Book Title:  Free to Learn:  Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier,More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

Author:  Peter Gray

Genre: Psychology

Publisher:  Basic Books (A Member of the Perseus Books Group)

Why Did I Choose It?  I chose this book after asking a friend to give me her favorite resources on unschooling as I have become more and more interested in this type of education for my youngest son.  She recommended any book by Peter Gray or John Holt.  This was the book title that intrigued me the most in my brief search of the authors.

A Bit From The Back Cover:  In Free to Learn, developmental psychologist Peter Gray argues that to foster children who will thrive in today's constant changing world, we must entrust them to steer their own learning and development. Drawing on evidence from anthropology, psychology, and history, he demonstrates that free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their lives, solve problems, get along with peers, and become emotionally resilient...

Review:  This book was amazing.  Absolutely amazing and I'm sooo sorry I didn't read it 12 years ago when we first pulled out daughter out of the public schools to homeschool.  I think I was in the right mindset then, to let her be and learn in a less structured way but let the years of public education and judgments of others cloud my thinking and raise my self-doubt and anxiety to the point of basically doing 'school at home' for a several years with only a bit of freedom here and there.  But enough about my failings...  here's the thing about this book!

Free to Learn is the most comprehensive and convincing book on how children (naturally) learn that I’ve ever read, and being a dedicated homeschool mom and former public educator, I have certainly read quite a few books on how children learn!  Gray includes an extensive amount of research in this book. Actually, the beginning which focused on hunter-gatherer cultures drove me a little batty...but I stuck with it and I'm glad I did.  Really , I totally get why he included it all and it is relevant and very important to his overall message. Dr. Gray also included an abundant amount of other research as well as well as  his personal experience as a parent and experiences with Sudbury Valley - a highly unconventional school but one with idealistic standards! Free to Learn explains, and includes the research that proves it, how we can work with a child's natural drives to learn and not using the compulsory education system which forces lessons, standardized tests, and activities that crush a child's innate drives to learn.

The overall message of this book is that children must play and explore to learn (and that the way children are taught in most schools today denies that to a harmful effect). He presents overwhelming scientific evidence that play and exploration, self-directed learning, and being in mixed age groups (something most public schools restrict)  permit children  come to their full potentials and enable them to grow, learn and develop positively and naturally. “Children need freedom in order to be happy, to learn how to be responsible, and to develop the character traits needed to deal with life’s inevitable dangers and setbacks.”

“Nothing that we do, no amount of toys we buy or ‘quality time’ or special training we give our children, can compensate for the freedom we take away. The things that children learn through their own initiatives, in free play, cannot be taught in other ways.”

If you want an understanding of why schools today are failing and we are not finding the results we seek from our standard system, or simply why 'schooling at home' (mimicking the public school system at home)  is still  not the most beneficial answer and  what can actually be done differently with success, I  strongly urge you  to read this book. I sincerely believe that the overall message of Free to Learn has the potential to direct our culture toward a better system- whether public or private or at home.

"...self-directed learning and free play permit children to realize their optimum abilities to learn, grow, and develop naturally and positively..."

Notes About The Author:  Peter Gray, Ph.D.,  is a research professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College and author of the college textbook, Psychology, now in its seventh edition.  He writes the Freedom to Learn Blog for Psychology Today.  Peter Gray is a well-known critic of the  standard educational systems. He speaks often to groups of parents and educators about children’s needs for free play and the detrimental effects of the current methods of schooling, Mr. Gray, along with other concerned citizens, has created a website titled AlternativesToSchool.com.