Free to Learn

Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life


By Peter Gray

Read by Dan Woren

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 20, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A leading expert in childhood development makes the case for why self-directed learning — “unschooling” — is the best way to get kids to learn. In Free to Learn, developmental psychologist Peter Gray argues that in order to foster children who will thrive in today’s constantly changing world, we must entrust them to steer their own learning and development. Drawing on evidence from anthropology, psychology, and history, he demonstrates that free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their lives, solve problems, get along with peers, and become emotionally resilient. A brave, counterintuitive proposal for freeing our children from the shackles of the curiosity-killing institution we call school, Free to Learn suggests that it’s time to stop asking what’s wrong with our children, and start asking what’s wrong with the system. It shows how we can act — both as parents and as members of society — to improve children’s lives and to promote their happiness and learning.


  • "Peter Gray...forces us all to rethink our convictions on how schools should be designed to accommodate the ways that children learn."
    Steven Pinker
  • "[Free to Learn is] a powerful agent of transformation. I'd like to put a copy in the hands of every parent, teacher, and poligcy maker."
  • "If you've ever wondered why your curious kid is turning into a sullen slog at school, Peter Gray's Free to Learn has the answer. He also has the antidote."
    Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids
  • "Weaving together evidence from psychology, history, and anthropology, [Gray] makes the case that compulsory schooling is not only misguided but deeply damaging, an affront to the playful instincts of childhood."
    Psychology Today
  • "Anyone who cares about learning should read Free to Learn. Gray's book is a compelling and easy read; if everyone would read it with an open mind, a wholesale revolution in education (right through to university) would be the inevitable outcome."
    Dissident Voice
  • "This is an extraordinary and relevant book for unschooling parents, and those who care about the well-being of the children in their lives."
    Home Education Magazine
  • "In Free to Learn, a passionate paean to the kind of free play and free learning exemplified by Smith's example, Peter Gray, an evolutionary psychologist at Boston College, makes a largely compelling case that children learn best when unencumbered by adult-imposed activities and institutions."
    American Journal of Play
  • "Free to Learn stimulates a parent's thinking about what kind of learning environment helps their child learn and adjust best, and then how to simulate that environment at home or out of school if it doesn't exist among their school options.... Gray has caused me to re-focus my grandparenting activities in ways that will encourage freedom of learning and play. We may not be able to change the world, but we can help our children adapt better to it."
  • "A great one...this important book makes a strong case for life learning."
    Life Learning Magazine
  • "Free to Learn is a courageous and profoundly important book. Peter Gray joins the likes of Richard Louv and Alfie Kohn in speaking out for a more humane, compassionate and effective approach to education"
    Frank Forencich, author of Exuberant Animal and Change Your Body, Change the World
  • "[An] interesting and engaging look at how children naturally learn."
    Forced Government Schooling (blog)
  • "[A] cogent advocacy for the central role of play in children's emotional, social, and intellectual development.... Free to Learn makes a good case for the importance of play as a renewable resource for school reform and transformation."
    Spirituality & Practice
  • "Free to Learn provides us with deep, carefully researched insights into the connections between freedom, learning and play.... [I]f you are involved with children, education, unschooling, free ranging, or anything having to do with play, Free to Learn is something you'll want to read, own, share, and give to everyone you know who cares about the lives of our children and the future of our world."
  • "Blending the traditions of J. Gary Bernhard's Primates in the Classroom and A. S. Neill's Summerhill, Peter Gray's Free to Learn combines evolutionary and cross-cultural insights with an account of the best in alternative education today. The result is a strong challenge to our prevailing modes of schooling, from the perspective of what is most natural for children: play."
    Melvin Konnor, Samual Cander Dobbs Professor of Anthropology, Emory University, and author of The Evolution of Childhood
  • "Peter Gray's message might seem too good to be true, but it rests upon a strong scientific foundation. Free to Learn can have an immediate impact on the children in your life."
    David Sloan Wilson, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology, Binghamton University, and author of Evolution for Everyone
  • "Peter Gray's Free to Learn is profoundly necessary as a fundamental illumination of the continuing tragedy and entrapment of both kids and their teachers in a generally failing and failed educational system.... Free to Learn is timely, paradigm shifting, and essential for our long term survival as adaptive humans."
    Stuart Brown, M.D., Founder and President, The National Institute for Play, and author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
  • "A compelling and most enjoyable read, Gray illustrates how removing play from childhood, in combination with increasing the pressures of modern-day schooling, paradoxically reduces the very skills we want our children to learn. The decline of play is serious business."
    Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, author of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards and A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool

On Sale
Mar 20, 2018
Hachette Audio

Peter Gray

About the Author

Peter Gray is a research professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College. The author of Psychology, a highly regarded college textbook, he writes a popular blog called Freedom to Learn for Psychology Today. He lives in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.

Learn more about this author