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How Children Learn (Classics in Child Development) Paperback – September 4, 1995
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I have the same endorsement for Holt's other book, "How Children Fail".
The key premises. What he found is that the way children learn is wildly different from how we (as adults in charge of their learning) believe it works. He found that children start out keen for knowledge and learning, and learn by constantly sifting through the chaos for threads, and then they test different theories about how things work. They learn through tactile experience, through patient experimentation, they want to know and to understand, and often show far more advanced capabilities than they are given credit for. However, the way schools are set up does not align with how they learn, and often stifles the wonder and joy for learning, in favor of shame, anxiety, pleasing people in authority, and learning how to cheat (on purpose or through interpreting nonverbal clues given by teachers/parents) and game the system.
This book focuses much more on the wonder and joy of learning (How Children Fail focuses more on the school part), and is really inspirational, and the reader can gain some really good practical tips about how to deal with children. The book is set up as almost a journal - at first Holt records his observations, without all that much interpretation, and then he starts analyzing. It's a really natural way for us as readers in turn to learn, and his conclusions then have the impact of "yes this is it!" because we walked the path along with him, and "saw" these children and how they act. I have been surprised by how much I have thought about this book since finishing it, and how often his observations float to the surface of my brain, especially when dealing with children, but also when dealing with adults and when observing myself.
Note that there are some dated references (like to a typewriter) and some of the adult-child interactions pluck at current sensibilities oddly (like the game that one little child invented and played with him where they "spanked" him and he play-cried). But that was another era with different rules, and the book continues to be powerful and feel relevant today.
By John Holt
Holt didn't have children of his own, and his first opinions of children and learning came from being a schoolteacher in an elite private school, where he taught math to 5th graders. He was exposed to younger children and babies who were friends and relatives, and began forming different opinions about learning, which he shares in this book. Holt is fascinated by the notion that children accomplish so much before formal schooling begins and realizes that the way school is set up goes directly in opposition to what is natural and has worked for these children up to the point they are sent off to school.
The beginning of the book covers the age ranges from birth up through age 3 to 5, that is, before children go to school. Holt talks about a certain type of important learning that takes place up until the time a child enrolls in school at which point the experience of schooling changes their personality. The book starts off with how children succeed in learning many important things and huge feats such as speaking and with proper grammar and pronunciation and walking without formal schooling and that children accomplish much learning without an adult being the facilitator of it. In general the style of writing is that Holt describes a situation and then gives his opinions of the learning experience. Sometimes Holt does little experiments such as introducing a toy or a non-toy (such as a typewriter) to young children to see how they react to it and what they do with it. Holt observes with delight and amazement, these young children who are friends and relatives (they are not his students or participants in a research projects). It is clear that Holt enjoys these young children and he respects them and relishes the time he spends with them.
This revised edition makes clear which text is original then what was added-which is new perspective as he had spent more time around children and his theories matured and changed a bit. Seeing the two perspectives clearly was very interesting and educational.
Regarding the discussions about babies and toddlers there are good observations here and I appreciate them. As a stay at home parent, I have already witnessed much of this (and more) and for some of the chapters I felt I wasn't learning anything I hadn't already witnessed with my own two eyes. However, readers who are childless will definitely learn much about how learning happens from infancy and up. I highly recommend that anyone interested in going into the profession of teaching read this book, or any current teacher who is childless. Holt gives the children much-deserved respect for their innate ability to learn and figure out the world around them.
Later chapters get more analytical as Holt integrates his own observation of schooled children (about grade 5 and below) and compares and contrasts with other educators, scientists and child psychologists. (It doesn't seem to me that Holt is analyzing preteens or teenagers.) Here is where Holt exercises his ability to write clearly and concisely drive home his point in a convincing manner.
Again and again Holt shows how a child to is forced to "learn" things (such as in public and most private schools) is actually having their personality changed in the process. The act of being forced to do things and to prove oneself over and over via testing and not being trusted by adults changes their personality. Holt feels the schooling procedures have negative consequences on all children; albeit some children are more negatively affected than others. The child can develop anxiety, mistrust, and fear of all adults not to mention self-esteem problems or just killing their curiosity or interest in learning.
Great quotes from other books on education and learning are included here with Holt's reactions. A short list of books on school reform is included. The summary alone is almost worth the price of the book.
For more specific information about what goes on in school and how children learn to play the school game and how forced teaching is not always effective, read Holt's "How Children Fail".
This would make a great gift for expectant parents, I feel it would point out to them that babies deserve a lot of respect for being able to figure out the world around them. This notion of being in awe of and respectful of children starting at birth is seldom written about...so many of us were under the misguided notion that an adult must be the one to force learning onto babies and children (me included until I birthed my babies and saw firsthand how smart they are).
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