i-can™ Book of the Month: Free to Learn

Here’s a riddle for you.  What is…

* fun AND serious,
* free AND guided by rules
* can be both easy AND hard to find

The answer? Play!

January’s  i-can™ Book of the Month takes us into the intersection of children’s instincts to play and modern childhood in the western world.


The Book
Peter Gray’s Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life


What it’s about
Children have a natural inclination toward play, which is how they learn about the world around them. Hunter and gatherer children spent almost their entire day at play without adult direction. That play helped them learn the essential skills they needed to survive and thrive as adults, including hard skills (eg. basket weaving, hunting, child care) and soft skills (eg. negotiation, responsibility, how to ask for help).

As our society has changed from Hunter/gatherer to agricultural to industrial, the way children spend their days has also changed mostly at the expense of play. Gray examines how and why the change has occurred, what it means for modern childhood including education, and what a parent who wants to develop a more “trusting” style can do about it.


i-can™ Take-a-ways

  1. Many of the skills our society values most cannot be taught through lecture or memorization.  They must be learned through practice. If we value self-directed, independent, pro-social adults, we must give children significant opportunities to practice self-direction, independence, and pro-social skills.
  2. Play is not frivolous.  Genuine play is the natural way children learn.  In the book Gray defines play as having five characteristics including “(1) play is self-chosen and self-directed; (2) play is activity in which means are more valued than ends; (3) play has structure or rules that are not dictated by physical necessity but emanate from the minds of the players; (4) play is imaginative, nonliteral, mentally removed in some way from “real” or “serious” life; and (5) play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind.” (page 140)
  3. Having a “trusting parenting style” is not easy in modern society, but you can learn.

Dive in if…

you want to know why modern education looks the way it does and what a possible alternative that focuses on student-driven learning looks like.


you’ve ever watched a group of children playing a game with rules you in no way understood and thought, “what ARE they doing?” (Spoiler: a lot!)



Next steps: 
Even if you don’t choose to pick up this book, as believers in the power of play (it’s actually one of Imagineerz’ core values) we have a challenge for you. Find at least an hour this week to engage in genuine play AND if you have a child encourage them to do the same even if something gets left out.  

If you’d like some suggestions on how to incorporate play into your day-to-day, check out our post on “found fun.”

Happy playing!

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