How Children Learn
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How Children Learn (Classics in Child Development)

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  1,381 ratings  ·  110 reviews
This enduring classic of educational thought offers teachers and parents deep, original insight into the nature of early learning. John Holt was the first to make clear that, for small children, “learning is as natural as breathing.” In this delightful yet profound book, he looks at how we learn to talk, to read, to count, and to reason, and how we can nurture and encourag...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 4th 1995 by Da Capo Press (first published October 18th 1923)
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The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise BauerA Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMilleDumbing Us Down by John Taylor GattoHow to Read a Book by Mortimer J. AdlerHow Children Learn by John Holt
Best Homeschooling Books
5th out of 151 books — 196 voters
The Baby Book by William SearsHow to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele FaberWhat to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi MurkoffThe No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth PantleyNurtureShock by Po Bronson
Most Influential Parenting Books
39th out of 238 books — 361 voters

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James Swenson
tl;dr: Teachers, parents, and students might like to read How Children Learn and think about it, or even use it to jump-start a discussion with their peers.


Because I'm a college math professor, How Children Learn is a hard book for me to deal with.

Today, I spent the day grading final exams. The students' performance was tremendously discouraging. Many problems were left completely blank; in many other cases, the students wrote things that were not even false – just meaningless – or otherwise...more
Oct 19, 2007 Kathryn rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in learning how children learn!
Although John Holt is best known as a "founding father" of the homeschool movement, this remarkable book is a simple but profound collection of his observations about how children learn. It is a much-needed reminder for most "grown-ups" to open their eyes to view the world as children do, if only to better understand the young ones in their life and be a more patient, enthusiastic, warm and empathetic parent/friend/mentor. Most of all, Holt believes that children learn best when they learn at th...more
Jun 07, 2008 Natasha rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in education
Recommended to Natasha by: GWC 5 Pillar
Shelves: education
I was energized as an educator after reading this book. Imagine my delight when I learned my own father read this book when it was first published in my childhood. That explains a lot. (I come from a family where none of us have ever moved off the educational path.) We all love to learn!

John Holt recommends: let learners have the freedom to explore their own tastes. This is particularly important with children. Holt points out that children yearn to do real things with real facts now (see page 2...more
John Holt's basic premise is that "teaching" children anything is unproductive at best. He believes that children will direct their own learning guided by curiosity, need and exposure.
He has an, often recalled, bit on his daughter discovering and becoming enthralled with his type writer.
It's a lovely theory and possibly highly applicable for those with resources and patience to provide a plethora of objects/experiences. What it lacks (and admittedly isn't attempting to propose to offer), is wh...more
This is kind of a sequel to How Children Fail. In this book, Holt examines how very young children (infants to toddlers) learn, and what that has to tell us about how humans are hard-wired to learn. Holt doesn't spend as much time in this book talking about the specific failings of the educational establishment, but he doesn't need to: the indictment is clear when one considers how humans naturally learn, and then contrasts that with how schools attempt to teach. Holt's theory is that schools, i...more
This book was recommended to me by my husband, a former school teacher.The author, was originally a math and french teacher, but after spending a lot time studying children and education and writing a couple of books went on contribute a great deal to the home school movement. Between reading this and How Children Fail, homeschooling is something that I am contemplating. And if nothing else I will very closely monitor what and how my children are learning. I strongly recommend this book to paren...more
When I was first given copies of John Holt's "How Children Fail" and "How Children Learn", I was loath to give them more than a scant perusal. I had read a few articles by and about the man who was probably the first to coin the term "unschooling"� and generally considered one of the early instigators and champions of the homeschool movement, but I had, for the most part, distanced myself from reading his works in depth.

Born, raised and schooled in Singapore, I had had a rigid and rigorous educa...more
Nicholas Karpuk
Aug 14, 2009 Nicholas Karpuk rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Parents, Prospective Parents, Avid Learners
People as a whole are only as smart as a society is comfortable with.

In prose style "How Children Learn" reminds me a lot of "The Omnivore's Dilemma", in that both present some pretty depressing news with a great deal of compassion and hope. John Holt wrote this in the 60's and revised it in the 80's a few years before his death, and it's alarming how many of his criticisms of education are still applicable decades later. But it never comes off as polemic or divisive, just concerned for the min...more
Follow up to Mr. Holt's first book, with much the same subject matter. However, this time the emphasis is not on the learning that takes place in the classroom, but rather on how infants and very young children go about learning about their world. Mr. Holt is an interesting writer, so the book was a pleasure to read, but its conclusions seemed much more forced than in the first book. It felt as if Mr. Holt started out trying to prove that children learn perfectly well on their own, without any a...more
John Holt has some really fascinating observations from working with children that really reflect my own experiences with my kids. Children learn through games and play. They seem to learn spontaneously without being taught (like Holt makes the point...if we taught kids to speak how we teach them to read, they would never learn!)

I learned it's important to sort of "watch myself" and not interfere with my kids learning process. I need to let go and let them discover on their own or gently guide t...more
Anyone who knows who John Holt is will probably want to read this book just because he wrote it. He was a wonderful researcher and educator who loved children and wanted to find out exactly how they learn best. This book is such a perfect companion to The Thomas Jefferson Education books because it shows us specific examples of how capable children are of learning ON THEIR OWN. Holt even shows us some instances where the direct teaching or explanation of a concept actually detracts from the lear...more
This was the first time I've read a John Holt book, and it was definitley worth it. I'm looking forward to reading How Children Fail next. There was much I marked, and many pages I dog-earned to return to in the future, but I will at least share his ending comment: "What we need to do, and all we need to do, is bring as much of the world as we can into the school and th eclassroom: give children as much help and guidance as they need and ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking;...more
Basirat Atif
I give this book a 4 star. As a teacher, this book really helped me understand children better and I have tried a different approach in class room after reading this book and did get some positive result. The whole point of the book boils down to; trust and appreciate a child and he will do wonders.
Even as grown ups, we don't like to be forced into learning or believing something so how can we expect children to do that.
The only little problem I had with the book was it sometime leaves you wit...more
Roslyn Ross
Wow! I am already a very relaxed mom--not by nature, by nature I am like the Tiger Mom, but I have read enough and understand enough at this point to take a very relaxed approach to parenting--this book helped me relax into that relaxing, if that makes any sense. If a book can help you have faith in your children and life, this is it! I have understood for a long time the high self-esteem children get from being raised from babyhood with great respect. This book helped me to see the sense-of-lif...more
So far John Holt books are not very enjoyable for me to read. Admittedly, this has more to do with me as a reader. I don't agree with everything he says, but mostly, I don't enjoy his style of writing. How Children Learn was mostly different "journal" type entries from his experience observing children. Even though I did not necessarily enjoy the style, there are points in the book that help me to think and ponder about my approach as a mother. This is why I read the book, so it served its purpo...more
This book has had the greatest influence on me and my family. My husband and I are striving to stop correcting the kids and have a renewed respect of their ability to learn. No book I have ever read has given me a better direction to provide an environment for learning. Watch out!! Be aware of the "Teacher Devil" in you!
A lot of really great info on how kids learn and the fact that we need to give children the space to discover on their own and allow them to learn about the things they love. I liked this statement from the book, "What have I learned from all this? That children love learning and are extremely good at it." We truly need to have faith in our children's ability to learn on their own.

What I didn't like so much about this book was Mr. Holt's constant diary entries about a select few children. Some...more
May 21, 2009 johanna is currently reading it
should be required reading for all parents. John Holt has shaken the foundation of my beliefs about education.
Mariam Hussien
I am still 100 pages till the end of the book, but so far I am disspointed although I put high expectations on it, and maybe the problem is in me not in the book.

The book first chapter states a comparison between two different, contradicted ways about learning about children. The first is pure scientific, heartless and harsh one, the second is the caring and loving way, and only caring and loving. He came to a conclusion by the end of this chapter saying:
It's only in the presence of caring and l
I picked this up at the library to help me improve as a piano teacher- just general psychology or something that will help me better understand people.

The start of the preface got me VERY excited! He states that children are naturally great learners, but the school setting is not condusive to this and they forget how to learn. I FELT THAT WAY! Why did everything come so easy for me in early elementary, but by the time I was in Jr. High and High School, I could remember nothing that was taught....more
This book takes me way outside my comfort zone, which four or five years ago would have been a very bad thing. The Me of the past, upon reading Holt's work, would have confidently launched into a lengthy diatribe indicting Holt for a litany of agregious offenses not the least of which would have included a failure to be pragmatic, academic laziness (re: his utter disregard for quantitative research), and just plain ol' utilitarian naivete. The Me of today, although still resistant to some, if no...more
I have mixed opinions on this book.
1. I think John Holt is so intent upon conveying his message, that he paints all school teachers with the same brush.
2. I think John Holt is so intent upon conveying his message, that he paints all children with the same brush.
3. I disagree with both. I do not think that all teachers are controlling, commandeering, and out-of-touch with the needs of their students. I do not think that all children are as disinterested in and/or threatened by adult interference,...more
Even though I read the updated edition (sometime in the '80s), most of this book was written in the 1960s and I was amazed at just how "on" John Holt was, even 40 years ago. I was especially impressed at the reading chapter, which I began reading thinking he was missing the mark. Then I remembered that he wrote the book long before all of the research had been done out of New Zealand etc. and realized just how very close he was to nailing it! The guy was clearly ahead of his time.

His main point,...more
This book was a challenging read for a self-described know-it-all. My wife and I plan on homeschooling our children, so it's going to be so much fun explaining the world to my bright-eyed little ones, right? Except Mr. Holt says that if I do, I run the risk of crippling my children's desire to learn.

The tough part is, I believe him.

I went through school pretty much as a robot...learning stuff, repeating stuff on tests, then forgetting stuff. And even though I love to learn, in school, I got so,...more
I am a John Holt fan and I think he is very right on with his ideas, observations and philosophies about children and education. This book only continued to confirm my thoughts about his ideas, observations and philosophies. Holt gives great real life examples and explains his thoughts in an easy to understand way. The only reason I gave this book a 4 instead of a 5 is because though it is interesting, it is a dry read. It took me a while to get through it and I read other books while reading th...more
Sep 21, 2009 Kate rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: parents and teachers
This book is what finally convinced me I could home school. (I adamantly refused for many years.)

I just really agree with the philosophy that children (well, all people) learn best when interest drives learning, as opposed to bribes, rewards, threats, or any other type of coercion. And there just seems to be no getting around that in a system with grades, charts, tests, and so forth.

I'm not sure if it was just this book, or a combination of all the things I was reading at the time, but I know af...more
Stunning. Read this. It seems like so much common sense but then why does no one figure it out on her own? Well, I mean, it might be hubris but a lot of the stuff in here I already practice intuitively or have figured out on my own; but I already know that one of my strengths is to be able to "read" people so I think I stumbled into these methods just through my own experience. But for someone who has had other child-rearing methods drummed into her and can't see the way out, or who seems confus...more
After reading this book, I want to read the other books written by John Holt. I can see why he had a profound influence on education in America and how he became the modern founding father of Homeschooling. He has a lot of eye-opening observations about how children learn. I found it very refreshing and would highly recommend this book to any parent or educator. One of my favorite ideas from this book is how important and necessary it is to "play around with" something before you can use it or l...more
This is a book that you CAN put down, if you know what I mean. It took me a long time to get through it, but I'm glad I did. The beginning is kinda "iffy" (the first chapter "Games and Experiments"), but once it started going into chapters about reading, talking, math, and etc. it was more interesting. It's a different kind of book to teach about education and children. It's not very instructional, but more personal than anything, since John and other people share their personal stories. I left...more
An amazing book. The author basically relates lots of stories where he just observed children as they discovered and created and explored and he then drew conclusions about their abilities and their natural desire to learn and have an influence on the world around them. I learned a great many things that I hope will help me to be a better guide and facilitator of my children's education. The last chapter of the book was inspiring and definitely had the intent of getting the reader excited and re...more
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After teaching in private schools for many years John Caldwell Holt wrote his first two books, How Children Fail, and How Children Learn. He became a vocal advocate for school reforms, and wrote several more books about education theory and practice, including alternative forms and many social issues relating to the education system. Eventually he decided school reform was impossible, and changed...more
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