Creating the right at-home environment for learning has been shown to play a significant role in children's learning, development and educational outcomes, even more so than the learning environment at school for elementary students (1). It has become evident that the learning environment is just as much comprised of the atmosphere in the house, as the physical space that will play a role in inviting and encouraging the child to learn.
With recent shifts towards virtual learning as the predominant mode of class delivery, the environment created at home is even more important to take into consideration to ensure learning success and help them develop self-reliance and long-term study skills. Here are a few things to consider:
Regardless of whether it's the child's desk in their room, or the dinner table, you can make the space work as long as it's a consistent area. Two important aspects to consider are consistency and access to the child. Pick the area to which the child is most gravitated to to do work in, and stick to it. If they're working from the room, independence and self-reliance in completing tasks in older students should be sought after and encouraged, however with a younger student make sure they have easy access to you to ask questions, and you can easily monitor their progress from an adjacent room. For this reason, making a more open area like the dining room a space for homework can be both comforting and helpful to the young learners.
Whatever the space is, do your best to free it from clutter, leaving only the homework at hand the centre-point of focus. On the subject of distractions, ensure that the noise levels are kept down in the house during the allocated homework time. To minimize distractions that may pique the interest of children and prevent them from focusing on their work, music and television should be switched off or at the very least turned down. This gesture will not only make it easier to concentrate, but communicates to your child that you take their learning time seriously which will further motivate them to use that time effectively.
Lastly, make sure that the space is well-lit and comfortable. Make the necessary adjustments and get creative if you need to, whether that is putting a lamp next to the table, or bringing a chair for a comfortable height. Partaking in these adjustments will make the child more comfortable as well as demonstrate how invested you are in making your child succeed.
It may be difficult to maintain a regular homework schedule every day with other extracurriculars and big school projects that might need time on some days than others, but attempting to do so will certainly help in the long run. Setting time aside at the same hour every day creates a routine that over time will become easier to follow for the student, and mentally prepare them for the work. Gauge this time together with your child and pick a time when they feel energized and ready to concentrate. For some, this could be immediately after they get home from school (or finish classes), while for others, the best time is right after dinner. Ideally, the work-time should be followed by a pleasurable activity such as spending time with the family, screen-time, or receiving a dessert treat. It's also important to consider that the work done at home should not be left until too late into the evening, as the energy levels may plummet and the child may be too tired and frustrated to effectively complete the work.
The attention and care provided during the learning process is by far the most important aspects of creating the right environment. According to several recent review papers, actively engaging in child's learning, expressing positive expectations, and providing encouragement helps children better handle their homework at home and feel more confident in their abilities. Kids who receive support from their parents at home when completing coursework have been shown to receive significantly better grades than those who don't.
Providing instructions on how to approach their work and "modeling" the work, ie. showing them how you would approach it yourself are great ways towards building confidence and develop study strategies for them to emulate on their own later on. In situations whee more guidance and support is needed, patience is key. Communicate high expectations for your child and show praise when they are meeting them, or are working towards reaching them (2). Such direction and guidance is incredibly important now more than ever, as this environment has become more difficult to create through the traditional classroom due to virtual/hybrid learning.