Learning All the Time - John Holt

Chapter Three: Young Children as Research Scientists

By: Tosh Tipler

“Children observe, they wonder, they speculate, and they ask themselves questions. They think up possible answers, they make theories, they hypothesize, and then they test theories by asking questions or by further observations or experiments or reading” (Holt, 1989, p.95). This is quite similar to the scientific methods researchers use when carrying out their studies. Too often well-intentioned adults are quick to intervene and interrupt this process, resulting in extinguishing the inquisitive nature of the child.

Scientific research is all encompassing. It involves understanding the physical, emotional, psychological, sociological, philosophical aspects of the world and so much more. Children are naturally inquisitive and when given the opportunity to freely explore their environment they truly behave like research scientists.

Dewey also understood the importance of giving children the opportunities to explore freely. He felt that children should be allowed to partake in a democratic process, thereby giving them the right to learn and create their own knowledge through self-determined discovery.

Furthermore, Dewey believed that group time, even in a kindergarten class, should not be controlled by the teacher. The primary focus should be on allowing everyone an equal opportunity to discuss, listen to other points of view, as well as make decisions that the majority agree upon (Fraser, 1012).

I have provided you with many articles, video clips, and comments for you to decide how you would like to explore these ideas further. Please feel free to peruse through this flyer and respond to something that truly speaks to you.

"Everyday playing is a kind of experimentation — it's a way of experimenting with the world, getting data the way that scientists do and then using that data to draw new conclusions," Gopnik said.

Kids are Born Scientists

Kids are born scientists.mp4

"An adult scientist is a kid who never grew up" (Tyson, 2012).

Generally speaking, schools, teachers, and parents strive for order and the idea of allowing children the opportunity to freely explore their environment can seem chaotic and unimaginable. However, as Tyson (2012) stated, in keeping order we are taking away children's ability to inquire, theorize, and experiment. We are extinguishing their natural curiosity and their need to understand the world through their own scientific exploration.

Describe barriers that restrict you from promoting free, uninterrupted, self-determined discovery within your educational environment/household.

Describe how you foster creativity and free exploration within your educational environment/household. What do you notice?

"Adults run the world" (Tyson, 2012). We live in a democratic society; however, our children are so micromanaged that they have little to no free time or privacy.

What is your philosophy regarding how much input a child should have about decisions that affect his/her life?

How do you strive to have a democratic educational environment/household?

Richard Louv on Education

Worth Watching And Wondering

The following two video clips are really worth watching. In essence, they both depict societal views on the democratic rights of our children. What struck me the most was how the adults felt the need to micromanage every minute of their child's day, as well as how afraid they were to let their children out of their sight. Children were equipped with tracking devices, continuously photographed while away at summer camp so that their parents could visually see if they were having fun, and they were others who were monitored on webcams.

What impact does this incessant monitoring have on our children?

Give examples of how monitoring has affected you?

My kindergarten students spend a lot of their day outside and in the forest. We allow them to climb trees, wheel branches, and explore ponds. How comfortable would you/your administrator be with allowing your students/children learn in this fashion?

At the end of the last video, Lost Adventures of Childhood, we hear from the mother in New York who allowed her nine year old to ride the subway alone. He had been pleading for his parents to allow him this opportunity. These were his words, “Finally, I am free at once!”

Is this democracy gone too far? What are your thoughts?

What importance does the lack of healthy risk taking have on today’s children?

Lost Adventures of Childhood

Too many times teachers get wrapped up in all of the curriculum expectations. Think of a project or activity that you became involved with just because you found it interesting. Now think of the curriculum that you unknowingly covered. The knowledge that you acquired is not always measurable, but I am sure that you gained an awful lot.

“What often happens to kids in school is that they are required to repeat, as sense, what makes no sense to them, to the point where they give up trying to reconcile what people say about the world with what they really feel about it. They accept as true whatever authority says is true" (Holt, 1989, p. 100).

If learning were rooted in real life experiences it would make it that much more meaningful and enjoyable. Unlike the structure of most educational institutions, learning is not chunked into arbitrary subjects; it is a blend of information that pulls from many areas.

A Few of my Many Researchers

“Child do not acquire knowledge, but make it. They create knowledge, as scientists do, by observing, wondering, theorizing, and then testing and revising these theories" (Holt, 1989, p. 102).


Fraser, S. (2012). Authentic childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the classroom (3rd ed). United States America: Nelson Education.

Holt, J. (1989). Learning all the time. New York: Addison-Wesley Publication Company, Inc.