Holistic learning, continued

Published by Lori Pickert on March 26, 2009 at 01:43 PM

Yesterday, I wrote about holistic learning:

But so often, we don’t give them something whole to work with. We give them broken bits and expect them to concentrate, memorize, repeat back — even though those bits don’t have meaning. They don’t make sense. (And I mean that in the deepest sense of the phrase — they do not create real understanding.) And they are swiftly forgotten.

Imagine if you had always been given bits of clockwork to work with, but you had never seen a clock.

Would you know what you were working with? Would you care?

Project learning allows children to see the parts in context, to see how they connect, and to see the meaning that binds them together and makes them whole.

Once a child has experienced this kind of holistic learning, from then on, when she sees new bits of clockwork, she will understand they are part of something bigger. She will know that if she cares enough to investigate, there is a deeper story and complex connections to explore. She will know that understanding is there, even if she hasn’t found it yet.

Allowing children to experience slow learning — deliberately piecing together related knowledge, skills, and experiences — not only shows them how to learn, it reveals the connections and meaning that underlie everything. It shows them what there is to learn.


Comment by Alice on March 26, 2009 at 05:06 PM

Excuse my last comment, Lori, I didn't notice the title 'holistic learning' - luckily you posted it twice:) That is exactly what I am trying to do - keep my daughter's interest alive, and take advantage of real experiences to create connections between things she already knows.

The clock anology exactly describes something that happened in my daughter's geography class recently. The other night she was having trouble with her homework - she had to draw a 'birds eye view' of an object - curious as to why, I delved into my daughter's homework and discovered that they were studying maps. The teacher wanted them to draw something in a 'flat' way, so that she could introduce the idea of a map being a 'flat' view of something. I thought it was quite an obscure way of going about it. What about just presenting a map as a map? I don't think children would have any difficulty with that. If you want something that children are already familiar with, how about a train set? A Winnie the Pooh book, or Geronimo Stilton. Or ask them to draw their route home. No, the teacher was teaching them technical terms, a whole page of terms to describe a map - the clockwork without the clock.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 26, 2009 at 05:30 PM

alice — good example!

Comment by Laura on March 26, 2009 at 07:06 PM

I love this whole concept of "slow learning" (like the slow food movement!). I think this is about actually *caring* about meaning-making rather than the sort of memorization of unrelated facts that goes on much of the time in schools. To take the slow food analogy a step further, sure you can get fast food, but at what cost? The destruction of ecosystems, animal cruelty, and miserable working conditions for the people bringing that "fast" food to you every step of the way. Typical "fast" learning may take you right to the answer, but at what cost? What has the child gained if they haven't done the legwork to reach the answer, and how long will the information stay with them if they don't care about it?

Great ongoing conversation, Lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 26, 2009 at 07:18 PM

laura, re: slow learning, yes, exactly! :^) i wrote a little more about it here:


and yes, we have to weigh the costs of what we gain vs. what we give up. we may be able to cram more coverage into our kids and more assessable knowledge, but what did we give up?

thank you!

Comment by Teri on March 26, 2009 at 09:41 PM

I really think the whole clockwork analogy is great.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 26, 2009 at 11:22 PM

thank you, teri. ;^)

Comment by Barbara in NC on March 27, 2009 at 02:01 AM

I've really been enjoying reading all these posts and comments.

I find that one of the biggest challenges as a homeschooler is letting the learning paradigm shift entirely. Entirely! But it's hard to let go of all that I learned as a student in school and as a teacher about how kids should learn. It takes a big leap of faith to believe that my kids will learn even if I don't force lessons on them full of the things that they "should " know.

Fortunately, my kids are great teachers. They keep learning and learning, often in spite of me! I love seeing them think outside the box--because for them, there IS no box. There is just playing and learning and creating and playing some more, all bundled together.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 27, 2009 at 02:17 AM

thank you, barbara. i love that. :^)

Comment by maya | springtr... on March 27, 2009 at 12:29 PM

was just looking to order a book on amazon & wanted to reach the magic number of $25 so i could get free shipping. i came across this book, The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. my daughter is almost 3.5 and she's reading/recognizing a lot of words. words interest her. so when she wants to know more, i help her. and when i feel her start to resist, i stop. it's working for us.

i'm wondering about this book (i'm not ordering it right now). how important is it for her to learn all the intricacies of how we put words together. because she is already learning how the rules work, but not necessarily the rules themselves. we don't sit down and repeat rules like "i before e, except after c," etc. i thought of getting the book as a reference for me, not for her (unless she wants to read it later, of course). just so i can refresh my own memory.

so you learn by doing - language, math, etc. - but how important is it to learn all the little rules we were made to memorize in school?

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 27, 2009 at 02:40 PM

hi maya :^)

i don’t think rules like “i before e, except after c [most of the time!]” are necessary to learn how to read (since my boys didn’t know them when they learned, and neither did i) but i repeated them later when my kids were older, to help with spelling.

personally, if your child is 3.5 and on track to read, i wouldn’t bother with a book like this. i would keep reinforcing letter sounds in a relaxed, natural way in a meaningful context, encourage her to write with invented spelling, and read to her every day/night including books she can choose. (young children allowed to pick, say, three books a night will pick the same books over and over — a boon for learning to read.)

however, if it would make *you* feel more prepared, why not read it? (you could get it from the library, though, and buy yourself something fun. ;^)

Comment by estea on March 28, 2009 at 09:08 PM

hi maya! i think it's awesome that your 3.5 is excited about words! words are such wonderful things to be excited about ;)

re phonics/spelling rules, etc., i agree with lori that the best thing is being as relaxed as you can about the process at this age. and read read read. sounds like you're following your girl's lead and that's wonderful.

we never used a formal phonics book with my older two, and now if i keep seeing a repeated spelling problem in their work we just pull out a basic reference and spend a little time on that particular spot (i was rusty so a good primer helped me with this!).


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