How do children learn without school?

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Some people have asked me recently how Harry can learn without being taught. I’m a bit baffled by the question since, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, it suggests the person asking can’t think of a single thing they’ve learned since leaving education, but I think what they probably really want is practical examples of how Harry is learning. And mostly it’s by asking questions.

The other day, we were in the car on the way to the cinema and Harry asked, apropos of nothing: “Why do we bury dead bodies?” He didn’t mean us as a family, honest, but it led to a discussion of burial versus cremation, decomposition, funerals, what to do with ashes, what the ashes are made up of, even about town planning (“Who first thought of putting someone underground?”)

At the cinema, we saw The Lorax, which I wasn’t expecting to like, but actually loved. All three of us did. On the way home, we talked about some of the themes of the film – the environment, animals’ habitats, responsible business practices. When we got home, I looked up the study notes to The Lorax and found we’d pretty much touched on it all (apart from the film-making aspects) without even really thinking about it.

A few days later, in the park, as I took the photo above, Harry mentioned a camera we’d seen an advert for. It was by Sony. “Do Sony treat their workers well?” he asked, referencing the conversation we’d had after The Lorax and leading to a further conversation about cheap labour and exploitation.

On Sunday, at South Lakes Wild Animal Park, I bought Harry a set of Guatemalan Worry Dolls. He asked if Guatemala is where the guinea pigs come from and so we looked it up. In an Illustrated Atlas, on Google Earth, on Wikipedia. We found a photo of a Maya child selling worry dolls in a market and learned that the median age in Guatemala is half that of the UK (and I learned that I’m now on the wrong side of the UK’s median age – argh!), we read about the country’s civil war and genocide, natural disasters and recent democratic elections.

And then, because we were in need of cheering up, we watched this. (Completely unrelated to the above but if, like Harry, you’re “just very interested in technology”, rather fab.)

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