How to Create a More Positive Learning Atmosphere
Last week, I wrote about how turning off television can create a more positive learning atmosphere. However, distracting or negative input doesn’t come only from television – it can come from many sources. You won’t be able to avoid all stress or distraction, but you have the power to create a more positive learning atmosphere by being careful about the media sources that enter your home.
If you want a more peaceful, positive learning atmosphere,
one of the first things to do is dump media personalities who thrive on creating fear or controversy.
Education is an atmosphere
Charlotte Mason wasn’t kidding when she said “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” Sound (or silence) can be one of the elements of a positive learning atmosphere, or it can be a distraction and a liability to learning. If you have children, you will have noise, but editing the external input that enters your home can help you create an oasis of peace and calm.
Noise, all by itself, has been proven to dramatically increase stress and reduce the ability to think clearly (see the studies cited at the end of this post). Stress and confusion definitely don’t create a positive atmosphere! You’ll always have some noise in a household with children, but there is one type of negative noise you can filter — the news.
Anytime you have audible news on, the constant repetition of bad news — rising prices, falling wages, home foreclosures, murders, random crimes, rude politicians, natural disasters – tends to leave everyone stressed and on edge. Children don’t necessarily listen to what is said, but they definitely understand the tone of voice, and absorb the stress.
Beyond the content of the news, consider the style of the media personality. Have you ever reproved your children for speaking rudely to a friend or sibling, or wondered where they learned to use ridicule in an effort to make someone else look or feel bad? You may find the answer in the rude rantings of media figures who use ad hominem attacks and ridicule, rather than serious, intelligent communication, to gain support. If your children hear these “adults” communicating with name-calling, insults, and mocking, you needn’t be surprised when they try these tactics at home.
I have discovered that our home is more serene and happy when the only news source is the newspaper. It’s quiet, easily portable, and doesn’t assault us with excessive drama and repetition. We can read it at our leisure, and put it down when someone more important (such as one of our dear children) wants to talk with us. We don’t have shush them in order not to miss anything. Frankly, I’ve heard very few things in the news that would be worth ignoring my family to hear, and it seems a bit Orewellian to give a disembodied media voice a higher priority than people I love!
What if you miss something important?
It’s highly unlikely. By the time the second plane struck the World Trade Center on 9/11, I had already heard about what was happening. Even if you’re not in on breaking news, anything of importance will show up in the newspaper, and is likely to have the virtue of being edited and placed into historic context. You won’t have to waste time listening to news people talking to one another, predicting what someone’s opinion might be (how can people stand to waste time listening to that sort of thing, anyway?), repeating the same facts and figures over and over while waiting for something new to happen. The more airtime that people have, the less they value they provide per word.
If you do happen to be watching the news during a breaking news crisis, it is often best to listen to the news at the top of the hour, then turn it off for at least another hour. There is nothing to be gained by staying glued to disaster news (unless you’re waiting for an evacuation notice), and too much exposure to frantic-sounding adults can deeply affect children.
Sounds of truth, goodness, and beauty
If you’ve been in the habit of having noise on all day, I suggest reading about the harmful effects of constant noise in the articles linked at the end of the page, and reconsidering the habit. If you must have something, choose something calm and positive without words such as recorded nature sounds (water sounds are particularly soothing and thought-friendly) or gentle classical music. You might even want to plant bird-friendly shrubs and trees in your yard to encourage live nature sounds;-).
The only exception to the “without words” suggestion would be Gregorian chant and similar music by Thomas Tallis, Palestrina, and others. I work best in silence, but occasionally I need something to drown out mental chatter and aid concentration. The beautiful Spem in Alium album from the Tallis Scholars and the Psalms set to music have been helping me focus for many, many years. The truth, goodness, and beauty in this type of music creates a focused, meditative, positive atmosphere that breathes serenity and peace.
Children absorb what they hear, and what goes in is what comes out. Let’s make it good!
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report;
if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
think on these things.
Useful articles about the effect of noise
Have you Heard? Noise Can Affect Learning from Education World
Noise, Acoustics, Student Learning, and Teacher Health from The National Academies Press
Does Noise Affect Learning? from Frontiers in Psychology
Keep it Down (and Rediscover Silence) excerpted from Choosing Civility by P. M. Forni
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Article updated: 9 January 2017