Enhanced – read by the author

by Kay Chance

flower with red berries
5 Essential Elements of a Natural Learning Environment
I love the theme of this issue: breaking free from guilt and setting up the right expectations. One way to set up the right expectations is to intentionally create an atmosphere in your home that nurtures the whole child—heart, mind, and soul.

Often, when it comes to homeschooling, I think we start focusing on academics more than anything else. I know I often slipped into that. We feel compelled to make sure we cover everything (Oh no, they might have gaps!) while keeping the house running smoothly. We even start labeling ourselves with different roles—wife, mom, teacher—and begin acting as if we are three different people.

And because of that, we make things harder than they need to be.

That’s what I love about a natural learning environment. We stop categorizing everything as schoolwork or life skills or extra-curricular. We stop seeing ourselves as different people who show up at different times. Instead we start to see all of life as education.

I believe there are five essential elements of a natural learning environment. By focusing on these, you’ll be able to create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning… one that even encourages a love of learning. One that helps your children learn naturally.

Before you worry about individual subjects, cultivate an environment conducive to learning—an atmosphere of safety where curiosity and creativity is encouraged and faith is a part of life.”
1. Cultivate A Safe Place to Learn and Grow
Providing a safe place for your kids to learn and grow gives them the freedom to be themselves.

A safe place is where it’s okay to make mistakes and messes. It’s okay to fail. Your unconditional love meets a core need: security. When children constantly think that things always have to be neat and clean, that they will get in trouble, that success is the most important thing, or that anything they do isn’t “good enough,” they will quit trying.

Encourage your kids to ask hard questions, try new things, and be all God created them to be. And enjoy the MESS! Those hands-on projects and crafty creations mean your kids are learning because they feel safe.

2. Nurture Strong Family Relationships
Building family relationships is vital to giving kids the sense of security they need. Eating meals together as often as possible provides a great opportunity to connect through conversation.

Having a family night on a regular basis gives you all the chance to lighten up and simply enjoy one another. You can play games, go on a walk, or picnic in a park… It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated to make a lasting impact.

And above all, LAUGH together as much as you possibly can. Life is hard, but laughter helps us all to cope and find joy in the little things.

Now that my kids live on their own, I realize even more how important nurturing family relationships is! Not long ago one of my sons needed some help, but didn’t want to ask since he’s “independent” now. I reminded him, “We are family. We always have each other’s backs.”

He humbly accepted our help and is realizing it’s okay to bear one another’s burdens. (See, he’s still learning!) I’m glad we have that opportunity to walk alongside him and I believe, in part, that’s because we nurtured our family relationships.

flowers with red berries
3. Provide Resources for Creativity
Fill your home with the tools of creativity. Building toys, games, crafts supplies, play dough—having easily accessible resources like these are perfect for when your kids say, “I’m bored!” Consider hanging a list of ideas nearby to get them started.

You can even collect old game pieces, play money, and index cards in a box for them to create their own games.

Then, make sure you actually give them enough time and margin in their days to use these resources! Limit screen time if you need to, do fewer outside activities, plan days where you all have nothing to do. Then let them make those messes and create!

4. Surround Them with Books, Books, and More Books
A literature-rich environment nurtures a love of learning for many reasons.

Reading books aloud to your children helps build strong relationships as you talk about the stories. You’ll get to know your kids better through the window of a book, and your children will remember the times you all sat on the couch, snuggled up reading together.

Books open up the whole world—people they would never meet, places they may never visit, ideas they might never encounter if it weren’t for books.

Reading expands our imaginations, entertains us, and makes us think about new ideas. It grows our vocabulary and ability to communicate.

And remember, variety is truly the spice of life. Fill your children’s lives with both fiction and non-fiction. Visit the library often or build a personal library or do both; whatever works for your unique family. But do make it a priority!

“We stop seeing ourselves as different people who show up at different times. Instead we start to see all of life as education.”
5. Exemplify an Enduring Faith
In Deuteronomy 6:6–7, God shares His desire with His people:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
How was one generation to pass along their faith to the next? By making the teaching of Scripture a natural part of life. It’s not just reading the Bible. It’s having conversations about what it says and then actually doing what it says.

And they will look to you. We have an incredible opportunity to live out the things we are teaching them. A life of faith is a powerful testimony of the truth of His word.

You probably noticed we didn’t talk about “how to teach _____________.” Before you worry about individual subjects, cultivate an environment conducive to learning—an atmosphere of safety where curiosity and creativity is encouraged and faith is a part of life.

By setting up the right environment, you’ll be able to set up the right expectations for both you and your kids.
Kay script
Kay Chance headshot

ay Chance homeschooled her children for fifteen years. While teaching them, she discovered a passion for writing and developing curriculum resources. She loves sharing natural learning methods and creative lesson ideas with other homeschooling parents. Kay is the co-executive editor of Homeschooling Today magazine and the author of the older extensions for the Trail Guide to Learning series. She makes her home in Texas with her husband Brian.