspace invites anyone in your household to work independently together, to engage in shared learning experiences through hands-on projects and discussions, or just to have lunch!
As our homes become a surrogate environment for so many of our normal activities — requiring us to reinterpret our everyday functions so that we can safely learn, work, and support one another from home, the lessons learned provide huge benefits in not only navigating these uncertain times but also for continued academic and extracurricular success. Taking the time to have a focused conversation with your student about how they learn and what they need from their learning space can help them make the most out of this. Developing spatial solutions to create a workspace that is conducive to learning, working on homework, and studying while also increasing your student’s awareness of how they think, their preferences for how they engage with their learning, and what they need to succeed can contribute to long-lasting improvements in their attitudes towards learning and their learning outcomes.
Click here to download the Designing Learning Spaces at Home guidebook.
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Chloe Hosid is a member of Corgan's education studio in Dallas. Contact Chloe at firstname.lastname@example.org