• Creating a dedicated space and/or routine dedicated to your child’s learning encourages them to have positive attitudes to learning, to be curious, and to have confidence in themselves. This is called a Home Learning Environment (HLE).
  • Prioritise function over looks. Pinterest pretty isn’t required, unless that’s your thing! If it is, I’d love to see pictures of your HLE, please tag on instagram
  • What do you need for your own HLE:
    • Dedicated space, box, laptop table, something only used for HLE time
    • Routine; setup a specific time and days for your little ones to explore their HLE
    • Comfortable area where they will want to stay
    • As much natural lighting as possible
    • Old-fashioned educational toys
    • BOOKS Books and more books!
    • Your undivided attention
    • A forward facing book display is best


Show Transcript

Today’s topic is How many books do you actually need? And Home Learning Environment, HLE for short. So let’s start with what exactly is the home learning environment?

Home Learning Environment

According to ParentZone Scotland, “The home learning environment is the combination of everything you and your family do and the spaces your child has access to that affect your child’s development and learning.

This includes the opportunities your child has to play and interact with books, objects and everyday experiences to help them make sense of their world. The most important feature though is their interactions with people who provide the love, security, encouragement, conversation and positive role models to help your child to thrive. A good home learning environment encourages children and young people to have positive attitudes to learning, to be curious, and to have confidence in themselves.”

The early home learning environment shows lasting effects up to secondary school, irrespective of the home stimulation provided during the later age phases, and such effects can be identified and separated from institutional effects.

Over the past three decades, a growing number of studies have provided empirical evidence that the HLE is an important predictor of differences in children’s academic and social development. Children’s participation in learning activities, the quality of parent-child interactions, and the availability of learning materials are three key features of the home learning environment that help to support children’s educational development.

There are many aspects of HLE covering a wide range of parent-child interactive activities including reading and playing together, parent-child shared activities like using the computer or participating in sport, individual children activities like dance, painting, and reading, their computer use, learning and playing activities, but also parental learning support and supervision in adolescence. 

All papers take into account the conclusions of earlier studies that suggest that what you do with your child is more important than who you are, meaning a child from a lower-income family with less flashy toys and technology but lots of parent interaction will be better off than a child with all the newest gadgets and overworked parents.

You are the most important ingredient

A major key ingredient to the HLE is YOU!

Strong family engagement is central – not supplemental – to promoting:

  • Children’s healthy development and wellness
  • Preparation for school
  • Seamlessly transitioning to kindergarten and primary school
  • Supporting academic achievement in primary school and beyond.

A study was done in 2014 called “Scholarly Culture and Academic Performance in 42 Nations“ was a joint effort between the University of Nevada, the International Social Science Survey, and the Australian National University. 

This study took theories using data on academic performance from 42 national samples with 200,144 cases to determine if exposure to books and high culture provides important academic advantages.

They concluded that the number of books in the family home exerts a strong influence on academic performance in ways consistent with the cognitive skill hypothesis that scholarly culture provides cognitive skills that improve academic performance, regardless of the nation’s ideology, political history, or level of development.

Ok so that was a LOT of technical talk… so now let’s have some real talk. I found an amazing article on a website called, I’ll link to it in the show notes. They have great advice on creating an HLE.

By creating a dedicated home learning space, you are taking an active role in the development of your child’s creativity, sharpening their focus, and increasing their motivation to read and learn. 

Bear in mind this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a permanent dedicated spot in your house if you don’t have the space, I’ll go over other options.

Planning your home learning environment

When you decide to plan your HLE, avoid Pinterest! I know they look amazing. I get caught in the Pinterest blackhole myself, but looking great is rarely practical.

Think about the learning needs of your child, not the aesthetics for an Instagram post, you will be able to cut out a lot of unnecessary items you THINK you need because you really don’t need a lot to have a successful learning space in your home.

Instead of focusing on square footage and actual space, think about creating consistency. You can dedicate a corner of a room, but you can also create learning spaces that are more flexible. For example, pull out the same foldable chairs and tables when it is time to learn or create a learning box you can bring to the kitchen table each day. 

Your learning space could even be a specific lap desk in the living room, different from one they might use for other non-learning purposes. Spend time with your kiddo decorating their learning box or lap desk to make it special for them. 

So regardless of if you have a dedicated spot or a more flexible option, it’s important to remove distractions! Kids (and my adults I know, including myself sometimes) are so easily distracted if they don’t have supplies they need nearby or there’s no sense of consistency. 

Are you one of those cleaners like me where I’m cleaning one room, but I have to take something to another room then I start cleaning that room, but then have to go to another room and all my rooms end up half cleaned because I lost focus and kept getting distracted!

Alright, because your home learning environment for learning, focus on removing distractions. Remember, less is more. It is important to look for ways you can make their learning place comfortable enough to want to extend their learning time. 

So, whether that is getting them bean bags to curl up in with a book or giving them a small weighted blanket to alleviate stress when learning something difficult, comfort matters!

A place like the family couch, as comfortable and easy as it seems, may not be the right choice to learn about routines, early education, and self-regulation if there is too much distraction.

Our dining table doesn’t work because you can see the TV, so unless I stop everyone from watching TV, which isn’t fair to them, the dinner table wasn’t going to cut it.

Lighting is important

Next, lighting! Christopher Alexander, Emeritus Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley, stated that low levels of light in classrooms affect students’ ability to regulate their natural cycle of sleep and attention. 

Another study found that the more natural light (or lighting that mimicked natural sunlight), the greater the students’ school attendance, achievement, and overall health.

From these studies, we learn that lighting can affect a child’s energy, attention, and achievement levels. If you do not have windows or good lighting in the space where your child learns, you can also use mirrors! Place a mirror across from a window to reflect more of the natural light into the room.

Now for routine! I’m a huge fan of routines for kids. Consistency is so important for a child’s mental health and building a foundation for a well-functioning adult. Routines help babies and toddlers learn self-control and self-regulation.

Consistent routines, and activities that happen at about the same time and in about the same way each day, provide comfort and a sense of safety to young children. … It helps them learn to trust that caring adults will provide what they need.

Set up a time every day where your kiddos spend a specific amount of time, obviously depending on their age, to do the activities available in their HLE. 

We actually use routines setup in our google nest to remind us of the kids’ tasks. This helps me immensely because I lose track of time, all the time so there’s less stress on me to keep up with the consistency when the reminder is out loud for everyone to hear. 

We have a routine for pack away times, piano lessons, brushing teeth in the morning, it even announces when it’s bathtime, tells us the weather the next day and turns off the TV.

So you’ve got a comfy spot with good lighting and no distractions. Now what? What do you put in an HLE? I’m so glad you asked!

First, what you shouldn’t put in the HLE. Avoid toys that have things like flashing lights, digital screens, well really anything with batteries! While these are great to play with, they can deter children from using their imagination. Their vision or executive function brain networks take over and there is little communication between the functional reading network, go back to episodes 4 & 5 to learn more about the functional reading network sections of language, vision, executive function, and attention networks, so they are far less likely to create the brain connections required for developing a healthy imagination.

Stick with old-fashioned toys that have been around for ages

  • Wooden blocks
  • Construction toys and Lego
  • Wooden puzzles
  • Threading and lacing toys (string, beads, etc.)
  • Educational games (e.g. memory games, matching games)
  • Board games (e.g. snakes and ladders)
  • Balls and beanbags
  • Playdough

For the littlest munchkins, this could start out as dedicated tummy time.

Keep some toys specifically dedicated to HLE time as much as possible for two reasons. Firstly, they will inherently start to associate these toys and the learning as special. 

Something to look forward to and this will encourage their love for learning. 2nd, if they have access to the same exact toys all the time, then they will lose their emphasis on the importance of learning. 

For example, if your kid loves puzzles, then definitely give them access to puzzles all the time, but have specific puzzles only for HLE time. 

Next is YOU and not your phone. You need to spend time in the HLE with your kiddos, especially in the early years, although not necessarily the whole time.

Now here comes the hard part, at least for me especially when it comes to playdough! Spend time showing them how to do things and explore activities with them, but also give them independence while you just sit and observe WITHOUT TOUCHING YOUR PHONE or trying to correct them. Teach them that persistence is key and failure is a necessary step to success.

My skin crawls when my son mixes different colour playdoughs. I swear I feel a part of my soul breaking…. But I just breathe… and breathe some more… and slowly realise it’s not the end of the world even if my brain is screaming out “NO… DON’T DO IT”

One more thing, no pictures please! Ok, I know it’s hard when everything they do is SOOO cute, but while you think you’re documenting their milestones to share with family, they are thinking ‘OMG mum has her phone again. It’s more important than being with me.” 

Ditch the pictures until the end of HLE time OR if you are out of sight of your munchkin. Dedicate this time to them. Show them you’re 100% committed and involved with them.

How many books do you actually need?

And lastly, BOOKS! Try to have books readily available and leave room for growth! Research shows that children in homes where books are readily available to benefit—in terms of improved test scores—from their mere presence. And this is especially true in low-education and low-income homes. 

The research even shows that no matter how many books your home already has, every additional book benefits your children even more. So whether you get them at second-hand stores, check them out at the library, or buy them at bookstores, the more books you can have in your home the better! 

Stocking your shelves with books encourages children to explore new interests and choose reading as a pastime.

So how many books do you need?

A two-decade-long study called “How books in adolescence enhance adult literacy, numeracy and technology skills” the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education).” In both cases, having university-educated parents or a book collection propelled “a child 3.2 years further in education, on average.”

Acquiring 500 books may seem daunting (and in my opinion insane), but the report found that having as few as 20 books in the home significantly impacted children’s future education as well.

A paper published in 2018 called “Scholarly culture: How books in adolescence enhance adult literacy, numeracy and technology skills in 31 societies.” studied 160,000 adults between 2011 and 2015 and found that just having 80 or more books in-home results in adults with significantly higher levels of literacy, numeracy, and information communication technology (ICT) skills.

The paper finds, “Growing up with home libraries boosts adult skills in these areas beyond the benefits accrued from parental education or own educational or occupational attainment.”

The effect was found to be powerful in Children from such homes who ended up attaining just a high-school-level education “become as literate, numerate and technologically apt in adulthood as university graduates who grew up with only a few books.”

Ultimately the decision is yours based on the space you have and your financial situation. Don’t forget to make friends with your local librarian.

So, with a proper setup home learning environment, children can:

  • See education as a priority in the home, meaning it sets a positive example
  • Learn to investigate the world, knowing that learning is everywhere, not just in schools
  • Have choices for reading and learning just for fun
  • Set routines that support independent learning time and family planning

By making the effort to set aside a special learning space for your child, you are encouraging new skills and creating a spirit of learning that will impact your child’s life for a long time! 

Extra tip! Did you know that how you display the books in your house is important too? 

The best kind of bookshelf is a book display. The one where the book covers are facing forward. It’s far more inviting for children if they can see the covers of the books. 

Think of the impulse displays at the grocery store, you know those displays at the ends of the aisles or when you’re in line to check out. It’s all very specifically designed to ensure you see it and tempt you into making an extra or impulse purchase.

Increase your kiddo’s impulse to pick up a book with a forward-facing book display.

Ok so to summarise:

  • Creating a dedicated space and/or routine dedicated to your child’s learning encourages them to have positive attitudes to learning, to be curious, and to have confidence in themselves.
  • Prioritise function overlooks. Pinterest pretty isn’t required, unless that’s your thing! If it is, I’d love to see pictures of your HLE, please tag on Instagram
  • What do you need:
    • Dedicated space, box, laptop table, something only used for HLE time
    • Routine; setup a specific time and days for your little ones to explore their HLE
    • A comfortable area where they will want to stay
    • As much natural lighting as possible
    • Old-fashioned educational toys
    • BOOKS Books and more books!
    • Your undivided attention
    • A forward-facing book display is best

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