On Learning

This is a passage from the book Learning All The Time by John Holt. He is discussing ways of exposing children to the ideas behind reading (letters stand for sounds, letters put together make words) while letting them figure it out in a way that makes sense to them. He is specifically talking about writing out simple words whose letters make the sounds that make up the word (not all of them do, as he points out)–and he uses Sam as his example word! I think this passage applies to much more than just reading.

It is neither necessary nor a good idea to be too thorough about this. It is not a lesson to be completely learned and digested the first or second time. This is not how children learn things. They have to live with an idea or insight for a while, turn it around in some part of their minds, before they can, in a very real sense, discover it, say “I see,” take possession of the idea, and make it their own–and unless they do this, the idea will never be more than surface, parrot learning, and they will never really be able to make use of it.

Mr. Holt’s ideas about learning have inspired my entire set of educational beliefs. Honestly, everything he has to say is so exciting to me! And I think his books are wonderful tools in raising children no matter what kind of education you favor.

8 thoughts on “On Learning

  1. DropEdge

    August 26, 2008 at 11:10pm

    This reminds me of something my grandmother, who taught second grade for 40 years, often told me. She insisted you could teach any child to read in 16 lessons. However, the child has to be ready to read so that the information in the first lesson absolutely clicks. Everything clicked for me around four, but I have a cousin who was ten before everything clicked. He’s an elementary principal now.

    DropEdge’s last blog post..Random Bits

  2. Annika

    August 26, 2008 at 11:50pm

    The chapter actually opens with the revelation that apparently everyone on earth learns to read in 30 hours (or less, I would assume). I’d quote the passage but there is currently a small human asleep across my legs and the book is not in reach.

  3. SemiCrunchyMom

    August 27, 2008 at 6:30am

    That sounds like a great book. I think I’m going to go look for it at the library today.

    SemiCrunchyMom’s last blog post..Pox or no pox?

  4. B

    August 27, 2008 at 8:29am

    I have to check that book out as well. It’s funny you are blogging about this right now because learning to read is on my mind a lot lately in that I was an “early” reader and am seeing signs of that in my own child right now. But all I’m doing is letting her have at books as much as possible, use them for what she wants to (if she wants to read them upside down, cool; if she wants to build a house with them, go for it), reading to her when she asks, making sure she sees me read, etc.

    I can just see the wheels turning in her head about letters and words and how it all goes together and it’s so exciting.

    B’s last blog post..Clean Along With Us

  5. Katherine

    August 27, 2008 at 10:04am

    My husband was sort of passed over by the standard “learning to read/write years” – and honestly, if he hadn’t had a wonderful teacher who spent extra time with him when he was older, he’d probably have serial killer handwriting to this day. I, on the other hand, learned to read and write basic stuff before preschool. The difference there is also the level of parental involvement.

    As a parent, your job is to encourage when there is interest! My husband is always disappointed when his student’s parents don’t care, or don’t think it’s their responsibility to help their kids learn.

    Also, the book Natural Childhood is the first child development/practical play/educational philosophy book that made sense to me. I still have a copy somewhere… but it looks like it’s available used very cheap. If you haven’t seen it, I think you’d love it!

    Katherine’s last blog post..Do you have hot water?

  6. KS

    August 28, 2008 at 4:30pm

    This is so timely for me, as my oldest is starting to read. I love the idea of not being too thorough. I have absolutely seen what Holt is talking about this past year with my daughter. Way cool, stuff.

    Just today, I was alternating between feeling guilty that I’m not doing more structured stuff with my kids and feeling proud that they are truly living our lives with us, as they are a part of everything we do, business and social.

  7. Grandmere

    August 29, 2008 at 8:58am

    I was lucky enough to have taken a class on teaching reading based on Holt. As a secondary teacher who ofund out her first year of teaching that she had 8th grade textbooks and students who were reading on 2nd grade level, I went back to school myself to find out how to teach these kids to read. Later I took training in brain Based education which taught me so much about how kids learn and when some will learn as opposed to others. DropEdge is so right. B read at four, her sister not until about 8 1/2. Cookie cutter education is so unfair!

    You are right on track with Sam, it sounds to me.

    Grandmere’s last blog post..QotD: There’s No Place Like Home

  8. Nana

    August 30, 2008 at 4:43pm

    You started out by asking everybody how to spell their name. Then you wanted to know how everything was spelled. I’m not sure how you got on the spelling kick, but at some point you realized that the letters could be put to paper and started asking how to make the letters. what they sounded like intrigued you no end. That’s when you started writing books and poetry, by writing down the letters that matched the sounds of the words. Of course, words like ‘tree’ sound like chreeeee, as you wrote. So, you wrote poetry and books long before you started to read. I think you were seven when you sat down with your dad and read a Pinkerton book to him. The next day you started reading A Secret Garden, if I recall correctly… Of course, not everyone is self-motivated like that.

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