John Holt and Fantasy


I’m writing another post about play because I’ve been thinking a lot about my kids’ and their friends’ amazing capacity for imaginative play, hour upon hour – and the challenge for adults (me) to hold that space for play, in an environment that doesn’t necessarily value children’s play beyond age five, certainly not as their main activity.

In December, I read How Children Learn, by John Holt. I don’t know what took me so long.

Even when fairly convinced of the benefits of play, it can be hard for us adults to understand what is happening when children are involved in imaginative play. Among John Holt’s brilliant observations, he writes about how children “use fantasy to make sense out of reality, make a mental model of reality that works.”

While developing a set of wood blocks to facilitate logic games, Holt’s friend Bill Hull invited kids, mostly five-year-olds, to play with the blocks in his lab. He found that if the kids were immediately given tasks, they worked “without joy or insight.” If, on the other hand, the kids played first, so that “some pieces would be mommies and daddies, some children; or they would be houses and cars… then the children would make various kinds of patterns, buildings” – then, when the children had “taken these materials into their minds, mentally swallowed and digested them, so to speak, they were then ready and willing to play very complicated games, that in the more organized and businesslike situation had left other children completely baffled. This proved to be… consistently true.”

I’m reminded of a quote from The Gardener and the Carpenter, by Alison Gopnik (I heard it on an Exploring Unschooling podcast episode, and I would like to read the book): “Children are tuned in to details of how of how parents act that you may not even notice. For example, preschoolers notice whether you say, ‘Let’s see what this does,’ or ‘Let me show you what this does.'”

I plan to make use of these observations whenever I want to introduce a new game, toy, or other activity into our house. Homeschooling is so interesting!

Our Own Stories

Fare of the Free Child

I asked Akilah S. Richards if she had any thoughts on my post Fragility and Freedom in Self-Directed Education.

An unschooling activist, Akilah Richard’s smart, wide-ranging podcast, Fare of the Free Child, pushed me to finally try homeschooling. It continues to guide my husband and me. As she describes it, “Fare of the Free Child is a weekly-published podcast community centering People of Color in liberatory living and learning practices.” I highly recommend it to anyone interested in alternative education and intentional living. Like Peter Gray, Akilah is a co-founder of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. Read more

Fragility and Freedom in Self-Directed Education

self-directed education

Recently, an acquaintance posted an article on Facebook titled “The Fragile Generation.” Her post, from the Libertarian journal Reason, quoted Peter Gray from the article. Gray is a psychologist, whose book Free to Learn, and articles on the importance of play and self-directed learning, influenced my decision to explore homeschooling with my children. My interest piqued, I saved the article to read later.

When I read the article, I was dismayed to find musings on freedom and fragility in childhood and young adulthood used to advance a different agenda altogether. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered these conflations before, and it motivated me to write this rather uncharacteristic blog post. Read more



As time passes and Rosh Hashanah brings around new year, I’ve been thinking about time.

The best aspect of homeschooling, so far, has been slowing down time. There is time to sleep. Time to play. Time to eat slowly. Time to stop and take a look. Time for one more time. In her Exploring Unschooling podcast, Pam Laricchia says one of the greatest gifts of unschooling is time. That rings true to me. Read more

Not Your Mother’s Math

Weekly Links

I want to share something that inspires me each week in my reading and listening about education, self-directed learning, etc.

Math. Of all subjects, math was the hardest for me to imagine kids learning through unschooling. Yet, it’s been the most fascinating, so far, to explore. So many smart people are thinking, researching, and creating resources for teaching math based on open-ended questions and creative solutions. I had no idea. Read more