There is a tendency, I think, amongst those of us raised over the past 150 years (and I’m pretty sure that’s all of us) to think of “education” in terms of “classrooms”. Classrooms are where one goes to receive the gifts of education. We generally perceive this as a truth, so much so that we ship off our five year-olds to preschool and our young adults to college.
It is true that there can be some advantages to a classroom situation, though the way education is done today the few advantages that might have been available to classroom learning are rarely if ever employed in a meaningful sense. One advantage of having a classroom of fellow students is that there should always be someone there studying what you’re studying that you can “partner” with for exercises and things “done” with the subject being studied. Generally, though, schools do not do much of anything at all with the “knowledge” imparted. Action is not usually the goal of education when speaking of a school situation. They are far more interested usually in getting the student to be able to regurgitate “facts” in an “appropriate” form so that they can pass some useless test, than they are in providing the student anything he might actually have a use for in life. (And let’s be really clear on this – school isn’t “life”. It was never meant to be. It was intended to be a place one prepared for life. It isn’t even that, today, generally.)
Of course, this points out another advantage schools can have – resources. If the goal of a school was to provide students actual activity along with knowledge, and in areas of study in which the student had interest, then schools are well supported and should have been able to provide hands-on experience in various ways. They do not, but they could.
Additionally, schools almost always have some students who are advanced in a certain area of study, and others who need tutoring if they are to “keep up” with the schools agenda and the national standards. (All utter garbage so far as the individual student is concerned, but hey, the school can’t be wrong, can it…) One use of a classroom situation might be to team up advanced students to tutor students who are struggling. And some schools do attempt to do exactly that, to their credit. This could best be done in a school with a “Little Red School House” mentality, where children of all ages and ability occupy a single classroom. In that system, rarely found today in the United States public schools, an older and more experienced student might easily coach a younger student who is in need of help.
All of the above taken into account, classrooms are not the best place for a person to be if they want to learn something, or anything. But they may be the worst place to be, for reasons already described.
Let’s get to homeschooling, and how to improve study skills. A homeschooler must do his study somewhere. Since it is called “homeschooling”, one can usually assume in safety that the study is being done at home…either the student’s home, or at a friends. There are many “unschoolers” and homeschoolers alike who extend study to include the great outdoors, museums, zoos, and almost any place in the world that might have a lesson to teach. That, by the way, would be almost anywhere, from any local business to any open field. In his brief stint as a teacher, the great American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, did exactly that – taught in an open field. In his day, the world wasn’t yet ready for that idea.
Assuming you are working at home. I believe it is important to make the study space conform to three important criteria. 1) The student’s needs. 2) The student’s interests. 3) The overall needs of the household.
What does a student need to study? When my children were homeschoolers (they are adults now), they needed many things in the study space to work effectively. Structurally, these included a pretty quiet space. It had to be kept fairly neat and organized, even if they made a mess of it while studying. This meant straightening or cleaning each day of work. The room had to be large enough to move around a bit, as required by their studies. It had to have no strange or distracting smells. It needed decent lighting to work by. It had to have air (usually from a window) entering on as needed. There needed to be a working bathroom nearby. They needed access to decent food and water for breaks, lunch, or whenever, but we rarely allowed food into the study space due to the mess and smell factor.
What was in that room that was directly related to study? A desk or table to work at. A place to neatly store books and materials, where they could be quickly located for use. A computer on the Internet, one per student. (Yes, students need access to the Internet and yes, some student’s uses of the Internet will need to be policed.) A printer was needed, though today, I don’t think we would use it much. A shelf was made available for supplies such as paper, pens, pencils, erasers, measuring tools such as rulers, a stapler with staples, scissors (these last two for older students, I think), and whatever other supplies were required by their particular studies. They had a door they could close, but I usually had it open. And sometimes, a parent/teacher spent time in the room supervising whatever study was taking place.
Needless to say, whatever the student was studying needed to be available in the study space, be it a book or a program or document in their computer.
There is more. There are objects usually required for a student to study subjects of particular interest to the student. For instance, a student studying music and guitar will need a guitar, and perhaps even a keyboard, along with workbooks he’s using. They might even need recording equipment. A student studying cooking may need a stocked up kitchen, and victims, um, I mean, taste testers to sample their efforts. A student studying baseball might need the equipment to play, a park, even a Little League team, as well as books and videos. Each unique study has unique needs, and is a student is to do well at it, he needs what he needs. Of course, the expense and effort to get everything a student needs for certain areas of study might be prohibitive. I remember when my own kids were studying meteorology (weather, atmosphere). I put together a small weather station for them, with a few pieces of necessary equipment. There was a lot more I could have done had I the resources.
And as to decoration? Well, mom and dad may not like it much, but this is the student’s place to study. It is also, sorry student, a part of the house your whole family lives in. I believe that compromises can be arrived at where the student can have things to look at that do not distract much from study but which please him, and which are not so horrible that mom and dad will be unwilling to show great grandma the study room. Such compromises are necessary.
Bottom line, a student is not going to learn much in a space unsuited to learning. The space itself will work against the student. A space that fits the above criteria and any other criteria that shows up that will facilitate study is what you need and want. If you are truly interested in improving study skills, this is one quick way to do so. A student surrounded by the things actually needed to study, in good shape and good order, in a space genuinely equipped for study, is almost bound to improve results.
NOTE – This exercise might take a few days to do thoroughly, and should be done with cooperation from student and the adults or tutors of the student.
Check your own study space for the following, and if a problem along these lines is discovered, correct it if at all possible:
1) Distracting or bad smells.
2) Insufficient or distracting light.
3) Insufficient space.
4) Insufficient air flow, or unclean air flow. (Temperature control, as needed.)
5) Noise concerns.
6) Availability of decent water and food. (No junk food, no MSG, no sugar while studying!)
7) Availability of a restroom that works.
8) A place for the student to neatly store personal belongings.
9) Comfortable chairs to sit on while working.
10) A workable desk or table to work on.
11) Decorations that do not distract but which the student likes, and which do not “give away” answers in case of testing, such as maps might. (If you do testing in a second space, then this does not matter.)
12) All the supplies needed for general study, such as paper, pens, pencils, etc., neatly organized in good shape and easily found.
13) A computer that works, on the Internet as needed. Related equipment as needed, such as a printer.
14) All books, courses, materials needed to study those subjects the student is studying, neatly organized, easily located, in good shape. This includes equipment, instruments, you name it. This also includes good dictionaries (at the student’s reading level, please), and other such resources.
15) Anything not mentioned here that needs to be done, or placed in the room, in order for the student to study easily and effectively.
Once completed, have the student spend some time looking over exactly where everything is that he will be using. He should be able to very rapidly locate everything needed to successfully study. If that is not the case, you can do one of two things (or both.) First – make sure all the steps above were done completely, and if they are not, do them. And second – have the student spend more time really looking, picking up materials like books and putting them back, using the objects that he will use, until he’s comfortable with where and what everything is.
FOR THE HOMESCHOOLER
Really, this whole lesson is for the homeschooler, as schools can rarely if ever make such adjustments for individual students. Just remember, homeschooler, that though the study space is yours to use, it is also a part of a household, usually where a family lives. You have the right to use it as your study space, but others have the right to expect it to be kept clean, neat, and presentable as well. And if the family needs to use the room for other purposes before or after “study time”, whenever that is, then so be it. Homeschooling is collaboration.
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