032: Free to learn

Professor Peter Gray was primarily interested in the motivations and emotions of animals before his son Scott started struggling in school, at which point Professor Gray’s interests shifted to developing our understanding of self-directed learning and how play helps us to learn.  He has extensively studied the learning that occurs at the Sudbury Valley School in Sudbury Valley, MA – where children are free to associate with whomever they like, don’t have to take any classes at all, and yet go on college and to satisfying lives as adults.  How can this possibly be?  We’ll find out.


Gray, P (2013). Free to learn: Why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life. New York, NY: Basic Books. (Affiliate link)

Also see Professor Gray’s extensive posts on learning and education on the Psychology Today blog.


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  1. Kirsty Manuel, South Africa on April 16, 2017 at 2:53 PM

    School is so separate from real life that most vital real life skills are not learned there. It begs the question; is this then the best way to equip our kids for life? It’s no wonder kids struggle to make the transition from school to adulthood in our culture. They are, for the most part utterly unprepared for it, is this their fault? We expect them to do well in school without encouraging time spent outside of it to grow in other skill sets needed for life. How much better could their lives and our whole society be if we approached their education differently? What would it look like if schools really incorporated learning life skills necessary to succeed in life other than the learning of facts and gaining of knowledge in different areas? There seems to be a lopsided focus on things that often don’t add a whole lot of value to our life and so is generally forgotten. Why do we pour all our effort into learning these things? 12 years later, we are confused and disappointed having thought we were so well set up for life only to find we are not so highly set up for success if all we got was A’s. Who all does better in life by the same percentage level they did better than their peers in school? Surly it’s not simply based on that but we put all our time into it as if it were.

    • Jen Lumanlan on April 27, 2017 at 4:30 PM

      Kristy, it almost seems like you’ve done the same research I’ve done:-) Glad to hear you found this episode interesting. I’m on-board with Sudbury Valley-style schools as a way to support our children’s learning, but what if we don’t live near one (there are only about forty of them in the world!). I’m looking at homeschooling as the best way to provide this kind of environment for my daughter. There’s a ton of info online about how to homeschool, but very little on how to make the decision to homeschool in the first place. If you’re interested in checking out the course I built to address this, you can find it at http://www.yourhomeschoolingmojo.com

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