Food Storage & Other Adventures in Motherhood

Book Review: How Children Learn

by heather

How Children Learn (Classics in Child Development)How Children Learn by John Holt 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 parents teachers and anyone who works with children. It is longer than How Children Fail, slow to get into, and a lot to digest, but it has so many enlightening points. I feel like this quote from the book summarizes Holt’s philosophy pretty well:
             The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment, do what he can see other people doing. He is open, receptive, and perceptive. He does not shut himself off from the strange, confused, complicated world around him. He observes it closely and sharply, tries to take it all in. He is experimental. He does not merely observe the world around him, but tastes it, touches it, hefts it, bends it, breaks it. To find out how reality works, he works on it. He is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance and suspense. He does not have to have instant meaning in any new situation. He is willing and able to wait for meaning to come to him- even if it comes slowly, which it usually does.
 Children are smart. They often know more than we give them credit for. And they can often handle more than we give them credit for too. Imagine the world from the eyes of a child. There is so much that doesn’t make sense to one so new to the world, yet despite the confusion they move on mastering one thing at a time. As they do and try they notice their own mistakes and eventually fix them. To learn and to grow children have to trust and they have to feel accepted. They have to know that the mistakes that they make, don’t matter. That they are loved and valued regardless, that someone believes that they can grow and learn anyway. And it is important that we play games with them, not because we believe it will develop their mind and get them into college, but because we love them.
  Children have to learn things in an order that is relevant to them if they are going to hold on to it. We can support and encourage this, but not force. If we let them study dinosaurs because that is what interests them, from there they will improve reading skills, learn earth science, biology and history and may very well branch to other fields of study as their interests take them that way. If we force them to learn what we feel is important they will learn and quiz and test them along the way, they will often become defensive. Even if they don’t instead of thinking that learning is about how things work they think that learning is about finding answers to please grown-ups. As children learn, we must talk to them like regular people, not stupid midgets or minions. Children can tell the difference. If we think that every time we talk to a child we must teach her something, our talk may become calculated and fake and may lead children to think, like so many of today’s young people, that all talk is a lie and a cheat. If we show children sincere love and interest their confidence will grow, as will their love of learning. There is no time in all of a child’s growing up, when he will not be seriously hurt if he feels that we adults are not interested in what he is trying to say.
 One slow afternoon, I was reading this book at work. One of the pediatricians asked me “So how do children learn?” “They learn by doing and trying and failing and trying again. They don’t learn by being corrected and humiliated, tested and forced.” “Funny, that’s exactly how God is with us. He lets us grow by trying, failing and trying again. And he doesn’t force us to do or be anything.” There’s a lot of truth in that. Can you imagine that if every time we made a mistake an all-powerful God came down to tell us we were wrong? Would we be afraid to try, afraid to learn? Absolutely. I imagine that to some small children their parents and teachers seem very much like that. Someone very powerful and intimidating telling them that they are wrong. But God doesn’t work like that. He’s loving and patient and usually lets us learn from our own mistakes.

One Response to “Book Review: How Children Learn”

  1. Sharon Cohen says:

    What a beautiful lesson – beautiful because it is so true. I have become the product of my mistakes embraced and erased by a God who loves me. It is important that we, as parents and teachers, never forget that He loves the children in the same way. He wants us to be old enough, wise enough, to treat the children as He does.

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