Monday, July 8, 2013

Free to Learn

Sharing a few highlights from Peter Gray's Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

Lack of free play may not kill the physical body, as would lack of food, air, or water, but it kills the spirit and stunts mental growth

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

Not only has the school day grown longer and less playful, but school has intruded ever more into home and family life. Assigned homework has increased, eating into time that would otherwise be available for play

Looked at in another way, five to eight times as many young people today have scores above the cutoff for likely diagnosis of a clinically significant anxiety disorder or major depression than fifty or more years ago. These increases are at least as great, if not greater, for elementary and high school students as for college students

In free play, children learn to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, create and abide by rules, and get along with others as equals rather than as obedient or rebellious subordinates

The intense drive that children have to play with other children, therefore, is a powerful force for them to learn how to attend to others’ wishes and negotiate differences

But regardless of the lectures that students might hear in school about the value of helping others, school works against such behavior. By design, it teaches selfishness. The forced competitiveness, the constant grading and ranking of students, contain the implicit lesson that each student’s job is to look out for himself or herself and to do better than others

Under normal conditions, children develop their abilities to cooperate and help one another in free, self-directed, social play, where they learn to resolve their differences and take into account one another’s needs in order to keep the game going

Self-education also requires space—space to roam, to get away, to explore. That space should, ideally, encompass the range of terrains relevant to the culture in which one is developing