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Environmental Factors that Influence Learning

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    The environment in which we live can influence learning for better or worse. For example, positive environmental factors such as a supportive family and great teachers can help students achieve their potential, while negative environmental factors such as poverty and violence may inhibit learning abilities.  

    With this blog post, I hope to provide you with some useful tips on how to set up your home and school environments, so they support healthy brain development in children.  So what are the key things we need to know about our home and classroom? What elements do we want most of all? And what should be avoided at all costs? Read on!

    A variety of environmental factors influence learning. Some are within the learner's control, while others are not. This blog post will explore some of these influences and provide suggestions on how to take steps towards a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle in order to promote better health for learners. 

    A person can make changes in their environment that benefit themselves and their community at large by choosing to eat less meat, recycle plastics, install solar panels on rooftops or purchase locally grown produce from farmers' markets. However, many external factors impact one's ability to learn effectively--such as air quality, noise pollution and light exposure. Let's examine each of these environmental influences below!

    The environment is an important factor in learning because it influences the way humans gather, process, and use information. Thus, the atmosphere or climate can have a significant impact on how people learn.

    For example, research has shown that children exposed to certain types of music during their first few years of life have significantly better spatial reasoning skills later in life than those not exposed to the same type of music. This doesn't just apply to physical environments but also virtual ones as well- for example, adults perform better at tasks when they are working with other people rather than alone.

    Environmental Factors that Influence Learning

    Nature or nurture?  Which has more impact on a child's potential for success?

    This debate has waged on for decades but scientists now believe that environment is far more important to student success than genetics.

    As an educator, this is GREAT news because it means that what we do makes a difference...everyday.  In other words, "High performing teachers overcome the deficiencies of low-performing students almost every time." (Ferguson, 98)

    Someone once told me that effective teaching is not rocket science.  I agree...it's far more complicated.

    One thing is for certain, the young brain is HIGHLY influenced by the environment.  Many environmental factors influence learning and student success, so let's take a look at the ones that matter most.

    Relationships

    First, learning is about relationships.  Relationships between the teacher and students, new content and old content and subject matter content and its application to the real world.  

    A teacher who builds positive relationships with students decreases the affective filter or level of discomfort, and students perform better in the classroom. Likewise, teachers who connect old and new knowledge and tie both into the real world also have students who perform better.

    Stress

    A little bit of stress can be good as the body releases adrenaline to address it, which in turn stimulates our brain to "fire on all cylinders," if you will.  

    However, students who are in chronically stressful environments tend to have lower levels of aptitude, immunity, concentration and comprehension skills.  Why?  The young brain (3-20ish years old), as a result of the overly active amygdala, is especially susceptible to stress and has extreme responses to it.  

    Most students can only do two things when stressed, act out or zone out. 

    To prevent this negative behaviour and combat stress in the learning environment, consider these ideas:  

    • establish routines for certain activities and times of the day, so students know what to anticipate
    • use visuals, project-based learning, discussion, and pre-during-post comprehension strategies, so students are able to learn new skills and put them into practice, which develops competence and confidence
    • build positive relationships with students, so they know you are for them, not against them
    • clearly define and provide examples of how students can be successful in a class by providing rubrics, assignment samples and opportunities for ongoing feedback
    • allow reflection and retakes for large tests and assignments so students can learn from their mistakes and have the opportunity to demonstrate how their proficiency levels increase, even when initially failed

    Sleep

    Students need 9-13 hours of sleep per night.  Period.  They average 6 hours.  

    Sleep helps the brain to learn and process new information. It also aids in cell renewal, sugar metabolization, neural connections, immunity, logical reasoning, comprehension and fine motor skills.

    Teach kids healthy sleep habits, such as eliminating caffeine and sugar after 12:00 pm, lowering lights and noise in the evenings and eliminating technology for a few hours before bedtime.

    Exercise

    Experts recommend 2 hours of sweaty exercise per day for the young brain.  

    According to Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, "The three requirements for human life are food, drink and oxygen.  But their effects on survival have very different timelines.  You can live for about 30 days without food, about 7 days without water.  Your brain, however, is so active that it cannot go without oxygen for more than 5 minutes without risking serious and permanent damage."  

    He goes on to say, "Exercise does not provide oxygen and food.  It provides greater ACCESS to oxygen and food via stimulated blood vessels...that penetrate deeper into the body’s tissues.  The more you exercise, the more tissues you can feed and the more toxic waste you can remove.  That's why exercise improves the performance of all functions."

    Teach kids the benefit of exercise; it actually makes us smarter.  Also, incorporate energizing brain breaks into your lessons, so students can see and feel how oxygenated blood flow helps them concentrate and learn more.

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    Nutrition

    Eating healthy foods allows our bodies to function at the highest level. However, processed and sugary foods cause inflammation, leading to decreased blood flow and slowed body functions, decreasing concentration and memory. 

    Encourage students to eat lean proteins, fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of water, at least half their body weight in ounces.  The old adage, we are what we eat, is very true.

    Laughter,

    The brain does not discriminate between fake laughter and real laughter.  Both times, the brain will release four "happy" chemicals: serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins.  

    These chemicals help our bodies to increase blood flow, concentration, engagement, memory, T cell production and immunity.  These chemicals also decrease stress, anxiety, blood pressure, toxins and muscle tension.

    Share funny stories and jokes with your students throughout the day, and remember to laugh, laugh, laugh your way to increased success!

    Creating Environments To Support Young Children’s Development

    Early childhood is recognised as a critical time for improving the development and wellbeing of children through to their later life. Research shows that many societal outcomes in adulthood (e.g. physical and mental health, criminality and educational outcomes) are rooted in early childhood experiences. 

    This provides a strong argument for investing in this period of childhood. In addition, the local government plays an important role in designing local physical environments to support early childhood development. This article provides the best available evidence of the physical environmental factors that affect early childhood development. This can support local governments in their role in influencing urban design.

    What Physical Environmental Factors Affect Early Childhood Development?

    There are varying types and quality of evidence on how physical environments affect early childhood development, from strong evidence such as systematic reviews to single studies and case studies. 

    Current best available evidence suggests a number of physical environmental factors that influence early childhood development. In this short article, early childhood and young children are defined as under eight years of age in accordance with international standards.

    The Built Environment

    A large Australian evidence review suggests environmental toxins (e.g. traffic-related fine particles) have detrimental effects on neurological development in young children. Infants and young children are more vulnerable to environmental toxins than in later years, and even low levels of exposure can significantly affect their neurological development.

    Reducing local traffic exposure provides a safer and more accessible environment for children to move around independently. This promotes opportunities for play, spontaneous social interactions and active modes of transport, positively influencing early childhood development. 

    Child-relevant destinations (e.g. health and social services, kindergartens and schools) close to home are considered to be beneficial to early childhood development for similar reasons.However, more research is required on the relationship between built-environmental features and childhood development.

    Nature And Open Public Spaces

    Several systematic reviews have identified a positive relationship between green spaces and early childhood development, especially physical and mental wellbeing. In addition, greater access to, or quantity of, nature and public open spaces (such as playgrounds, school grounds, club/pay facilities) can support early childhood development. 

    Nature and public open spaces provide opportunities for creative and adventurous play, social interaction and physical activity. This may be even more important for children in lower socio-economic backgrounds, as more privileged children often have access to backyards that provide similar benefits.

    Climate And The Physical Environment

    Warmer temperatures and extreme heat have been associated with poor childhood developmental outcomes.  In addition, young children are more vulnerable to changes in the climate due to their dependence on others to move to a warmer/cooler location, put on a coat or drink water.

    Emerging research suggests the impact of climate change and weather extremities on children’s development should not be overlooked, especially with the increasing health effects of climate change.  For example, parks and natural spaces are proven to provide a cooler space during warmer weather, and street tree canopies can provide cooling for pedestrians.

    Participation In Urban Planning

    Case studies on urban planning for children emphasise the importance of including children and families in this planning, a strategy that has been promoted by UNICEF. Parents, pregnant women and young children have been under-represented in urban planning processes. Involving children and families in urban planning provide opportunities to create positive physical environments that promote creativity, play and feelings of ownership, which are important elements of early childhood development.

    What Can Municipalities Do To Support Early Childhood Development?

    Local governments are responsible for local urban planning and have the capacity to regulate certain environments used by families with young children. According to the best available research, there are several ways local governments can implement changes to help support early childhood development:

    • Promote young children’s ability to interact with the environment. This could be through providing safe, walkable neighbourhoods with low traffic exposure and improving access to and the availability of green, open spaces.
    • Protect young children from environmental harm. This could involve limiting exposure to environmental toxins by reducing high traffic exposure close to child-relevant destinations and providing ideal temperature control in indoor environments young children frequent (child care centres, libraries, swimming pools).
    • Involve families and children in neighbourhood planning. This is not always easy to do, and there are guides available(link is external) on how to implement this.

    Local governments may also need to work with other child-oriented local organisations when creating environments that promote early childhood development.

    Early Developmental Outcomes Of Australian Children From Diverse Language Backgrounds At School Entry 

    Research using the 2009 AEDC data was used to understand the interrelationships between language backgrounds, proficiency in English and early developmental outcomes at school entry. 

    Linguistically diverse children who were not yet proficient in English when they began school were significantly more likely to be developmentally vulnerable on four AEDC domains (Physical health and wellbeing; Social competence; Emotional maturity and Language and cognitive skills (school-based)). 

    In contrast, linguistically diverse students who entered school with proficient English language skills were slightly less likely to be developmentally vulnerable on Emotional maturity and Physical health and wellbeing domains. 

    Bilingual children, therefore, appear to start school with some subtle developmental advantages. Children from English speaking backgrounds also enter school with a range of language skills. 

    Children from an English speaking background who were considered not yet proficient in their home language had the highest rates of developmental vulnerability, around twice those of their linguistically diverse peers who were also not yet proficient in English. 

    More details on this topic can be found in the research snapshot Early Developmental outcomes of Australian children from diverse language backgrounds at school entry.

    Preschool And The Transition To School 

    Children who attended preschool were less likely to be developmentally vulnerable across all five developmental domains assessed by the AEDC. Preschool programs may provide stimulating and structured learning opportunities that encourage academic and social development and prepare children for school. 

    In contrast, higher rates of developmental vulnerability were seen for children that attended day care without a preschool program and those that received informal non-parental care or parental care only. In addition, preschool attendance was less common among children from most disadvantaged communities. 

    Whilst preschool had a positive effect on children from both advantaged and disadvantaged communities, there were still higher rates of vulnerability among children living in disadvantaged communities that attended preschool than children from advantaged communities that did not attend preschool. 

    The highest rate of vulnerability was among children from disadvantaged communities who did not attend preschool. Research highlights the importance of preschool attendance for promoting strong developmental outcomes and successful school transitions for all children.

    Accordingly, lower preschool attendance rates by disadvantaged children may be contributing to early developmental vulnerabilities and inequities. For more information, see the research snapshot on Early childhood education and care and the transition to school. 

    Children With Additional Health And Developmental Needs (AHDN) 

    The AEDC measure of early childhood development includes Additional Health and Development Needs (AHDN). The first years of full-time schooling offer new demands, environments and relationships. These can all have lasting implications on a child’s early educational trajectory. Children with AHDN can face extra challenges in primary school. 

    This includes meeting the demands of school, fitting in with peers, and obtaining additional resources. Pathways through school for children with AHDN: a conceptual model for understanding the complex processes that can impact school functioning for children with additional health and developmental needs (AHDN) has been developed. 

    The model centres on children’s ability to function within their daily environments and the interactions between their functioning and various risk and protective factors. Many of the children who experience difficulty due to AHDN have not received a formal diagnosis either because their condition is not severe enough to reach diagnostic cut-offs or their difficulties are yet to be formally identified. 

    Irrespective of diagnosis, the needs of children experiencing AHDN and the impact of their condition on school functioning is complex and can change over time. However, school failure is not inevitable, and many children with AHDN experience positive school outcomes, suggesting it is possible to intervene to promote better outcomes for these children. 

    Findings suggest that children may experience different levels and types of needs that fluctuate over time and which do not depend on their condition or diagnosis. Rather, children’s needs are determined by their condition’s impact on their functioning and their unique risk and protective factors. 

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    Factors That Help Or Hinder Children With AHDN To Succeed At School 

    Given that the transition period to formal schooling is a critical time that helps to shape long-term educational trajectories, it is important to address risk factors and promote protective factors early in the child’s formal education. 

    Current research suggests that many of the risk and protective factors are operating from the earliest experiences at school. A mixture of influences was identified, ranging from the child’s characteristics to the environments in which they are operating, including numerous factors at the service-system level. 

    The many protective factors identified suggest it is important to not only describe and respond to children’s limitations but also to acknowledge the child’s capabilities and strengths as well as other protective factors operating at the family and service-system level so that these can be drawn on and developed to help them succeed, these are described in more detail in the research snapshot, Factors that help or hinder children with AHDN to succeed at school. 

    Shaping Learning Trajectories For Children With AHDN 

    Three trajectories of academic performance over the primary school years (from ages 4-5 and 10-11) were identified in this research: Twenty-five per cent of children performed steadily above average, 52 per cent of children performed close to average, and the remaining 25 per cent of children performed consistently below average. 

    This research aimed to describe the academic trajectories of primary school children with both established and emerging health and developmental conditions whilst also investigating the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on the relationship between AHDN and academic trajectories. 

    Children with both established and emerging AHDN and children from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to be in the low or average performing academic trajectory. Children with emerging AHDN who were also disadvantaged were more likely to be in the low trajectory. Differences in academic development already present at school entry remained stable over time. 

    The effect of cumulative advantage saw children with strong early academic skills continue to improve over time, whilst children who displayed poor early academic skills fell slightly more behind. However, poor academic outcomes were not inevitable for children with AHDN – a number of children with AHDN were within the highest performing academic trajectory. 

    Academic trajectories indicate that early intervention is crucial for children experiencing difficulties to improve their educational pathways. The finding that children with AHDN can have high academic achievement reinforces the potential of interventions to help these children reach their optimal learning potential. 

    A greater allocation of resources is required for children with AHDN living within socioeconomically disadvantaged settings to address the needs of doubly disadvantaged children better.

    Environmental factors include temperature, food, pollutants, population density, sound, light, and parasites.
     

    There are a number of the factors that influence an individuals learning like movement, repetition, feedback, stress, and emotions.

    7 Important Factors that May Affect the Learning Process
    • Intellectual factor: The term refers to the individual mental level. ...
    • Learning factors: ...
    • Physical factors: ...
    • Mental factors: ...
    • Emotional and social factors: ...
    • Teacher's Personality: ...
    • Environmental factor:
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