Outside the Classroom—How a Student's Home Life and Biological Factors Affect Their Education and Development

Marissa Alonzo | Published  May 23, 2016


When educators leave their classroom after a day's work with their students they know that their class is going home to cultures, routines, and interactions that are both diverse among themselves and different from the classroom. Whether you work in the inner city or a suburban private school, research has found that both home life and a child's genetic background deeply affect your students' educational progress and their ability to develop into global citizens. 

Two broad categories of research about student progression has surfaced in recent years: child development from a scientific research-based standpoint and the impact of environmental and psychological factors on development.

Science Shows Why Home Trauma Hinders Children's Ability to Learn

A research study entitled "Children, Brain Development, and Criminal Law" conducted by the U.K.-based Economic and Social Research Council found that child development is strongly affected by something they term traumatic brain injury (TBI)—the source of neurological impact that is seen when a child is exposed to a rough or violent home life. They explain that when a child is presented with violence or trauma in the home, the brain responds with "hypervigilance" to perceived threats. This hypervigilance hardwires the child to respond to any problem with risk behavior or heightened impulsitivity. Even within a secure classroom setting, these factors continue to hinder the child's ability to adapt socially, slowing or blocking academic progress.

Genetic disadvantages to learning are discussed in the book "How Poverty Affects Behavior and Academic Performance," which includes research supporting several different theories that explain behavior differences in children. One approach is based on epigenetics, a new subfield of genetics that studies the heritable changes in gene function that occur in the DNA sequence. This meaning that some individuals are genetically coded to have behavioral or developmental issues and some are not. Behavioral geneticists have found that "30-50 percent of our behaviors" derive from these changes. These researchers believe that some child development phenomena can be explained by the combination of genetic disposition with challenging environmental factors, a theory that may resonate especially for teachers who work in low socioeconomic areas. 

Environmental Factors at Home

Beyond these new scientific findings, several key issues in home life are known to affect a child's educational progress in school. The most common findings from the research literature are summarized in an article entitled "What are the Effects of the Home Environment on Learning?" posted on the Livestrong site:

  • Parental support influences children's ability to cope with failure and pressure, which affects their success in the classroom. Conversely, positive home learning experiences, such as trips to the library and encouraging play with letters and numbers, can strengthen students' resilience in the classroom. 
  • Children of responsive and involved parents are likely to perform better in school. If a child's education ends in the classroom and there are no at-home learning opportunities, success can be hindered. 
  • Chidren in a two-parent, intact household are more likely to apply and be admitted into college. While a divorce may be unavoidable, co-parenting can be highly valuable to the child's development. Students' feelings of negative pressure, anxiety, and depression based on their family life have a significant impact on their studies. 

While research circles have discussed other factors over the years, one enduring focus for educators in the classroom is to be mindful of the individual students they nurture each year. The teacher who personalizes interactions and gives students hands-on attention will gain a better understanding of how they learn, and mitigate the impact of challenging home life and other environmental factors so that each student can achieve greater success in school. 


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