Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Learning All the Time” & Others by John Holt

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John Holt is a homeschooling and alternative education advocate who is well-known in that community. He promotes the idea of “unschooling,” which is a hands-off way of teaching children that involves providing plenty of time, space and opportunities to learn, but not much direct teaching. Learning All the Time is just one of his written offerings, most of which make the same basic points.

I love John Holt, and I love his sweet perspective on children, and also, as a mother, I know that there is more to the story.

Read this book because you want a beautiful, caring, perspective-shifting understanding of how homeschooling can benefit children.

Key Takeaways

  • In these and other books, educator John Holt critically examines the shortcomings of traditional education and highlights the ways in which it can stifle children’s natural desire to learn. He argues that children often fail to thrive academically because they are subjected to rigid curricula, excessive testing, and a lack of autonomy in their learning process. He believed that children learn best in an environment that, by contrast, nurtures their natural curiosity and provides opportunities for self-directed learning.
  • Holt writes about the problems and pitfalls of teaching, saying, “Anytime that, without being invited, without being asked, we try to teach somebody else something, we convey to that person, whether we know it or not, a double message … The first part of the message is: I am teaching you something important, but you’re not smart enough to see how important it is. Unless I teach it to you, you’d probably never bother to find out. The second message is: What I’m teaching you is so difficult that, if I didn’t teach it to you, you couldn’t learn it.”
  • Kids don’t need, and shouldn’t receive, an excessive amount of praise. About a praise-happy school he once taught at, the author writes, “By the time I came to know them in the fifth grade, all but a few of the children were so totally dependent on continued adult approval that they were terrified of not getting it, terrified of making mistakes.”
  • The best way to teach a child to read is: don’t. Let them be exposed to books until they show interest, then hold them while they work through teaching themselves. Many reading rules are too often broken to be worth teaching. Sometimes, though, moving a finger under words while reading to kids supports their learning.
  • For learning times tables, make a grid and let the child fill it in at their own pace, without correcting it. Let them correct it later as they realize how the puzzle can be completed. Keep the grid on the fridge and have them do it over and over.
  • “Babies do not learn in order to please us, but because it’s their instinct and nature to want to find out about the world. If we praise them in everything they do, after a while they are going to start learning, doing things, just to please us, the next step so that they are going to become worried about not pleasing us … What children want and need from us is thoughtful attention. They want us to notice them and pay some kind of attention to what they do, to take them seriously, to trust and respect them as human beings. They want courtesy and politeness, but they don’t need much praise.”

About the Author

John Holt (1923-1985) was an American educator, author, and advocate for educational reform. He is best known for his progressive views on education and for his influential writings on homeschooling and unschooling. Holt’s books, including How Children Fail, How Children Learn, Teach Your Own and Learning All the Time continue to be influential resources for homeschooling families and educators seeking alternative approaches to education.

Holt began his career as a schoolteacher but became disillusioned with traditional education methods. He believed that the traditional schooling system hindered children’s natural love for learning and creativity. Holt advocated for a more child-centered approach to education, emphasizing the importance of individualized learning and allowing children to pursue their interests and curiosities.

John Holt’s work has inspired generations of parents, educators, and researchers to question traditional educational practices and explore alternative methods that prioritize the needs and interests of individual learners.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.


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