E6 - The Psychology of Play: Peter Gray on the Benefits of Free Play for Children
🗓️ Recorded January 10th, 2023. 📍Casa Nina, Sampieri, Sicily, Italy
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Here you can read more about Dr. Peter Gray
- Peter Gray's blog: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn
- Peter Gray's Website: https://www.petergray.org
- Peter Gray's research: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/contributors/peter-gray-phd
- Follow Peter Gray on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peter.gray.3572
- Let Grows website: https://letgrow.org
- The Alliance for Self-Directed Education: https://www.self-directed.org
About this Episode
What if your child could thrive outside the traditional school system, learning self-direction and social skills through play and exploration?
Peter Gray is such a clear voice regarding understanding the power of unschooling and playing as a tool for learning. As a long-time researcher of learning, Peter knows what he talks about. His blog, Freedom to Learn, is an excellent resource for all parents, and his articles are among the ones I see myself sharing repeatedly. We have for a long time wanted to talk with Peter and are happy to here share with you our dialogue with him.
In our conversation with Peter Gray, we discuss the challenges of finding a social life for homeschooled children, especially in Europe. Peter shares his insights on the importance of age-mixed groups, the history of childhood, and the difficulties modern families face in building a community for their kids.
Libraries and after-school play programs present unique opportunities for homeschooled children to socialize and grow. Peter's research on libraries as social hubs for kids reveals that many institutions even cater specifically to homeschooling families. We also discuss Let Grow, a nonprofit working with schools to provide after-school play, and compare European school systems with their emphasis on balance between education and playtime.
Reimagining education means rethinking the adult role in children's lives.
We dive into the concept of "No Rules School" in New Zealand and the surprising benefits of minimal adult intervention, such as reduced bullying and increased empathy. ‘
Peter also shares his thoughts on how homeschooling and self-directed education can offer solutions for improving the current school system.
Don't miss this thought-provoking conversation with Peter Gray, as we explore the potential for a brighter future in education.
About Dr. Peter Gray
Dr. Peter Gray is a highly regarded researcher, psychologist, and advocate for the unschooling movement. He is best known for his book "Free to Learn," which explores the benefits of self-directed learning and the drawbacks of traditional schooling.
As a professor of psychology at Boston College, Dr. Gray has spent his career studying how children learn and develop. He is particularly interested in the role of play in children's education and has written extensively on the subject.
In addition to his academic work, Dr. Gray is a vocal advocate for unschooling, an educational approach emphasizing learner autonomy and self-directed learning. He believes that children learn best when allowed to pursue their interests and passions rather than being forced to conform to a standardized curriculum.
Through his research and advocacy, Dr. Gray has become a leading voice in the unschooling movement, inspiring parents and educators alike to rethink traditional approaches to education and embrace more child-centered, individualized learning experiences.
6 awesome quotes from Peter Gray's book: "Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life"
“Everyone who has ever been to school knows that school is prison, but almost nobody beyond school age says it is. It's not polite. We all tiptoe around the truth because admitting it would make us seem cruel and would point a finger at well-intentioned people doing what they believe to be essential. . . . A prison, according to the common, general definition, is any place of involuntary confinement and restriction of liberty. In school, as in adult prisons, the inmates are told exactly what they must do and are punished for failure to comply. Actually, students in school must spend more time doing exactly what they are told than is true of adults in penal institutions. Another difference, of course, is that we put adults in prison because they have committed a crime, while we put children in school because of their age.”
“The biggest, most enduring lesson of school is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible.”
“Sadly, in many cases, the assumption that children are incompetent, irresponsible, and in need of constant direction and supervision becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The children themselves become convinced of their incompetence and irresponsibility and may act accordingly. The surest way to foster any trait in a person is to treat that person as if he or she already has it.”
“We have forgotten that children are designed by nature to learn through self-directed play and exploration, and so, more and more, we deprive them of freedom to learn, subjecting them instead to the tedious and painfully slow learning methods devised by those who run the schools.”
“It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.”
“The belief that young people are incapable of making reasonable decisions is a cornerstone of our system of compulsory, closely monitored education.”
Clips from this episode
All the research Dr. Peter Gray has done shows the same thing. If you can remove the fear of learning to read and remove outside pressure of that there should be a “correct age” to learn to read - then all children will learn to read. Peter even researched multiple cases o children who had been diagnosed with dyslexia. After moving over to unschooling or a democratic school, the children learned to read - when they choose to, without fear, without pressure.
Age-segregated childhood is a problem
In schools, kids are segregated by age. Age segregation is not normal. Age segregation creates unhealthy competition and bullying.
Peter Gray states the following in his article: “Why We Should Stop Segregating Children by Age: Part II”
“My main point is this: Age-mixed play is less competitive, more creative, and more conducive to practicing new skills than is same-age play. Age-mixed play is, in short, more playful than is same-age play. When children who are all nearly the same age play a game, competitiveness can interfere with playfulness. This is especially true in our current culture, which puts so much emphasis on winning and on all sorts of comparisons aimed at determining who is better, an emphasis fostered by our competitive, graded school system. In contrast, when children who differ widely in age play a game together, the focus shifts from "beating" the other to having fun. There is no pride to be gained by the older, larger, more skilled child in beating the much younger one, and the younger one has no expectation of beating the older one. So, they play the game more joyfully, in a more relaxed manner, modifying the rules in ways to make it both fun and challenging for all involved.”
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Transcript of Self Directed Episode 6
E6 - The Psychology of Play: Peter Gray on the Benefits of Free Play for Children
Please note: This transcript is autogenerated by AI voice recognition - so there will probably be some transcription errors along the way 🙂
Jesper Conrad: Today we have Peter Gray as our guest, and if not everybody knows him, then I hope they will go and dig into his work. Welcome, peter.
Peter Gray: I'm glad to be here.
Jesper Conrad: Thank you Well.
Cecilie Conrad: I'm really excited.
Jesper Conrad: Yes, me too I'm really excited.
Cecilie Conrad: So I read your books a hundred years ago. It feels like And you are my best, like how do you say that in English? Like the card I can pull out when people start criticizing our lifestyle. I'm like, yeah, Go read this guy. So thank you very much for all the work you've done. Really have the way to seek mountains for a lot of people, us included, our four children, and their personal freedom. And because the personal freedom of the children is not greater than the feeling of comfort of the parents doing this radical thing of not putting them in the school system. So when you can do with the parents, then the children can actually have their personal freedom, which is obviously very important to me and our listeners. So thank you very much And I'm so excited to finally meet you.
Peter Gray: Well, thank you, it's great to meet you.
Cecilie Conrad: So should I just.
Jesper Conrad: Yes.
Cecilie Conrad: Okay. So we've discussed what we would ask you as the most important things, and when we talk to other people who wants to home school or on school, and also actually in our personal life, there's one thing that's like the really big I wouldn't say problem, but challenge, and that's the other kids. Where do you find the social life for the other children? We have to drive really far, even fly sometimes, to find someone to hang out with. I think the situation is probably worse in Europe than in the States because it's more rare here, but still I think the problem is the same And I am very often asked the question would it be better that they were in school and then they had someone to hang out with, because it's so hard to find friends?
Peter Gray: Yeah, that's a great.
Cecilie Conrad: Your reflections on this problem.
Peter Gray: That's a great question. I think probably the hardest thing for parents today is that this is going to sound funny, but because there are so many things that people think is hard, but the hardest thing is arranging a, finding a community of children for your children. Children need a community of children. They really do. I shouldn't emphasize that too much. People are very adaptable. Children grow up okay almost no matter what.
Peter Gray: But the history of childhood, including the ancient history of childhood, the pre-civilized history of childhood as well as even back in the 1950s when I was a child is that children spend far more time with other children than they spend with adults. Children are biologically designed to learn from other children. They play in age mix groups. They're more interested in what other kids think and do than what their parents think and do They're more interested in. They are naturally so, and I think when you look at hunter, gatherer cultures and you see that children are spending all day long playing in age mix groups and the younger children are learning from the older children as they do this and the older children are learning how to nurture by interacting with the younger children as they do this. That age mixed children's play is sort of the children's is sort of the natural environment for kids to grow up in, and it's very hard to find that kind of environment today.
Peter Gray: So in the United States when I was a child in the 1950s, you know, i often say, well, i had school, but school was not. It was regular school, but it was not the big deal that it is today Far less hours at it. There, the school year was five weeks shorter, the school day was an hour shorter. We didn't have homework in elementary school. We had two hours outdoors counting recess, two recesses and lunch hour out of the six hour school day. We had far less of sit in the classroom, school and and essentially no homework in elementary school. So we had far more time free away from school than we had at school, like activities, and in that time, you know, the refrain of parents was get out of the house, i don't want you in the house. Houses were smaller, families were bigger. You know moms didn't want the kids hanging around the house And so you, you would be out. This was in northern Minnesota and it might be below zero And you were outside and other kids were outside, and so you have, so it's easy to find other kids to play with. We moved around a lot, i have to say, but it was easy to find a new group of kids because they were outdoors.
Peter Gray: So what do you do today to solve that problem? And it's not an easy question. I've been working with and this is a problem, whether your kids are going to regular school or not, because regular schools are not. You know, people talk about why you should send your child to school So they'll be socialized. People were, you know you're not. You're homeschooling, you know. But what kind of a social environment is school? It's age segregated. The kids in your class are all the same age. You have almost no opportunity to interact with kids who are different in age And you're controlled pretty much all the time. What time do you really have even it? even recesses in the United States are now so short and so adult control, but there's very little opportunity for actual social, real social interaction among children.
Peter Gray: It is true that you can meet other children, you can get to know them, but then if you don't have an opportunity to play with them outside of school in the United States, i think, probably more than in most of Europe, but not more than in the UK, i know UK is as bad as United States is this? The parents are not letting their kids out to play. Don't blame parents for that, but the whole society believes that it's dangerous for children to be outdoors without an adult accompanying them, and so so this is a problem for everybody. In my mind, the very best that in my research that the one group of children which regularly have a culture of childhood are children who are in democratic schools, so that children who are going to a Sudbury school or an Agile learning center or a liberators learning center, these kinds of centers which are designed for self directed education So children have charge of their own time. These are places where children can interact with one another all day long.
Peter Gray: We recently I and a couple of others recently published a study that we did a couple of years ago of the alumni of a democratic school called the Hudson Valley Sudbury school And we asked the alumni of this school questions about their experiences at the school, questions about their, the role of staff members in their experiences, the role of the Democrat, formal democratic processes at the school and the role of other children at the school. And far and away their response was the most important part of the school was the other children, the other kids, by children. I'm including everybody who is at the school age four through 18 or 19 years old. They believe that their education came largely from the fact that they had so much time with this group of people who became friends, who they learned from, who they collaborated with in various forms of play and hobbies and projects. For those children who came to the school as a fair number did with psychological problems, anxiety or depression, or had been bullied where they had been before they found this, this group of other kids was really therapy for them that helped them overcome their anxieties and depression. The fact that they were accepted is so important for children to feel accepted by other children. So I don't have an easy answer to this question. My hope is.
Peter Gray: I recently did a study also and published this in the American Journal of Play of libraries as places for children to hang out and get to know other children. This is occurring more and more in libraries in the United States. There are some libraries catering specifically to homeschool kids, so homeschool kids can hang out there during the day. These are in areas where there's a high concentration of homeschoolers. Many libraries now have maker spaces in the library, places where you can have there's high tech equipment. This has been a recent development. Over the last 10 or 12 years There's been a huge growth in the number of libraries that have maker spaces in them. What the libraries find is that the primary users of them are kids. The kids figure out how to use the equipment. The librarians don't have to know how to use the equipment.
Jesper Conrad: They figure out how to use the equipment.
Peter Gray: Oftentimes, if there are adults there, it's as likely that the adults are learning from the kids as vice versa. Some libraries actually quite a few libraries these days have just a room available for teenagers. You can hang out here, you can play games, you can do whatever you want, as long as you're not being too noisy and boisterous, disturbing the patrons in other parts of the library. There are some libraries that have play at the library for regular hours. This is a small number of libraries. Most libraries have play for very little kids, but a small number of libraries are now developing play for larger groups of kids. The two librarians that were co-researchers with me on this study of libraries. they are involved with a library in Austin, texas, where they have after-school play. They put up a big sign that says joyful noise, welcome and kids can come.
Cecilie Conrad: Can I ask you something terrifying?
Peter Gray: Yes.
Cecilie Conrad: Not that I don't want to hear the rest of the story. In the European school systems or at least in Scandinavia where we come from there are hours for schooling And then in the afternoon there are hours for more or less play. It's two different institutions. Sometimes the kids have to walk around the block to another house.
Jesper Conrad: Until they are even.
Cecilie Conrad: Until the parents have the time to pick them up. Maybe you're in school until three o'clock but your parents are not off from work yet You can go to. sometimes they call it the club or something like that. Then the kids get to hang out there until they are picked up. Obviously the younger kids. this is more needed for the youngest, as they cannot walk home alone The traffic. So do you have anything like that? or is school just school with structured learning hours and then go home?
Peter Gray: Well, that's great What you've just described. Can homeschool kids join the other kids?
Cecilie Conrad: Sometimes because it's actually two different institutions. So you pay for the afterschool thing and you don't pay for the school and at least in Scandinavia And the after it's very cheap, but you still pay for it.
Peter Gray: That sounds good.
Cecilie Conrad: That sounds good Some of them accept homeschool children and some don't.
Peter Gray: Right, right, yeah, it would be nice if there was more of that. Wait, what? the closest thing we have to that is something that so I, along with Lenore Scanesi, who wrote the book Free Range Kids. she's the primary founder of a group, of a nonprofit organization called Let Grow, which is the premises that parents need to let their children go. in order to let them grow, they have to allow them out of their site, allow them to have adventures, allow them. So we've been working. this organization has been working with schools to have afterschool play, and often, though unfortunately, many schools have chosen to make it before school play, so they'll have an hour of free play before school. Some of them now have an hour of free play after school. My goal, what I would love to see, would be that schools would stay open after school. let them use the school playground, the gymnasium, the art room the you know, have a room with games, have all kinds of opportunities.
Peter Gray: The school has a swimming pool. have the swimming pool open from the hours That's exactly what we have in Scandinavia.
Cecilie Conrad: basically, That's what they can do. You have these workshops and also the tunas for free play and playground, but it's after the schooling hours and until you're picked up, and it's voluntary, whereas schooling is for less men, but still be chose freedom. Yeah, yeah, i'm just curious about the, because I somehow think that you know the state's in Europe, it's all Western European culture somehow, but it's different. We did have that freedom when we were in school.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Cecilie Conrad: For many hours every day. Right, I was picked up at, you know, three, four hours, three hours after school stopped, So I had a lot of hours every day with my and you. Usually you always go to the same club as your schoolmates, So it's the same group of children but it's been in school with all day And I hated it.
Jesper Conrad: It's also closer to being needs degraded than what we would prefer.
Peter Gray: Yeah, okay, i think the age mixed aspect of it is really really important. When you're, when you're with everybody the same age, there's kind of a competitive edge. There's kind of some it's sort of somewhat conducive to bullying, is kind of who's better who's and so on. When it's age mixed, that really changes. The older kids become nicer, not just to the younger kids, but nicer to one another. when there's younger kids around You can.
Peter Gray: kids who have some social difficulties with kids their own age, they haven't really quite learned how to get along well, can play with younger kids who are happy to play with them and develop social skills. that way The younger kids are learning more advanced ways of playing by interacting with the older kids. It's just in my mind, age segregated groups is abnormal. This is, like you know, this is not the normal a childhood group. The history of children's experiences is that, whether we're talking about old fashioned neighborhood play, not everybody in the neighborhood is the same age you're playing across ages. or whether we're talking about hunter gatherer bands, where there's only about 20 kids total And so you're interacting with all the kids, you know, from age four onto teenage years, all playing together typically.
Peter Gray: So I think that's a that's a really valuable part of it. That's one of the reasons I think recess is not particularly valuable play, even though I'm in favor of recesses because kids need a break from sitting in the classroom. But when recesses are age segregated, it's not the best situation for play.
Cecilie Conrad: So also the problem is that once you age segregate the children in school time, they tend to age segregate their choice of friends And, and even in these we had this after school thing. I think it was an age span of maybe three or four years, but we would always hang out with our group from our class. So so it didn't really. Even though the space was somewhat mixed age, my child was who. It was, not with mixed except. I have a lot of siblings So I had a lot of age that way in my free time at home. But in school and in this after school institution we were always with with children of our own age. So even if recess was with mixed age, maybe it wouldn't fix the problem.
Peter Gray: So that's a good point. I think that if it's a long enough period of time, what we observed with and I've done some of the little bit of observation myself, but others have done more observation of what happens The school is called this play club, where all the kids this is in elementary school, so these are kids from kindergarten through fifth grade, so basically age five through 11, all playing together And they do age mix. They really do. The little kids and bigger kids are playing together. Not always they tend to play. You know, if you're looking at any given child, any given child would play a little more often with somebody in their own age, but they're often playing across ages. The little kids love to love the older kids. The older kids like to play chase games and rough and tumble games with the little kids, and what we also see is that.
Peter Gray: So one of the things with play club in schools is we teach, we give the instructions to the teachers who are monitors, that while play club is going on. They're not teachers, they're more like a lifeguard on an ocean beach. Their job is to save a life if they think a life is in danger. But other than that, let the kids solve their own problems. And one thing that we've observed and the teachers have observed is if they hold back let's say they see a couple of those smaller children quarreling in some way, maybe even beginning to fight a little bit An older child will step in and say, hey, what's the problem here? And that's so much more effective than if an adult stepped in. The older child is learning hey, you know, i can be a caretaker for these younger kids And the younger kids who kind of worship these older kids you know, that's more effective than if an adult authority figure steps in and does it.
Peter Gray: They feel like they've been disciplined. if an adult steps in, they feel like, in a way, that this is somewhat of an older peer who is telling him you know, this just isn't the way we should be behaving, you know, and it's more genuine when it comes from another kid who is older than you are.
Peter Gray: So the age-making aspect really is really, really very valuable, you know. The other thing is that we used to have in the United States we had a lot of after-school opportunities. When I was in college I worked at a place I was. I went to college in New York City and this was in the 1960s and I worked at a place called the Clinton Youth Center and it was owned by the YMCA, but it was for kids who couldn't afford the real YMCA and it was a rundown, old, rickety old building. It had a kind of a gymnasium in it. There was a lot of art supplies and stuff that had been donated.
Peter Gray: It was on a dead-end street in a neighborhood that at that time was largely African-American and Puerto Rican, and so this was an after-school program and there was sometimes and I worked there and there was a manager of the program who was from the neighborhood, african-american. He had a stutter. He couldn't raise his voice if he wanted to. It was the most gentle person I've ever known, he and I. If you counted me as an adult, i was 19 at the time. We're the only adults there and there would sometimes be 100 or 150 kids there playing indoors, playing outdoors. Age mixed, the whole range of ages. I don't remember any discipline problems there, fortunately, because neither that manager nor I were capable of disciplining, but they managed themselves, and that was in the 1960s In the United States nobody can imagine that right now nobody can imagine that that would work.
Peter Gray: People would think there would just be chaos, that people wouldn't, the kids wouldn't be able to control themselves. We've changed in so many ways and it used to be. I mean, kids would more often play with no adults around, so this was not an unusual situation. This was just a little bit more organized, the fact that there were a couple of adults when there was this equipment available. I was hired because I had been a basketball player in high school and I could kind of referee basketball games if they wanted basketball. So that was the situation. We don't have anything like that now that kids can go to in the United.
Cecilie Conrad: States. Are you familiar with the French pedagogue Célescente Franet?
Peter Gray: What is his name?
Cecilie Conrad: His name is Franet. His last name is Franet. Well, we have some schools in Europe based on his philosophy. We have two, for some reason, in Copenhagen, and our oldest child was in this school, and it's an age-mixed school with a lot of democracy, you would say.
Cecilie Conrad: The children plan their own week on Mondays, evaluate on Fridays, do academic work before lunch and more crafty work after lunch, and then they have this free time after 3 o'clock until they're picked up they can do whatever they want and there would be 30 children of mixed age with two adults in the school time and after school. I think it was two or three adults and the 200 children. So it's kind of the same as you described And it was not like there was always someone watching the children, because they learned very quickly the culture of looking after each other and it was really beautiful to see how that really worked out, because in a normal school and in the public school in Denmark we would find a classroom with 30 children, a very, very packed classroom, and people would complain that's too many children for one room.
Peter Gray: Right right.
Cecilie Conrad: But once you set them free, it's not too many children for one room, it's just like five or six groups of a few children hanging out with each other, and before lunch they have to study-ish. They could more or less do whatever they wanted, and then they had lunch. They had to, which they cooked, like taking turns in the kitchen with professional cook, and they had like these chores of cleaning up. It was a long time. It was an hour and a half of cooking and cleaning and playing and having a break, and then the afternoons were for workshops. It was beautiful, actually, we had two of those.
Peter Gray: I think all of what we're talking about illustrates a principle that I've long believed. I don't. There's a little bit of research supporting this, but I wish there were more research. They I think that when children realize that there's no adult there to control them, or even if there isn't an adult, the adult's job is not to control them. The job is like being a lifeguard That then children recognize. Well, we have to be the adults. We have to it's.
Peter Gray: You know, children, when there's an adult there, children might be pressing the rules. They might say you know, i can do this, we can do this, we can do this. The adult will stop us if we can't, and so they're kind of always pushing the edges of what they're, and so they're more likely to be undisciplined when there's an adult guarding them and trying to control them And there's rules that they're supposed to be following that are adult directive, without the children's input to the rules. I think in those conditions, adults behave children behave more unruly than they do, than they do when there's no adult around, and there's one interesting kind of demonstration of this is New Zealand.
Peter Gray: This is a few years ago, and I think there's still a YouTube on it called the No Rules School, where the principle of this school in New Zealand decided that he was going to have a much longer recess and the kids would be age-mixant recess and there would be no rules And the kids could do whatever they wanted, and what he found was that it was actually. There was a professor at a local university that encouraged this too and made observations about it, and what they found was there was less fighting, less bullying. People were less injuries When there were no rules. Then, when there were rules, the kids were doing things in the video. They were climbing trees, they were doing all kinds of things that they had previously not been allowed to do, but because they were happily playing in ways that they wanted to play and also because with no adult enforced rules, they recognized well, i've got to make my own decision about what's safe or not, and children are pretty good at that.
Cecilie Conrad: And they take care of each other if there are no other.
Peter Gray: They take care of each other, and this is another thing, this part of the history of humanity that, at least in the United States, we've forgotten. throughout history, older children always took care of younger children. By the time a child was five or six, they might be responsible to take care of their three-year-old sibling.
Cecilie Conrad: So I have a lot of younger siblings. I know this personally. It's been my life.
Peter Gray: Same with me. I've got three younger brothers and I was kind of responsible for them And it's a good life.
Cecilie Conrad: It's not something you should protect a child from the responsibility of life, because you're a person when you're born.
Jesper Conrad: Did I have a question? Sure, in your book Free to Learn, you describe the school and explain how it can be seen as a prison. And now here we are, at the same time talking about what could be done to better the school system. So part of me is we are kind of radical in our choice of not schooling. In Denmark, the percentage is so low and we've been there for 10 years, more than among the first really under-schooled and started homeschooling in Denmark, so we choose to not go in for the schooling and it seems like there's a need to, as you also point out, normalize not going to school. But at the same time, if I believe in the States, is it around two to three percent of this homeschool maybe? then it's many kids left behind if we don't try to fix the school. So I'm over here where I kind of don't want to try to fix the school, but at the same time it's a lot of human beings whose life can be better. What's the question? Yeah, the question is I don't know what the question is.
Cecilie Conrad: Should we give up on the schools? or should we try to fix them.
Peter Gray: Yeah, this is kind of what I meant I think I think I've got it. So I kind of wear two hats. One of my hats is the one that played a role in helping to found the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. That organization is aimed at helping people leave school, promoting homeschooling, especially the version of it that we call the most people call on-schooling. I prefer the term self-directed education or because on-schooling is such a negative term, so don't get it.
Cecilie Conrad: So we say on-schooling, because that's what they understand.
Peter Gray: But why would?
Cecilie Conrad: we have the negativity and the word school in defining what we do, right I find.
Peter Gray: If you tell people when they ask about your children at school, if you say, well, we on-school, that sounds like you're not. You don't believe in education. Your child is gonna be ignorant it tells you what you're not doing, but it doesn't tell you what you're doing. So if you say, well, we do self-directed education, well, that sounds. those are all positive terms, self-directed education there are stables around them.
Peter Gray: So it's a much more positive thing. And then the question might be well, what does that mean? And then you can have a real discussion about it and people don't get defensive that you are. You say on-schooling, you're also kind of telling them if they're sending their child to school. You're kind of putting them on the defensive too about defending school. So that's the. So at any rate, that's a little bit of a digression, the. So you were a few years ago you would have been right about two or 3% in the United States homeschooling. It's now 11%. Wow, it has really increased. It was before COVID it was up to 5%. Lots of people left school during COVID for homeschooling and have not and, as far as I know, have not gone. Many have not gone back. So the last, the last poll on this was shortly after. It was about a little bit more than a year ago, and at that time it was 11% of families with school-age children or homeschooling their children. So this is a huge number. It's a huge number It has.
Peter Gray: yeah, And I think what happened is with COVID. a lot of kids were home and parents, a lot of parents, found it's not so bad to have them home.
Jesper Conrad: It's not as bad as I thought it would be.
Peter Gray: And there was this distance education. So the kids were doing school on Zoom and parents were supposed to be sitting there with their child. And so parents saw what's happening with school and they said, oh Lord, i could do better than that in helping my child. My child isn't interested in that, but doing this other thing. So parents I think a lot of parents by no means the majority, but a lot of parents became encouraged about the idea of homeschooling And they also saw for the first time, if their child has poor free time, that their child is actually doing things that are educational in the broad sense of education. They're involved in hobbies and play and doing things and they're developing in very positive ways because they've got this free time that they didn't have before. So I think that But that had a big effect.
Peter Gray: We'll see how this plays out down the road, but my prediction is that homeschooling is going to even continue to increase. I think that what is Going to happen eventually. So my, my dream is that libraries will become the replacements for schools, that the new educational institutions will be libraries. Libraries are designed for self-directed education. Librarians, that's.
Peter Gray: Their job is to help people learn what they want to learn, rather than to tell them what they should learn, what they believe that they should learn. So, and so I. That's why I'm interested in libraries, that I think that, as we have more and more homeschoolers, they're going to be using libraries more and more and libraries will. Libraries are already publicly supported, so libraries And and there are libraries just like there are schools everywhere, there are libraries everywhere. So the infrastructure is there for It's already there It's in place mostly for academic education.
Cecilie Conrad: We would need some space for Running and jumping and playing ball and learning to play musical instruments and maybe painting.
Peter Gray: That's right.
Peter Gray: The libraries need to, but the fact that they've already got maker spaces in them, the fact that some libraries now do have play at the library, some libraries have outdoor areas where kids play. So this is a minority of libraries. Well, actually it's all is probably half the libraries now, half the large libraries now have maker spaces and And a growing number of libraries are doing so, i think, as libraries. So my vision is, as as as more and more people leave public schools, some of that money, huge amount of money that towns are spending on public schools, some of that money should now become available for the libraries And libraries are be able to expand and add a gymnasium at a, you know, at a swimming pool, at a.
Peter Gray: Libraries. There already is some libraries that are calling themselves community centers or they're connected with. You know, this is a place everybody can come and socialize and there are places you know, that we call the cultural centers, now in Denmark, scandinavia, but now they, they reframe it as cultural centers and they that's interesting like music rooms and And that's great Yeah yeah, so.
Jesper Conrad: And yeah, more things.
Peter Gray: The two heads one is for fighting for self-reaction and the other had so the other had is the is the part that helped to start the organization called let grow, which is Lenore Scanesi is the president of it, and, and through that grow. We work with schools as well as communities in other ways, but primarily, as it turns out, is we're working with schools, public schools, and, and one of the ways we're working with schools is to is to encourage them to bring what the schools call play club, which I've already described, into the school this age mixed opportunities for play. We also, you know when, when we're invited to speak to groups of Teachers and principals at such schools, or sometimes groups of parents who at a particular school, we talk about the idea that Education is far more than what you're learning in school, and that means that children need time beyond schoolwork, and So we encourage the schools to give less homework, that more homework, recognizing the children need time to do other things outside of school. We encourage them to. We we encourage them to not drop the more creative kinds of things that schools used to do But which they have been dropping in recent decades because of ever since the so-called no child left behind bill.
Peter Gray: All The instruction is so oriented towards test taking that children are learning in very narrow Way of sort of memorizing the stuff they need to know for the test, rather than rather than drawing pictures and involved with With decorating the classroom more, more creative things that kids used to be able to do which were kind of playful in the classroom. We're trying to encourage more of that With some success, albeit in the minority of schools so far a fairly small minority of schools, but a growing number of schools are getting interested in this. There's wrecking more and more recognition that children Are being deprived of play and that schools should have some role in In reversing the harmful effects of schools have had of depriving children of play. So that's the other hat that I wear and And I feel like we've made some progress said we've got a long ways to go.
Cecilie Conrad: I. I think we talked about Leaving the children out of sight and and the no rule school and, and this and made me think about Maybe we have to reeducate the adults so that, well, if, if the adults presence in the children's life is Harmful, maybe it's not because they are adults, but more because they have this agenda and and they put on this police man hat and make all these rules and and Curricula, curricula, curriculum and plural, i don't know. So would be nice, i think, also to discuss. Could we fix the problem? because we talk from a point of view of homeschooling, where the children are close to the parents All of the time more or less, especially here in Europe, we don't have these My many places.
Cecilie Conrad: We don't have a library to drop them off at. So if I don't want them in school, i will have them in the home, and as I work from home, i'm in the home too. So even though I want to give my children a lot of freedom, i will know what they do all the time because I'm there. So maybe we could also rethink the role of the adults as a companion more than than a controlling element in the life of children, or do you think it's, it's inherent in in just being the adult, that it's the problem that we have this.
Peter Gray: Well, i think in in I can speak primarily from the viewpoint of being in the United States and which is different from different from Scandinavia. Certainly this Scandinavians my understanding and correct me if I'm wrong. Children are still pretty free to play outdoors, that they can go ride their bike, they can play in the park, they can take public transportation without an adult. In the in the United States They really can't do that, and the reason they can't is that the whole society and I don't blame parents anymore than I blame anybody else for this The whole society Has come to the conclusion that a parent who allows their child to go and play in the park without an adult watching them, allows their child to take a bicycle to school even we're even the 12 year old or 13 year old child, let alone a much younger child that that is a negligent parent And in fact, parents have been arrested for allowing their Danish woman in New.
Cecilie Conrad: York City. That's like 20 years ago. So we have the culture of this wagon with the babies in. In Scandinavia we leave them outdoors for sleeping and we would leave this carrier outside a cafe restaurant in the street of, obviously within sight. But we would leave our children there. And I was the Danish woman. I think it's 20 years ago. She was arrested in New York City because she popped in for a coffee while the child was sleeping. This happens.
Peter Gray: There are people who have been arrested because they because, on a cloudy day, with the current windows open, they the child didn't want to go into the store with the mom, so the mom went into the store, leaving the child in the car and the mom being arrested for that. So this is you know, this is you've got to drag your.
Cecilie Conrad: You've got to drag your child with it.
Peter Gray: Yeah, i mean, this used to be common. All the time Kids didn't want to. You know, the mom just needed to go in and get something and didn't want to drag the kids in, and so. But now we've, we've become so. So this is, you know, we. We begin there were. This really began in the 1980s. This trend began in the 1980s. There were two cases in the United States of young boys being abducted who were playing outdoors and one of them was murdered. Two cases, so you know this is out of millions and millions.
Cecilie Conrad: The president was saying that million children was adopted each year. I just heard that, yeah.
Peter Gray: Yeah, so the result of that was the result of that was that a huge campaign against allowing your children to be outdoors. Parents, because of that campaign, you know, you would hear on the radio, you would hear public service announcements. Do you know where your child is? now you know, and if the implication is, you're a negligent parent if you don't. And so that changed people's views of what proper parenting is. So proper parenting means that you always know you were, your child is you, and, and, and the belief got spread that this is very common, that there are all these weird people out there in the world who want to steal your child, molester, child, whatever it is.
Peter Gray: The truth of the matter is these crimes are extraordinarily rare. They never were very common. They're more rare now than ever, partly because children aren't outdoors, admittedly, but they're extraordinarily rare, you know. But the truth is, anything can happen. You can get hit by lightning. It's extraordinarily unlikely, but it can happen, right and so.
Peter Gray: So parents have this vision in their mind that if their child is out there, something terrible could happen. Some terrible person could snatch their child away. There's also a lot of fear of traffic, but Traffic isn't the primary motivator, because even in areas where there essentially is no traffic, or no more traffic than there was when I was a kid in the 1950s. Parents are still not letting their kids out. So it's a change in what is regarded as moral. You're regarded as an immoral parent, as an as an unfit parent. If you don't have somebody supervising your child all the time, and once it becomes a moral issue, common sense kind of goes out the window. You know, you just feel like you're doing something wrong. Your neighbors are going to. Your neighbors are going to feel like you're doing something wrong and, god forbid, they may even call the police And this does occasionally happen.
Peter Gray: So the another thing that we're doing through the let grow organization is we're trying to change this, we're trying to change this through the state legislators, so let legislature processes. So what we've been doing is promoting kind of lobbying for laws that we call Reasonable independence laws there they're more informally often called the free range, free range kids laws which state where the legislators passes a law that is essentially, essentially says that in this state, parents have the right to decide if if an activity is safe for their child or not. Parents can't be convicted of a crime unless it's obvious to any reasonable observer that what they've done, that that this is an unsafe situation. So if you were to leave a, an infant, in the park all night, that clearly would be negligence. But that, but having a 10 year old and a six year old play together in the park, that would not be so.
Peter Gray: So there's always big debate. We've we've passed this law in several states already now and We're trying to change the culture in those places because at least the parents feel that they're not going to be, they're not going to have their kids taken away from them, they're not going to be put in jail or they're not going to be fine if they allow their child to do these things, and so it's encouraging more parents in those states to do it. We're now this is just coming up in another state, in Virginia, and we're going to be lobbying with the Virginia legislature for that kind of a change.
Cecilie Conrad: This really. I'm sorry, i'm just baffled. Is this really true? like kids in America, if they live in walking distance from small forest, let's say they can't go by themselves.
Peter Gray: That's right.
Cecilie Conrad: They wouldn't just go, and you know.
Peter Gray: There are. There are, you know, let me, let me tell you how extreme this is. So I live, i live in a suburban area where there's essentially never a crime. I know there are kids living here, living in this area. I never see them. The only time I ever saw them was during the COVID lockdown, when they would be outside playing in their yard but, other than that.
Peter Gray: Now I never see them. What I do see is parents sitting with the child waiting for the school bus. They're sitting with the child. The child is even out there by themselves, and these are sometimes 10 or 11 year old children. I also see them parents whose house is a little back from the street. They'll drive their car up to the street. They'll sit in the car and wait for. Even when it's not raining. They'll sit in the car, wait for the child to get off the school bus and then drive back up their driveway to their house. This is the norm in the United States.
Peter Gray: Not even, not even not even trusting your child to get off the school bus and run up your driveway to your house. I mean, this is, this is insane, it's absolutely insane.
Jesper Conrad: I'm like just shut what about older?
Cecilie Conrad: What if they are like 14.?
Peter Gray: So even 14 year olds, you don't see it.
Jesper Conrad: I think that there are some.
Peter Gray: There are some kids by the time they're 14, by the time they're in high school. There are some kids who are walking to school.
Cecilie Conrad: I mean they can drive, and when they're 16 and they're- 16, some of them are now driving to school.
Peter Gray: Isn't that crazy that somehow suddenly you go from not being allowed to ride a bicycle or walk to school to now you can drive to school and endanger other people?
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, no it's true. I'm not sure that you can drive to school.
Peter Gray: So this is. And then you go to college and you're and you have not had experience being independent and one of the things that's happening. This is a huge deal. I wrote a blog People are interested wrote a blog post on this a few years ago. But there, but there is really a crisis in you, in American universities. It's the crisis of young people going off to college who are not yet prepared to take on the adult responsibilities of college. They are emotionally fragile. They aren't used to. They aren't used to being in a situation where, where they, they might be called bad names. They might be, you know this gets called bully. They might be. They. They have breakdowns about, about issues that they, that they that are, you know that are hard to deal with like. So, for example, a romantic breakup might be cause for such depression among a college student today that they'll say I can't go to classes, i need, i they'll, they'll need, they need psychotherapy to deal with this, and so on and so forth. Well, you know, a romantic breakup, breakup with your boyfriend or girlfriend, that's hard, it is hard, it is, but it's something that, let's say.
Peter Gray: You've been a kid growing up in a normal, what used to be a normal kid environment. Your best friend today hates you tomorrow. You're used to it. You're used to it in some sense. It's hard but you're used to it and you know it isn't the end of the world. And so you you're used to you've.
Peter Gray: You've been bullied to some degree, but you figure out how to deal with bullies. When you're out there with other kids on your own, you you get lost and you find your way home. You fail at some of the things you want to do, you get tease, you get all these things. This is, these are kind of hard things to deal with, but by dealing with them you learn how to deal with them. And you're learning how to deal with them when they're somewhat smaller issues than when you're older And you and and that's how children grow up to have kind of resilience and a certain kind of mental toughness that allows them not to have emotional breakdowns.
Peter Gray: Right now we college students are having the college counseling services and therapy services are overwhelmed. Huge numbers of students suffering from anxiety, from depression, relatively high rates of suicide, suicidal ideation These are all at record levels, not just among college students, among younger kids too. But it's very much affecting the environment of the of higher education right now. But this is what happens when we over protect children. As they're growing up, they don't learn how to protect themselves. They don't learn how to protect themselves.
Cecilie Conrad: So that takes us back to the education of the parents, because it seems to me that the parental strategy that you describe as parents maybe not being emotionally ready to be parents I mean, you love your children to the moon and back, but you have to face the fact that life is sometimes tough and you can't protect them from everything. They have to actually experience something, and very often something not very nice, and then they grow up and maybe your role as the parent is to be there while they experience all these things, like a resonance thing or bouncing someone, to talk to, someone to help you, someone to hold you, and then, when you're like 15 or 20, you're ready to do it by yourself.
Peter Gray: That's exactly right.
Cecilie Conrad: From everything, then they have no experience.
Peter Gray: This is exact. This is the message that we're trying to get out, and so you know, we've been through a period where parents think that they're being good parents, they're doing something good, they're protecting their child, they love their child. They're protecting their child. They don't want their child to be bullied, they don't want their, they don't want their child to be risked, they don't want their child to get injured. They're protecting their child. They're doing a good thing And the educational system believes it's doing a good thing. They believe in academic education and they believe more academic education is better than less academic education. So here we've got people doing what they think is a good thing, but what they don't recognize is too much of it is not a good thing, and so they keep doing more and more of it. And so the and we need to reverse this. We need to start reversing it, and so we're trying. We're trying very hard to get the message out.
Peter Gray: I would love to get this message in the United States to pediatricians. I've just submitted and it's under review and article in the Journal of Pediatrics, because many, at least in the United States, many parents get their parenting advice from their pediatricians. They take their kids to the pediatrician even all the way through teenage years. And if I could get pediatricians to talk to parents about. You know it's important to protect your child from real dangers, but it's also important that children, as they're growing up, experience more and more independence. And if pediatricians could have discussions with their parents you know in your neighborhood and given your child and so on, what are the kinds of things that your child might be able to do more on his or her own? Could they walk to school? Could they go out and play without an adult there? Could they do this and to start engaging, get pediatricians.
Peter Gray: The whole, the point of this article that I've written is that the a lot of the suffering that children are engaged in is that children are experiencing now is the result of their, the children, not developing what researchers call an internal locus of control, a sense that I I am. I have the power to solve my own problems. I have the power to do things on my own, to take initiative. I can protect myself. I am not a victim of the outside world. I you know things can happen to me and I can deal with that. That's the, that's an internal locus of control. Research has shown that has declined. Understandably that there are, there are ways of testing this locus of control. Internal locus of control has declined. Children more and more feel like they're victims of situations that they can't control. Understandably if they're not allowed to learn how to control situations.
Cecilie Conrad: Well, it's true, kind of.
Peter Gray: It is true. So they don't, they don't, they're not allowed to have control, so then they don't have it. They believe that they could have control if they had the had the opportunity.
Cecilie Conrad: So this so if we could, get.
Peter Gray: So if we could get pediatricians to understand this and start working with parents, that would be one way of educating parents.
Cecilie Conrad: That's a good plan. That's a really good plan.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, peter, what, what is it? I read your book recently And I know that you you started this dive down this road due to your son and moving him to the South Barrow Valley School, but now your son is a grownup and you still keep fighting this fight. So what, what is it that keep the fire ignited in you? Why is it? you continue, and I'm very happy you do, yes.
Peter Gray: Well, i think, i think that the primary motivation, you know, there's maybe it's an ego thing to believe that you can help change the world.
Peter Gray: But you can't You know I grew up in a family of idealists. You know we were. We were a relatively we're working class family, but my parents were always involved wherever we lived and trying to make the community better. They grew up believing that's part of what life should be, as you should be, working to make the world better And, and so this is a way that you know I'm feeling and I also think you know.
Peter Gray: Once you see it, once, once you see that self directed education works, once you, once you look at it in this way, it becomes so obvious And you begin to think well, everybody ought to see this, this ought to be obvious to people. The things we've been talking about here, that children need you know what? shouldn't it be obvious that children need experiences? I mean, the whole purpose of childhood is to learn how to be independent. If you're never have experience being independent, you're not going to learn how to be an adult, you're not going to learn how to be independent. So these things seem so obvious that it it then. Then you really you feel like you look at kids and look at those kids getting on the school bus with their parents sitting there in the car, and my heart goes out to those kids, you know, and so you feel like you've really got to work on this.
Peter Gray: And the other thing, of course, is that you know, at first, when I did the study of the Sudbury Valley School many years ago, i was a concerned parent. I wanted to know if my child would be okay going to such a difficult school. I knew he would be happy there. He was happy there, but would he be able to make a living as an adult If he wanted to go on to higher education? could he? I had the same questions any parent would have who would think of doing something. So rather, you probably had.
Peter Gray: You probably had questions when you decided you know, and so so, and there hadn't been any, any studies of children who had done such education, any systematic studies of what they done. So it was academically very interesting to me And then I got academically interested in how children learn, so there. So not only is there the cause, but there's a real academic interest on my part on what are the what, what are the instincts that children come into the world with that allow them to learn on their own? their curiosity, their playfulness, their desire to take control, their willfulness, their desire to grow up, these are part of normal human nature. And to study this part of human nature and how it plays itself out in different situations, i did a little study of children in hunter gatherer cultures by interviewing anthropologists who had studied hunter gatherer cultures. And so there are always more questions, the role of age, mixing, and so there are. So there are academic motives as well as as human justice motives for my, for my doing this work.
Cecilie Conrad: I think it's amazing you do it.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, i wouldn't risk questioning, i'm very thankful for you, peter, because I remember when Cecilia came and had read your book all those years back and wanted us to start down this road, i was the normal dad who was like at work and the public school system was good enough for me. What is this nonsense you're talking about? And the long story short is 10 years down the road we've there's so many doors that has opened for us that we didn't need to put our child children to a school, meant that we could actually live a location independent life. We were forced to be next to a school for all these years And we've taken that to the extreme by having this full time traveling lifestyle together with our children and and you are among the people we have just thanks for that. So I'm very grateful for all your work.
Peter Gray: I'm glad to hear that. It is interesting to me that it seems like, in general, moms are more ready for this than dads are. I've heard from many moms who say thank you for your book. I gave it to my husband and it finally convinced him to go in this.
Cecilie Conrad: It's been 10 years to finally read it.
Jesper Conrad: But it's a trust problem from the parents sometimes. We also need it when we sometimes consult people that that they do not they, they are afraid they.
Cecilie Conrad: But that's the general problem we're talking about, about parents and the whole climate around the child teachers, parents, pediatricians, like that they don't trust the child to to go out and get some bruises and find his or her own way, because what we are afraid that we didn't do it well enough, that that we were like not not good enough parents. Maybe that our children get hurt in the way that can never be fixed, maybe that we made the wrong choices for our children. Now we have to live with the fact that we ruined their life. It's it's like really scary questions and I think most parents never really get to stop and think about that. This is this is a big chunk of inner work that we have to do if we want to have children. We have to live with this. We have this responsibility. Even though I believe in the freedom of my children and they're right to make their own choices, it's still somewhat my responsibility that they have a good life.
Peter Gray: I think that's right, i think I think that we work sometimes the truth of the matter is, i think, that parents have less influence than most people think parents have. your kids are going to be your kids are going to be who they are, and and there's this concept of a good enough parent. a good enough parent, you know, doesn't, doesn't beat the child, doesn't, you know, provides for the child, is there for the child, and so on and so forth. And oftentimes I think the good enough parent is is the best parent. the parents who try to be, who try to be super parents, they're the ones who are doing too much for their child, who are protecting their child too much, who are trying to control the child because they see the child as their product. And I think the better attitude towards a child is that. you know, this is somebody who's come and visited, somebody who's entered our home, and our job is not to shape this person, not to tell this person who they are, but to help this person find out who they are, to provide for this person what they seem to need and want to understand this person. this is a person, this is a stranger who's entered our home and who is in some sense dependent on us, very clearly dependent on us when young and but is going to ultimately leave, is going to ultimately move on. You know, whereas ideally your spouse is with you forever, it's kind of almost appropriate to say my spouse is my better half, but it's not appropriate to say that about your child. your child is your child is an independent person, is going to be going on leaving, leaving your home. Hopefully it'll still be a loving relationship, you'll see, but you can't guarantee that, and so, and also you have no, no matter, no matter. I think one here's something that I really think is one of the things that that that leads many families to, who even come to the intellectual understanding that maybe home schooling or on schooling, or a democratic school would be better for my child than the typical school.
Peter Gray: I think there's a, there's a way of thinking that I even went through when my child, when the, when the question arose with my child and it's it's this. Suppose something awful happens with my child. Suppose my child developmentally, suppose my child grows up to be insane in some way, have schizophrenia, or becomes a criminal, or becomes unemployed, whatever. Suppose that happens, if I've done all the usual things, if I've sent my child to the typical school, and that happens, i'm not likely to be blamed for it. I did all right things in people's minds, but if I did something unusual, i sent it. I homeschooled them, i sent them to Sudbury Valley, i did this or that. Then the fear is I don't know if this would really happen, but the fear is aha, that's Well I can't know if it would really happen, but chances are it would.
Cecilie Conrad: I mean, i feel, i really clearly feel that we stand How would I phrase this? Like we're being judged much harder And if my child has tomato sauce on his t-shirt, it's just tomato sauce on the t-shirt. It happens all the time.
Cecilie Conrad: But I'm being looked at. My children can't have like red logs or holes on their knees, or because we are being looked at in a different way, because we homeschooled And we had to face that at some point and we talked to the children about it. You're going out there in the world, everybody knows that you're the on-school homeschool children, you're representing the tribe or whatever, and you have to look good and behave.
Peter Gray: I think that's right And I think that's a really significant issue. My son calls it defensive parenting. That we parents, we want to. Part of our way we parent is dictated by our feeling about how other people will judge us, And it's everything from where you send your child to school or don't send your child to school, to things like on the playground. If your child gets messy or your child is rowdy or does something looks risky, How are the other parents judging you for allowing your child to do that? And would you and you step in, not because you really think you have to step in for your child's sake, but you step in because you don't want the other parents even if they're parents who don't know you, you know to be judging you negatively. I think this is a strong phenomenon.
Cecilie Conrad: That's what's driving the whole fear-based parenting of the states that you just described with not being lit.
Jesper Conrad: Peter, we experienced a really weird change, as we have been on-schooling for more than 10 years now, but the first five of them was in a normal suburb near Copenhagen. No, no, it was incognito, but we experienced much more judgment when we were the weird ones.
Cecilie Conrad: We have to explain ourselves all the time.
Jesper Conrad: But now when we travel full-time, people are like, oh, that's interesting, oh, that must be fun, and I'm like we're doing the same thing.
Cecilie Conrad: It's the exact same education. We're just moving around.
Jesper Conrad: But then the judgment became different. It was more, they were more interested.
Peter Gray: I did a study some years ago, along with my colleague, gina Riley, of unschooling families, was mostly moms who responded to the survey And one of our questions was what is the most difficult thing about unschooling? Far and away the most difficult thing in their response was exactly what you're talking about having to justify it to other people. And the second most difficult thing, almost as much, was having to justify it to myself. That voice in the back of your head that comes from other people, that comes from your own school, the school-y experiences that comes from the fact that for generations everybody's gone to school. It's telling you maybe I'm doing something crazy here, that you really have to work to get over that. So those were the.
Peter Gray: It wasn't that it's so hard to have the kids home or that it's so hard to have one parent not being able to work outside the house, because we need a parent home at least when the kids are young, and so on and so forth. That wasn't the big problem. It wasn't. Most of them were financially able to figure things out and so on and so forth. And it wasn't really concerned about their, about how their child was doing at this point, because they could see their child was doing fine. It was the fact that they and we also. We did a survey of grown unschoolers and we asked the unschoolers what's the biggest disadvantage? Not quite to the same degree as the parents, but they also said the biggest disadvantage is I get tired of having to explain this to everybody all the time you know Our 14 year old daughter, our 17 year old son.
Cecilie Conrad: they say it. they get really annoyed when they have to explain. The most annoying thing is the two most frequent questions they get, once they say they're not in school. First question is can you read? And this is like almost adults. Obviously I can read And in most cases they talk to people in their second language, which is in and of itself. And the second question is do you have any friends? It's just annoying and they have to explain this over and over, like these things that for us and for them are. obviously I can read. It's not that being the problem. Obviously I can talk to people. I'm talking to you right now. It's not like I don't have a social skill, so and it's the same thing over and over.
Cecilie Conrad: It's the same thing all the time. Can you read? Do you have any friends?
Peter Gray: It's interesting. Reading is an interesting issue because in school, as you know, children, i have yet to find somebody who doesn't learn to read by the time they're a teenage, by the time they're 18, let's say. But the age of learning how to read varies tremendously, even within the same family. one child will learn to read it four and another one will learn to read it 10 or 11. So it isn't too uncommon for a kid to not know how to read by the age that if they were in school they ought to be reading or they'd be way behind. That's not too uncommon, but it's not a problem, because whenever they do learn to read and for kids who don't learn to read later, i think it's largely because they've learned they're doing so many other interesting things that don't involve reading. They're developing other kinds of abilities, other parts of their brain, and so on and so forth.
Cecilie Conrad: It's actually hard to stop them.
Peter Gray: I mean, what would you?
Cecilie Conrad: do to make sure a child would not learn to read? It would take a lot of effort. actually, in this day, you're surrounded by texts all the time.
Peter Gray: I did a little informal study that was just through my Psychology Today blog, where I asked readers. I was looking for readers who had a child who had been diagnosed with dyslexia while they were in public school and who could not read while they were in public school and who was then taken out of public school for homeschooling or some kind of democratic schooling where reading wasn't an issue. And I asked them. So what I wanted to know is when you took the child out of school, what happened with their reading? So these were people diagnosed with dyslexia, which people believe. It's not true. People believe this is a brain disorder that prevents children from being able to learn how to read, or that they could only learn how to read if they're trained by a specialist who knows exactly how to train them, somebody who has this disorder.
Peter Gray: Well, i forget exactly how many responses I got, but it was about 15 responses, 12 or 15 responses, something like that, maybe a bias sample. But in every single case that responded they said my child learned to read after I took them out of school, but not necessarily right away. And what was interesting to me is every one of them said the primary problem why my child wasn't reading was anxiety. The child was so frightened of reading. The child even like, if you're a slow reader, if you haven't learned how to read, when the other kids can read, and you're being called on to read in front of everybody, that's terrifying, you know, and you can't do it. That's terrifying. So you develop this mental block and then if you get a diagnosis dyslexia that's almost a relief. This is an explanation.
Jesper Conrad: And off the hook.
Peter Gray: This is you're off the hook. Yeah, oh, i've got dyslexia, so so, so, and then and then there, and then there's, and once you've got dyslexia, then sort of the motivation to learn how to read. I can't learn how to read, my brain is not capable of it. So, at any rate, what happens with all of these, what the parents said, one parent after another is what I had to do was not ask him to read, not tell him to read. I read to him I. I, some of them initially tried to teach reading and they backed off because the child wouldn't do it. The child hates reading, doesn't want to do it. But everyone, if they backed off, they waited till the child wanted to learn to read. Some of the children just taught themselves. The parents didn't even know how they learned to read. They learned to read And others asked for some help. Two or three of them used the kind of program that's been designed for dyslexia, but most of them did not. But even that program was useless until the child was ready to overcome to want to learn how to read and no longer was terrified by the idea of learning to read.
Peter Gray: In my study of the graduates of the Sudbury Valley School too, there were. This was a long time ago. There were two of the graduates of the school who both told me they had come to the school unable to read, diagnosed with dyslexia. They had come at age 15, they couldn't read at age 15. Both of them told me they'd come at different times in the history of the school. Both of them told me that they learned how to read within a few months of being at Sudbury Valley And I asked them well, how could that happen? And both of them told me, in different words, essentially this. One of them put it in exactly these words for the first time in my life, nobody cared if I could read And that was such a relief.
Peter Gray: So what I can picture is I overcame my fear of it. It doesn't matter. People would say, oh, that's cool, you can't read, you must have a great memory. So then they could learn to read because it was no longer afraid. And both of them did ask for some help and the staff member helped them a little bit. They did nothing like the training that occurs in school, but just a little help, pointing out that the letters have sounds and so on, and they picked it up and learned to read. Both of them went on to higher education without any kind of a disability label and did well.
Peter Gray: So you know, i've become convinced that a lot of what we call learning in the United States I don't know how it is in parts of Europe, but in the United States huge numbers of children get diagnosed with one or another kind of learning disability And I'm sure that these are school-induced and largely anxiety, and a lot of it comes from trying to teach children skills too young, when they're still they're not ready for it. Some kids are ready for it, some kids really. They're interested in learning how to read And they do learn. Many kids learn how to read before they ever start school Pretty much on their own.
Peter Gray: But most kids aren't really interested in learning how to read when they're six or five or six or seven, but by the time they're seven or eight or nine most kids are, but some kids aren't, until they're older than that.
Cecilie Conrad: But we have stories like that within our own group of four children. We have the one she was interested. But the day she started in that school I described earlier And the day she started she said now I'm in school, now I can read And magically it was true. It was really fun, rider, which is like she's a great success with that. We never really taught her a lot. The second child decided he would never read.
Cecilie Conrad: Found it the most old class ever And we had to, with our first home school child, face this Thank you for your books. Challenge of just being okay with it. He was, I think, 13. When he decided now there is this book, I cannot get it as an audiobook And it's not being translated into my language, So I will, A have to learn to speak English and B have to learn to read to get the second book in the series. So he decided to do that And he did it, which is quite amazing. And the third child had learned to read long before that, because she just learned it by herself when she was four. Okay, And the fourth, we thought we had another late reader because he was eight and not reading. Well, he was seven and not reading and not interested in not doing anything particular about it. But at that time we started traveling all over Europe And when he finally started reading the same week he was eight. He started reading in three languages.
Peter Gray: Wow So.
Cecilie Conrad: I think that was the explanation. Even though it's the same system, it's not exactly the same system. The letters don't produce the same sounds in the different languages. and all this So he could read in English, danish and Spanish the same week.
Peter Gray: Amazing.
Cecilie Conrad: So I'm just saying this like for the listeners to hear that there's so many different circumstances and personalities and ways this happens And in my experience, please leave the children alone with this. They will read just as they walk. We don't teach them to walk. We don't have to teach them to read. We answer their questions just as we hold their hand when they're small and they want to be held, and then they learn to walk just as they learn to read. It's such a big issue for homeschoolers. I wish it wasn't such a waste of time and worry.
Peter Gray: It is a waste of time and worry. I think part of the issue is if you're in school, if you're going to a typical school, then it truly is important that you learn how to read by second or third grade at latest, because you'll be hopelessly behind if you don't. Everything depends on reading, everything you do in the classroom depends on reading, and so and you will get labeled, you will get, and there's even research showing that late readers who are in school are boys at least who are late readers are much more likely to become delinquents in various ways, get into crime, do drugs and alcohol and so on as they become teenagers, than kids who learn to read on schedule. So, really, if you're in a typical school, it is actually very important that your child learn to read. But if you're not in a typical school, there's so many ways to learn, and that's especially true today. I mean, kids are using YouTube so many ways to learn, so many interesting things to do that there's no reason to worry about it. And reading is not. There's no critical period for learning to read. You can learn to read at any age. There are people who you know not that I'm a big supporter of Fidel Castro's Cuba. But Castro wiped out illiteracy in Cuba in a few years by sending school to children out to live with the peasants and teach them how to read. You know they could learn how to read at any age. So there's no, and reading isn't that difficult, i mean, compared to learning your native language, reading is simple. It's just kind of a code for putting your language into it. It's not that And the fact that kids can learn to read.
Peter Gray: My son was an early reader. He could, and it was somewhat of a mystery to me how he learned. In retrospect I can see it. But he could read well before he was four. He could read reasonably well by the time he was three. But he could. He was reading and it was clear that he got in. He got in and who knows why somebody gets interested in reading. But I assume he was interested in reading because I was a graduate student. All the time I was reading, all the time.
Peter Gray: His mom was a big reader. She read to him a lot And so he came into the world, probably looking around and saying, well, reading seems to be what people do in this world. I better learn how to read. They don't seem to do much else I better learn how to read. And he taught the way he taught himself to read. We lived in New York City at the time and I'd carry him in a backpack and his mom did too and she was out and he'd be looking the same direction. We were looking And I think it was probably his first actual word was what's that say? And he'd point to a sign and say what's that say?
Jesper Conrad: And I'd say I'd say exit.
Peter Gray: It says exit. So his actual first reading word was exit And he'd ask that. and then he does the same thing about cereal boxes In the morning. he'd point to the words on the box and say what's that say? So he was getting our help, but he was insisting on the help. He was asking for it. We were trying to teach him how to read. He was teaching himself how to read and using us for that purpose.
Peter Gray: There have now been studies of so-called precocious readers, readers who learned before they're of school age, and that seems to be the rule. It doesn't seem to be the case that these are kids whose parents decided I'm going to start teaching them to read when they're two or three years old. These are kids who the parents discover that this child could read and they see that the child is asking for help in these kinds of ways. And then at some point, when the child is reading and you know the child enjoys books, you start getting books from the library for the child to read. But this can you know. on the other hand, I'll give you another story at the other, the opposite end, that the farthest opposite end that I'm aware of.
Peter Gray: I used to say that there's never been a graduate of Sudbury Valley School who couldn't read. And then somebody found me who turns out was a graduate of Sudbury Valley School And he said I left the school not able to read. I was 18 years old and I couldn't read. I defended my thesis there orally. You have to defend a thesis in order to graduate. that says that you're basically on to go on.
Peter Gray: But after I graduated I decided to go to college And so I knew I had to learn how to read. So I spent a couple of months after after school, after Sudbury Valley, learning how to read. He went on to major in philosophy of all things. You know he reads really highfalutin philosophy books. he went on to start up. he's now the founder of a school that's model left, a learning center that's in some ways model after Sudbury Valley. But he's a big reader, more so than I am, and so it shows that you can. you can learn how to read anytime, and it's no big loss if you don't learn to read until considerably later in life than most people learn how to read.
Cecilie Conrad: I agree And I wish that everybody knew, because it's such a waste of good quality time of childhood to sit there and rehearse the alphabet and read out loud when they are not ready, when it's not right Enough parenting ease.
Jesper Conrad: I remember being so afraid that with my boy who first started to read at 13, i was like when will we learn?
Cecilie Conrad: You were really scared, yeah, yeah.
Jesper Conrad: And that was of the outside judgment. Oh, your home school son cannot read and it was a great challenge.
Cecilie Conrad: There was our first homeschool child and he said it out loud I'm not going to learn to read, just so you know. And then his sister learned to read and he said now I have even less reason to read. If I need anything, i'll just ask my sister.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, but it's about time We would like to.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, i have another big theme, so I think I'll call you back for another talk.
Peter Gray: Well, this has been fun, So I've enjoyed talking with you.
Jesper Conrad: But people want to dive deeper into reading all your different work. Where would you just yesterday should go?
Peter Gray: Well, so they should go to my Psychology Today blog. So I do a blog called Freedom to Learn for Psychology Today. There are about 210 essays that I've written on these kinds of topics there that are available, but also for people who want to read any of my academic writings and my academic writings are very readable. I write pretty much in a way that anybody, anybody who can read, can read them Right.
Cecilie Conrad: The one they can hear them as they are available. Is the audio books actually.
Peter Gray: Yeah, my book is an audio book, But yeah, but the my academic articles are also. Many of them are available on the Psychology Today blog. So if you go to the author page which is not always obvious how to get to the author page, but if you click, if you go to any of my blog posts and click on my photo, it takes you to the author page And in the left hand column are PDFs of many of my published academic articles And so those can, those are available.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, And if you want to know more about the two organizations Self-Directed and the other one So they're pretty easy to find.
Peter Gray: So the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, ASDE. you can just Google Alliance for Self-Directed Education. The website has a lot of information. There are many you can find there. There are a lot of resources for people involved in on-schooling or for people wanting to start a democratic school, that kind of thing. And the other is Let Grow, And it's just if you just type in Let Grow as one word, letgroworg, you come to the website for that.
Cecilie Conrad: We put the links in the show.
Jesper Conrad: We'll put the links in the show now And thanks a lot for your time.
Cecilie Conrad: Thank you very much Thank.
Peter Gray: you. Have a great day. Bye-bye.
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