Learning All the Time – Part 1

I just finished reading Learning All the Time by John Holt. If you are interested in a quick book review click here. Otherwise stay tuned because I have SO much I want to talk about because of this book.

The purpose of this book is to illustrate that children are capable of learning reading, writing, and counting by themselves. It offers some advice on how to encourage them, and what mistakes should be avoided.

One thing John Holt feels strongly about is that you shouldn’t correct most of your children’s’ mistakes. They will often times learn from their own mistakes and just by watching and seeing/hearing other people do things correctly.

Below, I am going so discuss John Holt’s reasons for this belief.

1. Courtesy: we would not treat a distinguished foreign person this way. It would be rude to correct every mistake they make. It is rude to do it to your children.

We were playing a board game at my mom’s house two nights ago and both my mother and I kept confusing die and dice. Both my husband and her husband kept correcting us and we quickly got pretty irritated with them. Just let us play the game!!

2. “A child who first isolates a class of objects and labels them has performed a considerable intellectual feat”. John Holt is referring to a child incorrectly calling all four-legged animals a “dog”. In this case the child has made an intellectual leap in realizing that there are similarities between 4 legged creatures.

“We should by our actions make clear to the child that he has accomplished something good, not that he has made a mistake.”

He then provides a metaphor of an adult learning a foreign language being afraid to use the language of he only ever gets corrected.I think this happened to my husband in Germany. We had been learning German for a while but when we got to the country he  didn’t speak anything but the most basic hello and thank you. I think he was too worried about failing to try.

3. Showing by example is usually all the help a child needs. They learn to walk by watching others walk, they learn to talk by listening to others talk.  They keep refining their language skills by continually testing them against what they hear.

4. “it is always…better for a child to figure things out on their own than to be told” provided the action does not endanger them. It is more satisfying and fun for them. Even if they are frustrated, we should try not to jump in without being asked for help.

I think I have done this wrong with my 3-year-old to the point that he is very reluctant to try new things and always tells me “I don’t know how!!”. I hope that in time I can help him gain the confidence he needs to explore things on his own again.

5.”We are fooling ourselves if we think that by being nice about it we can prevent corrections from sounding like reproofs.” This is similar to the other ideas, but emphasizes that the children may get their feelings hurt even when we try to say it nicely.

If your child gets mad when you jump in to help, it might be because he feels like he is not smart or good enough to figure it out on their own. Taken from this perspective I can understand why they are mad and crying.I got mad and cried too at work when they did not want to promote me even though I knew I could do the job, given a chance.

6. “it is worrying about learning that turns off children’s learning.” When they are afraid of making mistakes they will not want to try anymore.

7. Even when children reach the age where they are consciously trying to learn something they may not want to be told how and what to do. “A healthy child will almost always rather figure something out for herself”.

When we were at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas yesterday, Mr. 3 saw a structure in the play area that had two large numbers on it.


He exclaimed, excitedly that there were numbers on the wall. I asked if he knew what the numbers were, and he looked at them for a moment before he said, “2 and 4 … Twenty-four!!!”

What the wall actually said was 42, but he was SO excited and proud of himself. This was the first time he had ever read a double-digit number to me, and I was only expecting him to say there was a 4 and a 2. So I was proud of him too and I let him know it without ruining the moment by pointing out he was wrong. He happily ran off to play in a moment, hopefully more confident in his understanding of numbers. And I can rest assured that he won’t always read numbers backwards because there are plenty of opportunities to read numbers to him in the future.

This is a difficult idea for me to accept and I always find myself correcting my children, but I am going to make a conscious effort to stop doing that so much.


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