‘A Parent’s Guide to Supporting Our Teens at School’ -Part 4, Providing a Home Environment for Learning

Welcome to the fourth and final blog of this series. There really are many ways we can support our teens at school. In our first article , we discussed the newer view of the learning brain and how parents can use this information to inform our own approach easily.  In article two, we looked at the importantce of  providing and supporting 5 good health choices for the teen learning brain. The third article diescribed some simple steps to support a teen’s emotional intelligence so they can truly experience education as a gift.

Now, in this last blog of this series, we will concentrate on how we can support the natural learning patterns of the teenage brain in the home environment. If we can successfully create a supportive learning brain environment, we can be confident we are helping make our children’s’ high school years a positive experience. Again we will be tapping into the research of the newer view of the learning brain. This current research shows that a learning brain achieves its best with less external stress, which means providing an environment that supports the natural  patterns of  learning we all have as part of our biology. We need to help our teens tap into the chemistry of motivation, attention and memory formation for authentic learning. Sounds like a mouthful, right? But I promise, we can do it!

Looking at the big picture - Brains are Pattern makers

Research shows the brain is consistently seeking patterns and making patterns in order to learn. When our brains are presented with new information, our memory is working hard to understand how this new piece of information is relevant to us, and what it relates to in terms of information we already know, so it can all be linked and understood. In this way, the brain learns best when looking at the big picture. In the teen learning brain, this is especially important as the brain remodelling process is constantly making decisions about what information is related to each other, what’s relevant, and how it fits in with the bigger picture. The brain then decides what bits to keep and what bits to ‘forget’. It’s kind of like how we complete a jigsaw puzzle. Looking at the big picture on the front of the box, we do the edges first as we seek patterns and how things might fit inside. This is actually a great analogy to use when talking to our kids about how to “study” particular subject areas. (it’s a great way that everyone can understand the learning brain).

an environment for finding the big picture and patterns

Even as adults it’s often hard to make sense of how the detail we work fits in at the big picture, especially when we feel stressed and under pressure in the moment. So, imagine how hard it is for teens! However, there are a few ways to help our kids make sense of new information and how it fits into what they are building on and where it is going, and keep them looking at the big picture, for example: • Encouraging our teens to download a copy of the Syllabus or Learning Plan for each subject and have them in a handy place at home to refer to. This helps remind them of how things fit within the big picture. • Keeping them engaged by asking them to explain the “big goals” of the course to us, which also brings in the sense of “team” learning. • Encouraging them to produce simple Mind Maps to place around the house. The more colourful – with clear links and language for repetition – the better. • Start conversations around relevance and real-life stories, and relate it to what is going on in the family and in the world. This helps keep the HSC as a part of life, rather than separate from it • Normalise the process of learning, as it is the most natural thing our brains do. Getting our teens to do the above tasks can be difficult, as it is often something they want to resist. If they are resisting completing the above tasks, you might need to model it yourself to set an example. Openly describe what processes you are taking to learn or complete a task. If we can normalise the process of learning, it will help keep our teens on track and seeing the bigger picture.

The Myth of Multi Tasking

Has your teen ever tried to convince you they can easily multi-task while studying? Well, the cat’s out of the bag. Evidence is now quite clear that successfully multitasking is a myth in terms of effectively completing any kind of task. For example, if our teens have music, videos, and online chat going on in the background while studying, then their efficiency will be low (even if they say they can multi-task!) The separation of activities is absolutely one of the hardest things to encourage with this generation as they are rarely disconnected, but we do need to have the conversation and make a point of modelling focusing on one thing at a time. It’s also helpful to have a conversation with our teens about what we find difficult about the distractions of technology or trying to multi-task. If possible, search together for evidence of studies (or set them a challenge to show you they can successfully multi-task) will help deepen the conversation. The exception is really Baroque music. Its pace and patterning can be supportive to brain function when learning. We have actually downloaded some Spotify collections for Baroque and the Brain. What has ended up happening here though is I am benefiting from it and my son doesn’t play it! Respecting they have a choice is something we talked about in article 3 as well.

The Physical Environment at home

Now that we know the teen brain needs to look at the big picture while resisting the urge to multi-task, how can we create a physical environment at home to foster this learning brain requirement? Here are a few tips and tricks. 1. Keep their bedroom free from devices at night. It’s a source of light, distraction and noise. If your teen insists on keeping their phone in their room at night because they use it as an alarm clock, simply buy them an old-school alarm clock to use. 2. Encouraging the right amount of sleep is vital for a learning brain environment because memory is forming and is backed up while we sleep. We talked about the importance of “sleep hygiene” in article 2 of this series. 3. Try essential oils. The power of aromatics for emotional support and memory cannot be ignored. Diffusing certain essential oils has been shown to have a positive neurotransmitter effect to support both memory and recall, and reduce stress. Citrus and mint oils can have an especially positive effect. 4. Keep the “study” area organised. Every teen has their own preferred way of studying – whether it’s at a desk in their bedroom or on the living room floor. Wherever or however your teen studies, it’s important to keep it tidy and void of distractions (like electronics!) 5. Keep a big calendar on the wall. Planning is vital when it comes to keeping organised and looking at the big picture. By putting a big calendar on the wall with upcoming events (both in an out of school) we can help keep our teens see how much time they really have available for completing tasks and on-track. You could also use a large whiteboard and rework it each month. 6. Don’t focus on the marks. This is possibily the most important of all the tips. Part of creating a positive home environment is making sure you’re not consistently focusing on the ATAR or “ranking”. Avoid dinner table discussions about marks and the ATAR. Instead, steer the conversation towards the importance of learning and education. If our teens understand why they are learning, then their best marks will follow with the least amount of stress.

A final note

I hope you have found this series insightful and helpful. We have talked about the newer view of the learning brain, how to provide basic biological support to help our children as they go through high school, supporting a teen’s emotional brain and providing a positive learning environment. There’s no denying the high school and HSC years can be tough on teens and parents alike, but by working to support and understand the way our teens’ brains work, as well as how to best support the learning brain, we can make these years fun, exciting, and positive for all. After all, Education is indeed a gift.


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