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The idea is that the learner gradually accumulates knowledge through a kind of informal apprenticeship by virtue of being with people who are expert or simply have more knowledge.For example, Lave & Wenger (1991) describe how novices gradually acquire expert knowledge and skills, studying the process in detail for butchers, midwives, tailors and quartermasters.This alone requires a vast amount of knowledge and know-how (Cole, 1992; Super & Harkness, 1997).Even more impressive are the cognitive understandings and skills that are learned informally, including language, basic literacy and numeracy, the beginnings of scientific understanding, a sense of humour, game rules and the beginnings of moral understanding. Apart from language, there has been little interest in the processes through which this learning actually occurs.There are other factors that make comparison difficult.For a debate on the issue, see Rudner (1999) and a response from Welner & Welner (1999).Lowe & Thomas (2002) have attempted to write an unbiased guide to methods of educating children at home.] In this article I want to focus on the informal learning of children of school age, a promising and almost wholly neglected area of study (Desforges, 1995).The experiences of children educated at home provide an interesting insight into this area.

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· conversational learning · a chronicle of informal learning in home education · conclusion · further reading and references · links · how to cite this piece Home education (sometimes known as homeschooling, especially in the US) is generally legal in North America, Australasia and most of Europe.

What research there is has tended to compare different styles of parental instruction to see which are the most effective (e.g.. As Trevarthen (1995) points out, this kind of research is based on the “classical assumption [that] children learn because they are taught” (p. However, it is becoming increasingly accepted that most cognitive learning in early childhood results from much more informal interaction between parent (or other adults) and child, mostly undifferentiated from what is socio-cultural, occurring through everyday conversation and activities (Gauvain, 1995, 2000; Thomas, 1994).

A simple example would be learning the meaning of “half” from fleeting acquaintances with the concept, sharing a bar of chocolate and getting half of it, hearing “we are nearly half way there” in the car, cutting a piece of paper in half, and so on.

During the last two decades, it has become increasingly acceptable as a viable alternative to school.

The number of children being educated at home has increased considerably though there are no accurate prevalence estimates for various reasons (see Lines, 1998; Petrie, Windrass & Thomas, 1999).

Carraher & Schliemann (2000) describe how experienced carpenters in Brazil, with little schooling, informally acquire a better understanding of the mathematical concepts relevant to their work than do carpenter apprentices enrolled in classes specifically designed to teach those concepts.

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