Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: How Children Learn (Part II)

Click here for part I.

Now for part two!

Holt says this about children touching things, which seems like common sense, but bears repeating, "At home, we should try to keep out of reach, and even out of sight, valuable or dangerous objects that we don't want children to touch. At the same time, we should keep on hand a good many objects cheap and durable enough so that a child can touch and use them." (p. 32) While this might seem like a "duh" comment, it reminds me of a story about a mom who was very upset when her two children (about 1 1/2 and 3 years old) knocked over a display of glass Christmas ornaments, breaking all of them. I'll have to remember - if I don't want it played with, don't put it out while E is so little!

Holt also says, "It is probably a mistake, anyway, to assume that whatever little children touch they will destroy, and that we must therefore keep them from touching anything that is not theirs. This dampens their curiosity and confidence. More than that, it probably makes them too fiercely possessive of what is their own." (p. 33) I don't know from experience, but it seems like a reasonable theory about why little ones can be very possessive.

When it comes to doing and making, he says, "Very young children seem to have what could be called an Instinct of Workmanship. ... They want to make it as well as they can, not to please someone else but to satisfy themselves." (p. 37-38) I'm looking forward to watching this in our little guy. Perhaps this "Instinct of Workmanship" comes from a child's desire to gain whatever control he can of his world, about which Holt says, "All children want and strive for increased mastery and control of the world around them, and all are to some degree humiliated, threatened, and frightened by find out (as they do all the time) that they don't have it." (p. 44) I haven't read enough of his work to say for sure, but I believe that this last quote describes one of Holt's main tenants. It's so important to remember that little children are doing the best they can to grow and learn, and whatever shortcomings they may have are already frustrating enough, without us compounding their hurt feelings.

On a lighter note, about playing games with kids, "The best games with children flow easily and naturally from the situation of them moment. ... And whatever the game is, we must be ready to give it up, instantly and without regret, if the child is not enjoying it." (p. 52) I try to keep this idea in mind when I'm playing with E. I also think it's important to keep playing as long as he's still interested.

Regarding the rate of children's learning, "Children are not railroad trains. They don't learn at an even rate. They learn in spurts, and the more interested they are in what they are learning, the faster these spurts are likely to be." (p. 155) This observation is one of the reasons that Holt doesn't find the traditional school system to be a good fit for most children - it expects them to learn at a fairly consistent rate, and to learn material they may (probably) not be interested in.

Courage: "... a child who is allowed to return to babyhood for awhile when he feels the need of it, to fill up his tank of courage when he feels it run dry, will move ahead into the unknown far faster than we adults could push him." (p. 177) And, "If we are careful not to push a child beyond the limits of his courage, he is almost sure to get braver." (p. 177) These two quotes bring to mind an image I have from somewhere else (not sure where...) of the toddler returning to his parents' arms to recharge for a few minutes, before plunging back out into the world.

Finally, Holt disagrees with the traditional Montessori disapproval of fantasy play (p. 244), and I'm inclined to agree with his disagreement. The example he gives is the Montessori "Pink Tower" - a set of pink or red cubes of various sizes. The "proper" way to use the cubes is to stack them, with the largest on bottom and progressively smaller cubes on top. If the children in a Montessori classroom play with them in a different way, say pretending they are mommies and daddies, or cars and trucks, the teacher will stop them and tell them that's not how the blocks are used. From an outsider's perspective, that seems to be stifling their little imaginations. I believe Montessori's idea was that small children have a hard time distinguishing fantasy from reality, and so they should stick to reality until they can tell the two apart.

No new pictures today, but Mr. Tiny is getting in to checking out his feet now! He grabs at them while he's sitting and while he's getting changed, neither of which are good times for snapping a picture, bummer!

He also really enjoying chomping on a carrot at dinner today, I think it must have felt good on his pre-teething gums.

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