Portrait of a Learner 4-8

Systems Change
Portrait of a Learner 4-8 > Factors > Home Learning Environment

Home Learning Environment

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How Home Learning Environment connects to...

A student's Home Learning Environment (HLE) is the environment families and caregivers provide that supports students in growing their core mindsets around thinking and learning. The Home Learning Environment includes the availability of educational materials in the home, as well as family engagement and values around learning (related to Social Supports). A student's Home Learning Environment can promote future academic success and socio-emotional well-being, provide opportunities for students to learn about their Identities, and provide connections to a student's culture and community. By learning more about students' Home Learning Environments, educators can better understand and build learning around the rich funds of knowledge and skills students bring with them.

Main Ideas

The Home Learning Environment plays a large role in how young learners engage with many aspects of their Identity (for example, their culture), typically use their Primary Language, and learn important socioemotional skills (like an ability to effectively communicate, or understand others' Emotions). In addition, the Home Learning Environment provides children with the academic skills and attitudes critical for school success. In the US, schooling systems do not always take full advantage of the rich Background Knowledge students come into school with, especially students from historically and systematically excluded backgrounds. Educators, however, can provide a classroom environment where students' cultural knowledge and traditions are valued, validating and respecting different ways of knowing.

The Home Learning Environment has at least three main components:

  • The availability of educational materials in the home,
  • The extent to which caregivers are available and able to engage with children, and
  • Caregivers' values and the kinds of skills they care about their children acquiring.

Each component of the Home Learning Environment promotes learning and development in related but slightly different ways. Because educational materials help children practice and learn key skills, the availability of these materials in the Home Learning Environment predicts later academic success. For example, books in the home promote early literacy; puzzles and counting games promote early math development; and blocks or drawing materials promote early fine motor development.

Caregiver engagement is also a critical aspect of the Home Learning Environment: children tend to learn better when a caregiver is available and able to guide and help them along. Caregivers can teach their children new things, scaffold their learning, and help practice existing skills. For example, caregivers help children learn about their culture, typically teach children their Primary Language (or languages), teach children how to manage their Emotions and resolve conflicts, and prepare children to engage in the world via socialization (the process through which children learn about their own racial and ethnic background, as well as others'. Similarly, when using technology, joint media engagement, or co-viewing practices between caregivers and children can help model and encourage healthy digital behavior for young children and potentially mitigate some of the negative effects often associated with media use in young children. Finally, caregivers' values matter, because they guide the kinds of learning opportunities they provide and the kinds of achievements they prize and encourage. For example, families in the U.S. typically value academic success, but some may place a higher value on early academic skills. Caregivers can also vary in the extent to which they value traits like independence or collectivism vs. individualism.

Family involvement at school is related to the Home Learning Environment, because caregivers who understand what skills their children need to work on, and know how to scaffold those skills, can help create a more effective Home Learning Environment. However, not all families are equally able to engage. Intergenerational trauma (e.g., the cultural erasure and abuse of Native peoples in residential schools) or negative school experiences (e.g., being dismissed or treated poorly by school personnel) can get in the way of family school engagement. Educators can help by creating a warm and welcoming environment not just for students, but for their families: trying to form connections with students' families, understand their goals and values, and learn more about the funds of knowledge students bring to school.

Importantly, children's homes and caregiver structures can look different. For example, in many cultures it is common for children to live in multigenerational families, where they have access to many more caregivers. On the other hand, many families in the U.S. face housing insecurity. To best support students and their families, it is important for educators to understand their students' Home Learning Environment, and remain aware that this environment can change. Knowing the strengths, challenges, and learning needs of the caregivers at home can also give important insight for educators in providing support for students with learning disabilities and ADHD, both of which can run in families.

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