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
Path to Quiet from Hearing Health Quarterly
Noise, Acoustics, Student Learning, and Teacher Health from The National Academies Press
Daily Noise Pollution: Its Effects and What You Need to Know from Zen Soundproof
Does Noise Affect Learning? from Frontiers in Psychology
Keep it Down (and Rediscover Silence) excerpted from Choosing Civility by P. M. Forni
Education by Design, Not Default by Janet Newberry
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Article updated: 9 January 2017
I just read over your blog. It’s as if you read my mind. I’ve been trying to get my family off t.v. and give up cable. My husband is resistant. So we’ve compromised. The kids cannot watch television unless their school and chores are done and done well. And yes, I have to compliment my children more on speaking respectfully and politely instead of scolding them to do so. It also helps to model the same. Thank you for your article.
Thanks for the info. I’m gonna try it tomorrow. We’ve always got the TV on even though we know better. I hope to get a loving, peacable life out of it.
For those of you in this trap…getting out of it will bear more fruit than you can understand. You may have to literally “detox”…and the longer you stay off TV and radio, the more discerning you will become when it’s on…to the point that you will not be able to bear such nonsense, sensationalism and worldliness. You will wonder how you ever put up with it in the first place. Stick with it, and reward any whining about it with chores. Choose movies carefully, and make them an occasional event which is made special by planning a special snack or inviting friends over. You CAN do it.
We took up this challenge last week to turn off the TV. The kids are allowed to choose one program at night. Dad still watches a lot of news or sports. The first day, was like drug addicts coming off their drugs. My 14-year-old daughter sulked for hours on the couch. Now, afer a week, the kids are outside playing more, reading more, the 14-year-old has taken up beading, and their Wii time is limited to 30 minutes a day. I find it so much calmer now.
As a self-proclaimed political junkie, I struggle with this all the time. I don’t want to breed apathy, but where in our society is the rational discourse?
True, true…garbage in, garbage out.
I added you to my friends list, as truly in my heart you are a sweet dear friend, who I am thankful for.
mama to 6
one homemade and 5 adopted
Our family gave up TV and cable five and one-half years ago and it was one of the best things we have ever done. We haven’t missed it hardly at all. The time we used to spend watching tv is now spent playing games, reading books, camping, playing, etc. Our family has grown closer as a result! I would recommend unplugging the tv for all families. Now, when we happen to see tv at other people’s homes we are shocked by what tv has become. Our families worry that we will fall out of touch with current events, but just as mentioned in the article, we always find out what is important. Our children haven’t heard a lot of the language children their age are using. They aren’t as stressed out about the world. And everything that does come up, we can take it in context with the Word.
You make an excellent point about removing negative media from our childrens lives so they do not become trained to “use ridicule in an effort to make someone else look or feel bad”. Unfortunately, as parents trying to raise our children, we are not immune to the barrage of negative media. An excellent example is your statement about “radio talk-show hosts who use ad hominem attacks and ridicule, rather than serious, intelligent communication,to gain support from an unthinking audience” in which you use the very same tactic of name calling using the term “unthinking audience” to make someone else look bad. As parents who wish to keep the exposure of negative media away from our children, we also need to learn to filter what we say and be in the habit of using positive and intelligent communication so that we do not inadvertantly become a source of negativity. As homeschoolers, our children have the greatest exposure to parents therefore the example we set has a profound impact on our children’s development.
You’re quite right that parents don’t want to become a source of negativity. Interestingly, I chose to specify an ‘unthinking audience,’ because I wanted to avoid the implication that the audience was deliberately malicious or lacking in intelligence.
We can all be unthinking at times– it’s a by-product of being human. However, it is often during those times that we allow ourselves to do, say, or participate in things we wouldn’t be involved with if we took the time to think it through. To say that someone has been unthinking is certainly not name-calling, as it simply acknowledges the part that human frailty can play in our decisions.
My use of the term was meant as a caution, because being unthinking is truly an ever-present danger. I believe it’s important for each of us to be alert and thoughtful in order to avoid relaxing into a state of passivity.
Thank you for writing!