Your Learning Path: A Framework for Creating and Considering Learning Environments

Updated: Feb 26, 2019

By Kate Bachtel.

Normalizing the experience of being an outlier while simultaneously facilitating connection to community is a challenging paradox to navigate. Whether you explore homeschooling, unschooling, public, independent or blended learning program options, the search process can feel overwhelming.

In Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach us About Spreading Social Change, Nick Cooney shares, “Effective activism starts with a specific goal and ends with measurable results” (2011, p. 26). In the absence of data, we can fall victim to perceptual biases. This article will help you craft your own learning objectives and evaluation practices.

Turn Inward

Start with what works. What are your child’s passions? What modes of learning and expression are they drawn to when afforded choice? Focusing on children’s strengths and interests will help frame how they are “seen.” This is important because gifted children are often so empathic that they feel how others perceive them and internalize the messaging.

Below are a few factors to consider when creating or selecting learning environments. Determine which aspects of development you can support on your own and which might require outside assistance.

· Does your child have sensitivities to certain lights, sounds, foods, scents, etc.? Will the physical space be comforting and inspiring for them or distracting and over-stimulating? If possible, have your child participate in co-creating the space. Sharon Lind’s article (2001) on overexcitabilities is a good resource for growing understanding of varied sensitivities.

· Creativity. Where do we provide tools and supplies for creation (including gardens, science and design thinking labs, kitchens, music and art studios)? What problem solving frameworks and strategies will be taught?

· Emotional. What coaching, resources and portion of instruction will be devoted to the development of discrete emotional skills and competencies, such as optimism and emotional literacy?

· Spiritual. Paul Torrance and Dorothy Sisk share, “Developing spiritual intelligence in yourself and others will bring about a number of outcomes including an increased awareness or attention, trust, a willingness to be vulnerable, simplicity, egalitarianism, sensitivity, caring, harmony, balance, cooperation, sharing and a reverence for life and mother earth” (2001, p. 138).

· Physical. John Medina’s Brain Rules (2008) teaches that exercise enhances cognition. How will you ensure your child will have ample opportunities to get their wiggles out? Gifted children with high energy levels may have a greater need for movement.

· Sociopolitical. The communities children are a part of influence their identity development. Challenges can arise when a child’s sociopolitical development exceeds that of the adults caring for them. Are we adapting to unjust systems or working to transform them? Watts and Jaegers’ (2013) five stages of sociopolitical development can both grow awareness and support empowerment.

· Does your child trend introvert or extrovert? Will the environment and social dynamics feed their need to interact with others or spend quiet time alone to reflect and refuel?

P. Susan Jackson, who developed the Integral Practice Model for the Gifted, shares, “It is vital we provide knowledgeable parenting, teaching and psychological support that is truly congruent with the needs of sensitive, intense, creative and dynamic learners…lacking an informed and mindful approach we may inadvertently squander remarkable abilities and crush the animating essence at the core of their being that fuels their passion for learning and gives meaning to their existence” (personal communication, November, 2014).

Learn everything you can about the unique development of gifted individuals. Take on the role of scientist – be curious and play with a variety of tools, approaches and strategies. Modeling being a learner is the best way to teach a growth mindset. Keep in mind what works today, may not work tomorrow.

Your Educational Philosophy: Why Learn?

What do you believe to be the purpose of education? Answering this question prior to starting the process of creating or selecting learning environments is critical. Consider crafting a personal learning mission statement. Stick to it. Use your mission statement as a filter to guide decision-making. Do you believe the goal to education is to create innovators and changemakers? Then a traditional program emphasizing content standards will not be the best fit.