How small children begin to read, write, count, and investigate the world, without being taught
The essence of John Holt's insight into learning and small children is captured in Learning All The Time. This delightful book by the influential author of How Children Fail and How Children Learn shows how children learn to read, write, and count in their everyday life at home and how adults can respect and encourage this wonderful process. For human beings, he reminds us, learning is as natural as breathing. John Holt's wit, his gentle wisdom, and his infectious love of little children bring joy to parent and teacher alike.
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 his focus to homeschooling. He started America's first magazine dedicated to the subject, Growing Without Schooling, in 1977.
This books makes intuitive sense to me. This passage, on the last page, sums it up:
"We can best help children learn, not be deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they can do, answering their questions - if they have any - and helping them explore the things they are most interested in."
It made me excited to watch Penny explore life.
Edited: That review was six and a half year ago. I get to watch Oliver explore life now too. :-)
"Thats not to say that children must discover everything unaided.We can help them in several ways.We can so arrange the materials put before them that discovery is made more likely.Real learning is a process of discovery,and if we want it to happen we must create the kinds of conditions in which discoveries are made.We know what these are .They include time,leisure,freedom and a lack of pressure." and Many young children do indeed need to be introduced to tasks and ativities that take time.But this isnt a matter of giving harder tasks nd mking the child persist ....Instead what young children need is the opportunity to see older children and adults chosing and undertaking various tasks and working on them over a period of time until they are completed.Children need to get some sense of the processes by which good work is done. These quote explained much of the unschooling process to me.Its not doing nothing.Its not waiting for the child to say I want to learn about .....Its about making those materials and experiences available and giving them the choice in whether or not to run with that idea.Its not about a creating a child centred enviroment - but about them seeing real life and being taken along to observe/participate or not as much as they want.
He's a social constructionist. Always enjoy Holt. Spoke to him in the early 80's about whether preschool was good for children. He doubted it, but allowed that if the child enjoyed it, it might be alright.
Anyone with an interest in teaching their child(ren) should read this. Holt makes great observations and gives insightful suggestions about learning, using minimal words. This is not a dry, lengthy, clinical textbook on the history and development of child education, complete with theories, etc. This is an explanation of how children essentially teach themselves. It praises the curiosity, creativity, and ingenuity of children for learning about the world around them by using what comes naturally. I can see now the appeal of "unschooling." This makes me hopeful about homeschooling my daughters; I'm excited to be there to point them in the right direction and I'm excited to see which directions they'll take to follow their interests.
Pretty good. I haven't read any John Holt books in years, so this was a good refresher on some of his more salient points. He touches on several big ideas that are only recently gaining popularity and traction among the general public and educators, e.g. growth mindset, project-based learning, and the harmful effects of praise. This book was published in 1989 but is comprised of pieces he wrote as early as the 70s.
I enjoy books structured in this manner - short reflections on a single theme (in this case: how young children are always learning, and don't need us to teach them). I borrowed this from the library but will definitely buy it for my home library to pick up and re-read from time to time.
A few of my favorite quotes:
"I was an ingenious and resourceful teacher, clever about thinking up lesson plans and demonstrations and motivating devices and all of that acamaracus. And I only very slowly and painfully - believe me, painfully - learned that when I started teaching less, the children started learning more. [paragraph break] I can sum up in five to seven words what I eventually learned as a teacher. The seven-word version is: Learning is not the product of teaching. The five-word version is: Teaching does not make learning. As I mentioned before, organized education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them. This is not true. It is very close to one hundred percent false." (from Every Waking Hour)
"What children want and need from us is thoughtful attention. They want us to notice them and pay some kind of attention to what they do, to take them seriously, to trust and respect them as human beings. They want courtesy and politeness, but they don't need much praise." (from Praise Junkies)
"But when a child is doing something she's passionately interested in, she grows like a see - in all directions." (from Learning is Making Sense of Things)
"Often when small children become bored and distracted, at home or in nursery school, adults will decide that they 'need more structure.' I tend to be wary of that term since those who use it generally mean only one thing: some adult standing over the child telling him what to do and making sure he does it. [paragraph break] Many young children do indeed need to be introduced to tasks and activities that take time, concentration, effort, and skill. But this isn't a matter of 'giving' harder tasks and making the child persist until he or she is finished. In such situations the controlling factor is the will of the adult, not, as it should be, *the requirements of the task.* Instead, what young children need is the opportunity to see older children and adults choosing and undertaking various tasks and working on them over a period of time until they are completed. Children need to get some sense of the *processes* by which good work is done. The only way they can learn how much time and effort it takes to build, say, a table, is to be able to see someone building a table, from start to finish. Or painting a picture. Or repairing a bicycle, or writing a story, or whatever it may be."
Holt's basic point is that kids learn as an integral part of life, and when adults come in to try to teach them something, they usually retard, rather than accelerate, learning. He makes a reasonable case, but overplays his hand, in my opinion.
The book was written in the 1980s and shows some of its age. For example, Holt spends a significant number of pages arguing that the teaching of cursive handwriting is obsolete. At least since the widespread use of computers, that was already clear, and penmanship is low on teaching priorities everywhere I know of. He also talks about the "Suzuki Method" a methodology of teaching children music that he seems to assume will be on the radar of parents across the US.
Some of his best points: 1) That children prefer to use the actual tools that adults use in their lives more than they prefer to use play versions we give them as toys. 2) That unasked advice conveys two pernicious implied messages: that the advice is more important than you could imagine and that it is too difficult for you to figure out on your own. 3) That children need courtesy, politeness, and above all focused attention more than they need praise. 4) A naive version of the scientific method is children's default way of learning by experience.
But in with this he makes statements such as "Ninety-nine percent of the time, teaching that has not been asked for will not result in learning, but will impede learning." Taken at face value, this suggests that most all of elementary school makes the children less knowledgeable, skilled, and learned than leaving a child to play in the backyard all day (for how many children, even eager, intelligent, curious children, actively ask to learn rules of grammar, the history of their state, the water cycle?) How is it that every single developed nation has developed such a counterproductive institution?
His extreme hands-off approach also does not fit with what I remember from my own childhood. Yes, more stellar teachers would have been able to draw out more from me over the years, and nurture my interests more. But summer book-reading contests and the competition of grades and the imposition of reading (such as Tuck Everlasting) that I would not have found without the school also accelerated my learning. I would have been far lazier, narrower, and more ignorant without being pushed to learn.
Surely the sensible conclusion is not to leave children utterly to their own devices, but to try to nurture their interests without crushing them, while at the same time obligating them to gain essential knowledge in the sciences and humanities, for their own personal development.
I've just finished "Learning All the Time" a few weeks before I'm about to begin "homeschool" with Benjamin in K and Josh in 2nd grade. I've always been a very relaxed, eclectic homeschooler. I've used lots of Montessori materials and I've recently been interested and reading about the Charlotte Mason method, which sounds wonderful to me--except now I see its big flaw--that is, teaching. Reading through this book slowly convinced me that children really do learn constantly on their own. They learn what is important to us and important in their world. In either this book or in "Teach Your Own," there is a quote that sums up the way teaching interferes with learning: "A word to the wise--is infuriating." Children are already wise and Holt argues that they are excellent little scientists.
In chapter after chapter he explains different ways children might be learning about reading, writing, handwriting, math, music, art, etc. The chapter on music was especially interesting to me, in which he describes and talks about the Suzuki method, theory and practice. From each chapter I have pulled some interesting ideas that I will try to make available to my children, but for now I am refraining from teaching those short morning lessons that I had been planning. I will basically go back to "strewing" their path with interesting, useful things that will facilitate their learning.
I first put this into practice a few days ago when I had been deliberating "making" Josh read a certain number of books or minutes per day, since he has been so reluctant to read. I'm glad I got a hold of this book first. I think Josh having been coerced so much into reading (phonics readers and worksheets) is what has caused his reluctance. So we took a fun trip to the bookstore, searched out some interesting chapter books on the second grade reading level, and came home. I have refrained from mentioning the books again, since he has them in his bedroom. A couple times he has become so bored that he wandered off to his room and began to read. Once he brought me the book and we took turns reading the pages. He is still carrying around the big "Harry Potter Year 3" and trying to read the first paragraph. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next few weeks.
Au début, le ton du livre - car Holt a une opinion tranchante, sans équivoque sur certaines méthodes d'enseignement utilisées par les parents ou les professeurs - était un peu démoralisant: on a l'impression de tout faire tout croche. Puis, je me suis raccrochée à l'essence même du livre, au fond, qui en soit est très positif et déculpabilisant à la fois pour notre façon de voir les enfants... et de se voir. L'éducation, l'entretien de la curiosité d'un enfant (car il n'est plus question d'éveil) devient moins complexe, moins casse-tête que ce qu'on a fini par en faire en se recentrant sur deux points: la confiance et l'écoute. Plus j'ai avancé dans le livre, plus ma perception s'est modifiée. Pas du tout au tout, pas de façon dogmatique, mais juste assez. Et à la fin, on se dit que, nous aussi, on est comme ces enfants, et qu'on peut, nous aussi, recommencer à explorer le monde par nos propres moyens.
En bref, cette lecture va m'aider à relâcher la pression côté éducation de mon garçon.
This book argues--rightly in my opinion given my limited experience with my own children--that children are natural-born learners and we should do as little as possible to thwart that natural desire to explore, to create, to experiment... He says, "Learning, no more than breathing, is not an act of volition for young children... It is in their nature to look about them, to take the world in with their senses, and to make sense of it, without knowing at all how they do it or even that they are doing it" (p.139). Therefore, "Learning is not the product of teaching... Teaching does not make learning... Organized education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them. This is not true. It is very close to one hundred percent false. Learners make learning. Learners create learning" (p.160). "What children want and need from us is thoughtful attention. They want us to notice them and pay some kind of attention to what they do, to take them seriously, to trust and respect them as human beings" (p.140-1). "We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serous attention to what they do, answering their questions--if they have any--and helping them explore the things they are most interested in" (p.162).
I had higher hopes for this book, I thought it would have a broader view of the possibilities available and it was a bit repetitive because there was not quite enough material (Holt had not finished writing it before he died). There is so much fantastic research on education and learning that is ignored by most teachers and schools, it was unfortunate that this book did not take advantage of that and was anecdote rather than data driven. Many areas could have used a bit more research or might have been examined in more depth, e.g. Holt dismisses cursive handwriting as the useless remains of class snobbery. In France they teach cursive first and have less of a problem with dyslexia, and American homeschoolers who've suspected dyslexia and taught their kids to write cursive first (so they don't reverse letters) have had good results with this approach. (I'd love to know whether learning to write without reversing letters early on changes enough in the brain to affect other symptoms of the disorder.)
This book is a quick read and might be good for parents who haven't read much about education yet and are looking to be reassured about homeschooling, and gives some support for providing a rich learning environment rather than strictly controlling a child's education.
clarified what i need to be doing, in terms of helping my child gaining literacy skills-which is NOTHING. it's a dose of sanity in this crazy world of preschool readiness and leapfrog toys and "your baby can read" DVDs. i love the idea of trying not to interfere with children learning from observing their surroundings and experimenting with everything they come across. of parents doing their best to provide the opportunities, and then stepping back.
This book provided an interesting approach and theory to learning, unlike anything I encountered while training to be a teacher. There wasn't much evidence cited to prove his theories, but that didn't bother me (since I wasn't expecting to learn facts). Rather I was looking for insight into the whole "unschooling" movement, that (at least in my understanding) spawned from the introduction of Holt's books and ideas. Worth considering for both parents and educators.
I think what teachers and family should take the most out of this book is that you can't learn how to be a parent, grandparent or teacher. You can just keep on learning the children in order to do better fulfilling their individual needs. Kids are not an empty vessel to fill with knowledge. They are full of awe, curiosity to explore and experience, creative thinking and imagination, ready to become life long learners. If only we wouldn't spoil that.
I imagine it would have been invaluable to shadow John Holt. It's clear that he practiced what he preached, and to see how he did it would have been a fascinating life lesson. Unfortunately I don't find reading his opinions to be quite as valuable. Though I agree with most of them, it's all gut feel, mixed with some experience, with almost no supporting evidence. This was to me an important oversight.
An unpretentious but powerful and important book. I resent the tyranny of the new that steers people toward the latest books and ignores great and important works like this, or the histories of Richard Hofstadter, for example. Everyone should read it, particularly if they plan to enjoy and encourage children as they grow. I am looking forward with hope to grandchildren, and John Holt has turned my entire didactic intent on its head.
Such a good read on early childhood development. Holt stresses the importance of having children learn on their own terms in order to tap into their intuitive mix of fantasy and reality while helping them make better sense of the world around them in concrete ways. Children are little philosophers and cosmologists and scientists!! They should be given the time and space to wonder about the world as such.
John Holt does such an amazing way of showing us the common sense of letting children learn.
They don't need us to make lesson plans and create an artificial environment for them to learn. The less we "teach" the more they actually learn. For only the individual child knows best when it is ready to learn whatever they decide is next. John Holt will show you how to see all the learning your child is doing independently, without ever having had a lesson taught to them.
All we have to do is include them in real life and offer assistance when asked for.
I have a few books by John Holt, and I believe this one is my favorite. It contains a mixture of advice, observation, speculation, and anecdotes. The organization of it is helpful and logical -- it starts out with chapters for major areas of learning such as reading and writing, math, science, and music, then goes on into some more general information about learning. The concepts, as many others have pointed out, are mostly very intuitive. Holt does challenge "traditional" schooling often, and some of what he says is a little shocking at first, but upon further thought, the reader will likely come to understand that he is very much correct. There were numerous things throughout the book that I was nodding vigorously in agreement with throughout. One thing he said stuck out to me: "...I don't like being around people who act and talk as if their mission in life is to educate me, whose relation to me is always that of teacher to pupil." I DO know people like that, and I choose to limit my time around them. As an editor and tutor myself, I don't go around correcting adults, because that's not my place. Why then do we as parents think that we have to correct children on everything ALL the time? One of the biggest nuggets of wisdom I have taken from Holt's books is that mistakes are meaningful. Children rarely make truly random mistakes; they often give us insight into how they are developing. Instead of jumping on them every time they do something wrong, we can choose to respond differently (or not at all). My daughter often mispronounces certain words, and I used to get irritated and correct her, but then I read How Children Learn. In this book, Holt described many situations where children continued saying words wrong (or writing words wrong, etc.) for years before suddenly saying them right. It was Holt's belief that the children probably know how to say these kinds of words correctly but don't for a few reasons. Long story short, I have stopped correcting so much in our regular everyday life (and even as much in "scholastic settings" -- we just started kindergarten this fall). I am glad I have read these books. They have been incredibly insightful.
That being said, I don't agree with absolutely everything. I do think a lot of how he views how children think may not be completely accurate for every single child. I think it depends on temperament. I don't believe that every child has an innate aversion to adults helping them (although, I'm not a child psychologist, so maybe this is true of a certain age?). Sometimes his advice seems limited because he says not to do something but does not offer any advice on what to do instead. When I came upon those kinds of things in the book, I kept wishing he were alive so that I could email him. I would be writing to him all the time! It's such a tragedy that he's no longer with us. He did offer a select few games/activities that can be used (such as a spelling flashcard game on page 37 of my version) and I tried to mark those for use later.
I wish every parent would read this book. It's not very long, but it has some really valuable insight.
I highlighted almost all the book. Reading John Holt is like listening to an inner voice that was made silent by the school system, the status quo, the traditional parenting. That inner voice is the child within. Once we listen to it, we'll know how to help our children learn. We’ll learn to observe, look, listen. What the author invites us to do is give up the tendency to teach and let the children learn on their own by providing them two things: time and safety.
Children are explorers, they are scientists - they look, notice, wonder, theorize, test and change their theories. The child who learns from experience than from being told, remembers better (like adults I guess :)), she is more confident in figuring things our by herself and in taking the risk. Some other ideas inferred from the book: - stop being pedagogical, don't overcomplicate the answers we give to our children when they ask us questions - stop correcting children when learning how to speak, we’ll only turn them fearful in making mistakes; they’ll get there by listening to us speak naturally - to introduce children to activities that take time, concentration, skill and effort we shouldn’t give them harder tasks, but rather give them the opportunity to sit by older children or adults who are engaged in such tasks over a period of time; observing a parent, say, cooking, building a table, repairing a bicycle, painting a picture- is the best way to learn the process of doing good work from start to finish. - don't interfere in children's play, it might stop it altogether - kids are more interested in the things that we adults really use than in the things we buy especially for them from Fisher-Price or Lego
All these ideas are well supported by great examples. From the premise that we are all children, I recommend this book, not only if you’re a parent, but also if you’re an adult and want to know how to tackle an encounter with a child, thus with any peer.
Although I am using the classical trivium method to teach my children, I have a soft spot in my heart for unschooling, and we spend many days just living our lives and learning what we will from experience. So I already am partial to the author's advice on how to best educate children. In fact, while I was reading the early chapters, I stopped reading several times to pick up my tablet and place an order for a book that was recommended or referenced in the text.
I agree with his recommendations for how to teach kids. In a nutshell, less teaching is generally more effective than more teaching; let the kids figure things out for themselves. But I'm not sure the book includes enough examples to convince a parent who thinks the public schools are doing a fine job educating their children that this is a better way. But it's a great resource if you are already on board with the idea that kids are innately interested in learning, and want to facilitate their natural curiosity.
I would recommend the book for any parents interested (or already participating) in homeschooling their young children. It is neither too long nor technical, it presents information in an easy to read format. Read the whole book, or just the chapters of interest-- the best ways for children to learn reading, math, science, and music are each explained in their own chapters.
John Holt made a career out of studying how children learn and wrote ten books about his findings. This book, Learning All the Time was assembled posthumously based on outlines and articles he had written. It illustrates how children WANT to, and WILL learn how to read, write, and count without being taught.
Is it good?
Despited being absolutely riddled with typos to a point where I sometimes struggled to figure out what was being talked about, this book was great. It really brought insight into how small children explore the world. I look from the book to my children (1 and 3) and I see that it is happening. I found so many thoughts in this book worth discussing that I will probably write a few posts about it on my parenting blog, Homeschooled by Kids.
Though parts of this dragged for me (I was more curious about the big picture, which comes toward the end, rather than the small examples of what's wrong with teaching phonics, etc., of the beginning), I admit to being won over by these ideas. In the beginning it seemed a little like he was just advocating one method over another (e.g. Here's what's wrong with Sesame Street; now see how I would do it), but the philosophy becomes clearer later.
"We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions -- if they have any -- and helping them explore the things they are most interested in."
I had forgotten about this book but when it popped up in my feed today I remembered reading way back at the beginning of our homeschool journey. If I remember correctly, John Holt was the first author I read who prescribed child-led learning. We didn't end up embracing that completely, because I felt the structure of a curriculum was in our best interest, even if it was a loose structure. And in the end, that is exactly what we did. In case you're wondering, we finished the homeschool journey successfully, my one student is now a thoughtful, thinking (part-time) college student who is fully and gainfully employed in his chosen field (IT). I'm still a believer in a loosely-structured, parent-led style, but only if that parent can sometimes allow that child to chase down extra-curricular ideas as and when they occur. Let them learn!
I picked up this book because someone connected with the "Taking Children Seriously" educational philosophy recommended John Holt to me, and this was both his last and shortest book. Apparently, Holt passed away before completing it, and this was pulled together from his notes. The book has a logical structure but each chapter is filled with anecdotal stories and examples from his own experiences, and has very little objective arguments in its favor. This is probably a window into his organization style of writing, and had he lived to finish it, it would probably be more well rounded. As it stands, it reads like a collection of sage advice instead of a thesis, which isn't a bad thing. I will probably pick up Instead of Education sometime in the near future.
I was looking for a book on unschooling, and read this one with very little research on a recommendation from an acquaintance. This book was not what I was looking for. It is more about why children don't learn in traditional schools.
I actually found it to be a little nerve-wracking, with a lot of "don't teach children to read/write/do math this way..." And I would think, "Oh no! Have I confused my child?" Which seems to flu in the face of the premise of the book: that children are natural learners. So which is it? Do they learn naturally, or are they easily confused? I don't believe those two are mutually exclusive, but it want really clear where the author stood on it.
All of that said, the book is a very quick read, and there are a lot of good points made that are valuable to me.
I think I liked this book only because the author's views on child education mirrored some of my personal thoughts and questions I have had recently. But much of this book is largely anecdotal -- it's not based on any research or serious study, only on the author's personal experience. At times it veers towards a rant. It is easy to tell that it was cobbled together posthumously.
As much as I agreed with the essence of what he was saying about the education system, and particulary about allowing children to learn and grow on their own, I did not come away from this book convinced that children should be be pulled out of schools in droves. However, I think there were thoughts and ideas useful for parents.
I don't think I actually finished it, but it's a compelling read. And what he had to say about (not) teaching your child to read stays with me. He said all you need to do is read to your child for 30 minutes a day. At some point your child will want to 'read' you a book they have memorized, and gradually it will become actually reading, and then they'll try different books. He said you don't even need to correct their errors because they'll figure them out over time from the context of the story. So far, it's totally working for my son, who was, before I adopted Holt's approach, totally resistant to so much as sounding out a word. He's now read several board books to his little sibling.