Last week, I had the opportunity to address a few topics with the Parents’ Association. We were slated to discuss the book Free to Learn by Peter Gray. I shared a few slides with quotes from the book and then drew a line between the messages about the Power of Play to the Harvard Study and a recent New York Times Op Ed piece.

I shared with the parents that as the faculty and I engage in and evaluate our professional development experiences, we always need to have the mindset that we may not love everything we hear or do, or may not find it all immediately relevant, but the goal is to find that nugget or two that allows us to inform our teaching practice, pivot just a little in the way we approach our students or just think differently about some aspect of our work. Walking away with a few kernels is time well spent. So this is also true for what we read. While we may not espouse all the messages in Peter Gray’s book, he does reinforce some of what we do know to be true about children and their work/play and what we can extract from them in new learning opportunities at school and at home. I shared his four conclusions about play:

  • Pressure to perform well interferes with new learning
  • Pressure to be creative interferes with creativity
  • Inducing a playful mood improves creativity and insightful problem solving
  • A playful state of mind enables young children to solve logic problems

In 2015, can we really afford to underestimate the power of social emotional learning, the value of free time to be creative and the absolute necessity for empathy? I don’t think so. To those who say that the only valuable activity in school is an academic activity, I would say that may have been true a few decades ago, but if we are to truly prepare our children for a changing world and for THEIR future, the ability to collaborate and the premium placed on empathy will only grow. Woe to the students who enter their adulthood thinking they are living an individual sport, a zero sum game where only one person can win.

The resources I referenced are here:



3 minute Rick Weissbourd video


About Kathleen McNamara Head's Up!

an educator in Independent Schools for over 28 years
This entry was posted in 21st Century Skills, academic excellence in elementary schools, childhood development, education and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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