How Children Learn: A Short Review

I recently finished listening to John Holt’s How Children Learn, the 50th anniversary edition. It was an Audible purchase I made on a whim, but I’m glad I did. Holt (not the reggae singer) was a disillusioned public school teacher who wrote a book previous to this called How Children Fail, which sparked a debate in the 1960’s. By the time he had released his second book, (this one) he was already expressing disappointment in how little had changed in the public school system after a promising upheaval.

I was so inspired by what he had to say, which mostly amounted to close observation of young children who have not yet been schooled, or who have had little schooling. It is literally a study in how children learn. I am eager to read How Children Fail to see how he approaches that subject. His insight is life changing, both as I reflect on my own education and what I know of my husband’s, and as I evaluate my preconceived notions of what my own children should be doing as I am homeschooling them. His insight into the type of research that was being done on children at the time (upon which many of our current practices and values are based) is pure gold.

My takeaway was that people mostly teach themselves anything they want to learn, and that they mostly do it in spite of what someone else is trying to teach them, unless the teaching is very pointed and practical for their needs at any given moment. Holt was dismayed at the increase in testing 30 years ago, despite his work as a teacher trying to help the system move the other way. I wonder what he would think now? His conviction is that all school mostly does is grind any spark of creativity out of kids, so that as adults they have stopped trying to learn anything. Unless they are very stubborn and exceptional people.

Don’t take my word for it. Definitely read him for yourself.

I think what he’s saying is true. What he writes resonates with what I’ve read of Charlotte Mason and with my own experience, especially in learning to teach my children.

One thought on “How Children Learn: A Short Review

Add yours

  1. I felt surprised by Holt’s experiences and ultimate findings, even though I knew, having gone through much of the system myself, that his research felt true. But starting out homeschooling felt tricky enough without striving for the personal freedoms he advises, ones I now embrace. It’s a weird balance to shift away from the common path, fielding questions about your choices while you grapple with your own reasons and understanding. Holt helped me find some clarity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: