Free to Learn

Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and better Students for life

by Peter Gray

Number of pages: 288

Publisher: Basic Books

BBB Library: Parenting

ISBN: 9780465084999

About the Author

Peter Gray is an American psychologist who currently occupies the position of research professor of psychology at Boston College. He is the author of a widely used introductory psychology textbook, Psychology, now in its sixth edition.


Editorial Review

Children come into the world burning to learn and genetically programmed with extraordinary capacities for learning. Within their first four years or so they absorb an unfathomable amount of information and skills without any instruction. They learn to understand and speak the language of the culture into which they are born, and with that they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend, and ask questions. They acquire an incredible amount of knowledge about the physical and social world around them. All of this is driven by their inborn instincts and drives, their innate playfulness and curiosity. Nature does not turn off this enormous desire and capacity to learn when children turn five or six. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest enduring lesson of school is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible. There is no need for forced lessons, lectures, assignments, tests, grades, segregation by age into classrooms, or any of the other trappings of our standard, compulsory system of schooling. All of these, in fact, interfere with children’s natural ways of learning.

Book Reviews

"In this energetic though repetitive manifesto, Gray powerfully argues that schools inhibit learning by “[interfering] with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction” by “turning learning into work” and reducing “diversity in skills and knowledge." - The Publishers Weekly

"Gray's observation that mixing age groups can foster the educational process is intriguing, but his advocacy of radically transforming the role of teacher to that of a consultant is more controversial." - kirkus

"Gray research is backed by a fresh perspective to the discourse: his work has focused on studying hunter-gather societies (old and new) and how the children in these groups learn." - Natural Born Learners

"Free to Learn—which suggests that it’s time to stop asking what’s wrong with our children, and start asking what’s wrong with the system—has earned acclaim from prominent psychologists, anthropologist and evolutionary biologists." - Boston College

"Free to Learn is definitely a book that you’ll want to add to your unschooling reading list." - Texas Unschoolers

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Wisdom to Share

If we value freedom and personal responsibility, we must respect our children’s rights to chart their own lives.

The first step toward trustful parenting is to examine your own values and think about how they might apply to your children and your relationship with them.

We seriously underestimate children’s ability to take care of themselves and make good judgments.

In our culture today, parents and other adults overprotect children from possible dangers in play.

In many such vigorous activities, with chasing games and formal team sports included, children are testing their own fear as well as their physical prowess.

Researchers who study play in animals have suggested that a major evolutionary purpose of play is to help the young learn how to cope with emergencies.

Play is activity in which means are more valued than ends.

Play is a concept that fills our minds with contradictions when we try to think deeply about it.

In age-mixed groups, the younger children can receive emotional support and care beyond what age-mates could provide.

By forcing all schoolchildren to go through the same standard curriculum, we reduce their opportunities to follow alternative pathways.

Forced schooling system teaches children to get a good grade, you need to figure out what the teacher wants you to say and then say it.

Students learn that their job in school is to get high marks on tests and that critical thinking interferes.

Most students learn to avoid thinking critically about their schoolwork.

We have created a world that is literally driving many young people crazy andleaving many others unable to develop the confidence and skills required for adult responsibility.

We have lost sight of the natural way to raise children.

We are in a crisis that continues to grow more serious with every passing year.

In the name of education, we have increasingly deprived children of the time and freedom they need to educate themselves through their own means.

Free play is how children learn to structure their own behavior.

Lack of free play may not kill the physical body, but it kills the spirit and stunts mental growth.

Nature does not turn off children's enormous desire and capacity to learn when they turn five or six. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling.

Children come into the world burning to learn and genetically programmed with extraordinary capacities for learning.