Alan Thomas of the Northern Territory University interviewed 100 families who were asked to describe how they taught their children and how they learned.
Most admitted that although they started by imitating a school environment, the child soon resisted formal teaching and reverted to the way they had learnt as infants. But this was not glorified playing, it took the form of a day-long conversation between parent and child ranging across all academic subjects and incorporating expeditions outside the home.
These children read voraciously and topics that inspired them were often pursued for days or weeks.
"What is new is the prospect that informal and incidental learning of itself might be sufficient for a rate of intellectual development at least equal to that of school, certainly during the primary years," he told the British Psychological Society conference in Edinburgh.