Authors: Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison
Published by Continuum
Reviewed by: Susan Wight
“All children learn at home. From birth onwards, they explore the world around them; gradually discovering all sorts of things about their physical and social environment and the culture to which they belong…”
From the moment you read the preface you’ll know that Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison understand the world of home education in general and natural learning in particular.
Alan, a developmental psychologist, was initially interested in individualised teaching and therefore came to study children learning at home. Harriet Pattison is a home educator herself with a background in social anthropology and philosophy of science.
How Children Learn at Home is the result of their research into how learning actually takes place in natural learning families. Twenty-six parents from England, Ireland, Australia and Canada were interviewed. The terms for natural learning vary from country to country and the term ‘informal learning’ is used throughout.
The book begins by recapping Alan’s previous research describing how parents gravitated towards informal learning. The authors then examine the research that has a bearing on informal learning (from the street learning of youngsters helping out with market stalls to lawyers learning by chatting informally with colleagues) before moving on to the results of their own research.
Here they discuss the what and how of informal learning by school-age children, the world that surrounds these children and how they engage with it. Three types of learning are identified – incidental and implicit learning which both occur with little awareness from the child and self-directed learning in which children more deliberately find out about something that has captured their interest.
The authors talk about the elusive and yet pervasive nature of natural learning – even the interview families see it all the time and yet have difficulty in defining it and pinning it down. The authors conclude that informal learning during the school years remains as it was during the preschool years “a commonplace, unremarkable and yet astonishingly efficient way to learn.”
The book recounts real-life incidents through which learning can be traced. The role of parents as role models, facilitators, co-learners and more experienced mentors of the same culture is discussed and three chapters are devoted to the informal acquisition of literacy and numeracy. The important role of play is also examined.
Overall the book is both reassuring and empowering for natural learning families. It confirms through research what our own experience continues to tell us and yet we sometimes fear to believe – that natural learning is an effective way to learn.
How Children Learn at Home is an important contribution to the research on natural learning and yet is very readable and accessible to non-academics. Whether you are a natural learner, are considering natural learning or just interested in how it works – this book will illuminate what natural learning is and how effective it can be. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Reading it will help home educators recognise and appreciate the natural learning going on in their homes – whether natural learning is their home education method or not.
You can purchase it online from the Australian distributor, Macmillan. You will need to enter the title or ISBN to select the book.