5-3 | Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, Self-reliant, and Better Students for Life

Book Review

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

Peter Gray
New York: Basic Books, 2013. Notes, bibliography, index. 274 pp. $27.99 cloth. ISBN: 9780465025992

by Howard P. Chudacoff

First Paragraph:

Robert Paul Smith, in a 1957 memoir of his youth, Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing, mused that one time he discovered while playing that if he could apply his finger to a spinning phonograph record, he could manipulate its speed to produce different kinds of sound. “This,” he recalled, “I believe, is science, and I found it out for myself.” Peter Gray would rejoice because, to him, Smith’s playful curiosity was what education should be. In Free to Learn, a passionate paean to the kind of free play and free learning exemplified by Smith’s example, Peter Gray, an evolutionary psychologist at Boston College, makes a largely compelling case that children learn best when unencumbered by adult-imposed activities and institutions. Naturally curious, children need to be free to learn from each other and from their own self-structured experiences. If encouraged to do so, Gray argues, children will be “happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life.”