Final Notes on “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray

Page 167 “By doing what they want to do, which is to play with other children, children learn to compromise and not do exactly what they want to do.” And it works all so naturally, without any control by others. Children who naturally aren’t very social don’t need to be forced to socialize and play. With the support of loving, uncontrolling adults in their lives, children will learn what their real needs are and how work in the world to get those needs satisfied.

Page 170 Kids work through trauma (real and imagined) through role playing and pretend. It’s strange to me that therapists will use this same idea in an office to help people work through things but most adults see no value in children doing it. Kids play at “cops and robbers” to experience danger and create their own positive ending. It’s healing and learning.

Page 171 “The Value of ‘Dangerous’ Play” “…suggested that a major evolutionary purpose of play is to help the young learn how to cope with emergencies.” They are learning new skills. We all had the chance to learn as children and now it’s our kids turn. They won’t learn our lessons. They need to learn their own through safe “dangerous” play.

Page 172 “…human children, like other young mammals, deliberately put themselves into fear-inducing, vulnerable positions in their play.” I’ve watched my boys do this throughout their lives. They constantly seek the edge of things. They search out an older/bigger boy to play fight with. They consistently push their boundaries, and then come back to Mom for reassurance when things get out of control. I’m always there to wipe the tears but not reprimand them for doing what children need to do to grow.

Page 175 “Play is nature’s way of teaching children how to solve their own problems, control their impulses, modulate their emotions, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences, and get along with others as equals. There is no substitute for play as a means of learning these skills. They can’t be taught in school. For life in the real world, these lessons of personal responsibility, self-control, and sociability are far more important than any lessons that can be taught in school.” And every year we take more and more of that away from our children and force them to focus on “STEM” skills in a formal academic environment. Then we wonder why each generation gets more and more angry, violent, and anti-social.

Page 195 “Children must feel safe and cared for in order to devote themselves fully to exploring and learning, and children learn best from those with whom they have caring, trusting relationships.” This is what gets me. So many people push their young children away thinking that they must be forced out of the nest to gain competence. Children WANT to grow up and be independent. You can’t force them to BE independent. As young children they need spent that time to fully trust you, that you will be there when they fall. They won’t get that if you drop them off at Sunday school screaming and crying. They won’t get it if when they scrape their knee you tell them to quit crying because it’s only a scratch. They need to be “babied” when they are babies. The shiest, timid child will eventually walk away from you and join a friend in climbing a tree eventually. You can’t speed the process up.

Page 210 “Trustful parents are not negligent parents. They provide not just freedom, but also the sustenance, love, respect, moral examples, and environmental conditions required for healthy development. They support, rather than try to direct, children’s development, by helping children achieve their own goals when such help is requested.”

He uses the example of “direct-domineering parenting” as one that developed suddenly in response to an agricultural and then capitalistic society. I don’t agree with his negative assessment of the style. I believe that a change in society demanded a change in parenting that served that society well. But, as everything else in this world, things are changing again and our parenting styles need to evolve as well, not remain stoic in an attempt to keep the world as it was.

Page 226 “The nuclear family is a fine thing as a home base for raising children, but for healthy development, children need to explore beyond it, even when they are little.” And our school system is never a healthy place to do that, but that is where most people would turn right now when they believe their neighborhood is not a safe place for their kids. To me, it’s a reason to promote/organize and attend regularly a good park day, or playgroup when kids are able to play together uninterrupted by adults who are nearby in case of emergencies. This is really lacking in our area and I’ve tried so hard to get people to come but they just don’t see the value in it and don’t make the time in their lives for it.

Page 233 “…a system of voluntary, noncoercive schools…where children could play, explore, and learn in an environment conducive to healthy intellectual, physical, and moral development.” Government schools, by nature, cannot be this. Government is non-voluntary and coercive in nature. It cannot promote and force people to pay taxes to support, a program that let’s people do as they please and grow to govern themselves. It’s like working yourself out of a job.

This book has some amazing insight and ideas, put into words that really strike home. I’d love everyone in my family to read it and understand what it is we are doing in our home. We’ve followed our instincts and created a home and lifestyle that I believe promotes peace and love. My husband and I are still very much in love with each other and enjoy each others company. Our children are teenagers now and are happy, well-adjusted young men that enjoy being around their family and friend and find the love of life everywhere they go. My clingy and timid child that my family said was spoiling because I didn’t force him to do things he didn’t want to do, is now a young man looking out to the world to make his way. This lifestyle does work in our world, the one that is developing right before us.

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