Schools work hard to reinforce in students that learning doesn’t end at the school gate. In fact, the notion of continuous learning is one of the greatest gifts a child can receive as it sets them on the road to a lifetime of learning and self-improvement.
A practical way parents can develop a continuous learning mindset in their child is by establishing a Personal Learning Centre at home, and it’s easier than you might think.
Location carries memory
If you’ve ever established a dedicated children’s play space in your home then you’ll know how powerful location can be for shaping attitudes and behaviour. Your children will have learned to associate play with those designated areas – as location consistently carries memory of use. The same principle applies when you establish a personal learning centre – your child will associate learning with that designated space, which is reinforced every time they spend time there.
It’s more than a workspace
At the moment, your children may use a desk or kitchen table that doubles as a workspace for homework, projects or completing other formal school tasks. This workspace probably doesn’t necessarily promote deep or pleasurable learning. It enables kids to get their schoolwork done.
A Personal Learning Centre is part library, part research centre, part entertainment area and part creative space. It’s a place that a child chooses to retreat to for fun and informal learning, a place to find answers to those quirky questions such as “why do my fingers go wrinkly in the bath?”, a place to go to read more about their favourite band/hobby/sport; a place where learning, curiosity and comfort come together. More importantly, a Personal Learning Centre helps promote the concept of lifelong learning to children, which is a wonderful mindset to develop.
Features of a Personal Learning Centre
A Personal Learning Centre can be established anywhere in a house or apartment, including in a child’s bedroom or any quiet space. It can have some or all of the following features:
- Comfortable place for reading – bean bag, couch or chair
- A bookshelf with a variety of fiction and non-fiction books
- A digital screen (portable or fixed) for research
- Materials for writing, recording and note taking
- Digital device equipped with age-appropriate apps and programs that enable learning, research and content creation
- A place for a water bottle or jug of water
- Table or desk and suitable lighting
What’s in a name?
A quick glance at the list above may have you thinking that a Personal Learning Centre is basically a desk with a few fancy gadgets attached. On one level this is correct however there are three advantages a Personal Learning Centre has over a simple work space or desk.
First, the name says it all. A Personal Learning Centre is a place children can go to learn, not necessarily to work. In the past educators have managed to make learning seem very unattractive for kids by using terms such as ‘homework’, ‘work tasks’, ‘projects’ to describe the learning they are to undertake at home. Some rephrasing is desperately needed if we are to engage kids to see themselves as continuous learners and not continuous workers.
Second, the nature of a Personal Learning Centre implies that it’s something to build upon rather than a finite entity. You can start a Personal Learning Centre very simply by establishing a bookshelf and some comfortable chairs, and build from there.
Third, a Personal Learning Centre is a concept that your child can take into adulthood that’s easily adapted to suit any situation. When I travel, my Personal Learning Centre consists of a phone, a book and any comfortable couch or chair I can find. It’s the idea rather than the furniture and physical setting where the learning magic lays.
Getting started is easy
Start by setting up your own Personal Learning Centre. If you think this is a strange idea then there’s no point introducing it to kids. It just won’t wash, as your heart won’t be in it. Set aside a space for your own learning – a chair in another room with a few books, a space to go to read the newspaper; or a quiet place to look up recipes on YouTube. Start small and gradually build from there. If you feel comfortable so far congratulate yourself for taking concrete steps down a lifelong learner path.
The next step is introduce the idea to your child. This shouldn’t be a difficult idea to sell, particularly if you provide some new writing implements and perhaps a comfortable chair or beanbag for their new Personal Learning Centre.
Timing makes a big difference to how ideas are received so going back to school is the ideal time to present this new idea to your kids as they tend to be more open to change at this time. Also, for kids going back to school, a Personal Learning Centre maybe a whole lot cooler than returning to the same old work desk for the first assignment for the year.