“Psychology Today” Wants Unschooled Learning Stories

7 01 2010

for Peter Gray’s Freedom to Learn blog. Talk about power of story! 🙂

Peter Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College who has conducted and published research in comparative, evolutionary, developmental, and educational psychology. He has published articles on innovative teaching methods and alternative approaches to education. He is currently working on a book about the lifelong nature and functions of human play, tentatively titled Born to Play.

He wants whatever you’re sharing within the next two or three weeks and notes that overcoming problems as well as “success” stories are welcome. Just reading through the kinds of learning he finds most interesting made all sorts of stories pop into my head. For young parents and teachers whose stories haven’t been written yet, his thumbnail categories make a good case for unschooling I think, for learning at any age based on relationships and trust rather than carrots, sticks and other imposed controls (remind me to connect this with Dan Pink’s new book as we discuss):

Here are some topics that particularly interest me, about which I especially invite you to write:

Learning to read without schooling. I am interested in how children learn to read in situations where they have no or little formal instruction in reading. I know that this occurs within a wide range of ages for children at Sudbury schools and in unschooling environments. . .

Learning math without schooling. Some young self-educators learn math because they love it. Others learn it because they want to go to college and have to take the math SAT, or because they need to know it to pursue some other interest that intrigues them. . .

From play to careers: How interests developed in play become career paths. Many lucky people find that their play, done at first purely for fun, evolves into a joyful way of making a living. I’m especially interested in cases where children or adolescents developed passionate interests through their play and then, as they grew older, found ways to make a living by pursuing those interests.

Becoming an expert through one’s own initiative. This topic overlaps with the previous one, but includes cases where the area of expertise is not necessarily a career path. How do people on their own initiative become extraordinarily skilled at some endeavor or extraordinarily knowledgeable about some subject? What seems to motivate them and how do they learn?

Age-mixed play and friendships: Contributions to children’s and adolescents’ learning. Dan Greenberg, at Sudbury Valley School, has long claimed that free age mixing is the key to education at the school, and my research tends to confirm that. What stories do you have about age-mixed friendships and interactions and the roles they played in someone’s education? I’m interested in the benefits to the older participants as well as to the younger ones, and I’m particularly interested in cases where the age differences are substantial (3 years or more).

Roles of adults in children’s and adolescents’ self-directed learning. Some readers have wondered about the appropriate roles of adults in young people’s learning. Adults can sometimes be intrusive, in unwelcome ways, and thereby interfere with children’s and adolescents’ experiences of self direction and initiative. I am interested here in ways by which adults can be helpful without being intrusive. For example, I am interested in apprenticeships and mentoring, whether formal or informal, where the initiative came from the young person.

Fantasy play: Listening to little actors and directors. Young children engage in elaborate fantasy play. If you can listen to their play–or even tape record it–and then talk about what you learn from it, you may have a fascinating story to tell. What themes do they play at and how does the play relate to real life? What sorts of negotiations go on in setting up the play and in altering it as the play progresses? What do you think children are learning in the play you observed?

Making and enforcing rules at home. One concern of many people who strive to be trustful parents (see posts of July 29 and August 5, 2009) is that of how to maximize children’s autonomy and self-direction at home while still maintaining order and ensuring that their own (the parents’) rights are respected. How has your family approached this concern? What roles do your children play in setting household rules and how well do the rules work?

Frisky cock of the snook to the unschoolingbasics yahoo list for the link this morning.



7 responses

7 01 2010

re: “Learning to read without schooling”

lol – I’m not sure that I was even in the room at the time that Daughter learned to read. In fact, for a million dollars, I couldn’t tell you how it happened. :S

7 01 2010

Exactly the story he should hear! 😀

(It was pretty much the same way around here, even more so with Young Son because after FavD I wasn’t the least concerned or hardly watching . . .)

8 01 2010
Crimson Wife

I didn’t know that Daniel Pink had a new book out, will have to see if the library has a copy.

I can’t figure out if my 4 y.o. DS knows how to read. My oldest was very obvious about it as she loves being the center of attention. My boy has a very different personality. I didn’t know he knew his letters until one day he decided to point them out to me. Now he’ll occasionally say something that I can’t for the life of me figure out how he knew unless he read it. And he’ll certainly sit there very intently looking at books. But he’s never chosen to read anything out loud, so I really don’t know whether or not he can actually do it.

8 01 2010
Nance Confer

He reads but doesn’t have anything to prove? 🙂


8 01 2010

And reading like love or happiness — or enjoying vegetables 😉 — is a journey, not a binary on-off switch.

26 01 2010

I did send a couple of stories and got a personal note back from Peter Gray that he appreciated them and might well have use for them:

Spreading the request for stories
Submitted by JJ Ross on January 16, 2010 – 8:16am.

Our unschooling blog is helping to share the call too:
Psychology Today Wants Unschooled Learning Stories

I am sending you a success story of my son’s bagpipe learning and a challenge story of my daughter’s math learning. So happy to participate!

JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Unschooling two since late last century 🙂

26 02 2010
Children Teaching Themselves to Read: Psychology Today Post Goes Up « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Teaching Themselves to Read: Psychology Today Post Goes Up 26 02 2010 Remember the Psychology Today “Freedom to Learn” call for unschooling stories? Peter Gray’s first post reporting some of what was sent in about the first question he posed […]

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