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Chapter One their childhoods, pushing developmentally inappropriate practices, and preventing children from their most important task: playing. Let’s look at what happened to Gabby: Gabby sits in the middle of an old oak floor feeding a naked baby doll with a wooden block. Her legs crossed in front of her, she sways gently. A scabbed left knee—an apple tree climbing injury—pokes from under her brown and pink dress. Her bare toes wiggle the tune she is humming. After burping her baby with gentle back pats, she kisses its forehead and tucks it into a tattered shoe box for a nap. Gabby then tippy-toes silently to the other side of the room, where she helps another child prepare an imaginary magic princess ban- quet, talking in hushed tones while stirring bowls of make-believe cookie batter and grilling pretend steak. After the party, Gabby builds a house of wooden blocks and scraps of cardboard for a family of plastic cows; she reads a few favorite books to herself (she has had them memorized for months); she counts tiny plastic bugs (“one, two, three, seven, nine, eleven”); she argues loudly with a friend over who had a stuffed duck first; she eats lunch without spilling her milk much; she sleeps; she climbs the apple tree again, this time without falling. Three-year-old Gabby spends her days busy at play. She is in charge of her curriculum, fluttering from activity to activity as her interests change. Gabby’s caregiver maintains a strong emotional environment, provides a rich and varied physical environment, supports the interests of the children in her care, and gives them as much autonomy as they can manage. She does her best to step back and let the children guide their own learning. To the untrained eye, Gabby’s play looks chaotic, but her hands-on engagement with the environment is focused, purposeful, and full of learning. She is mastering her body, learning language, honing social skills, thinking creatively, and making cognitive leaps as she stacks blocks and rocks dolls. She is a learning machine out to understand the world and her place in it. Gabby’s mother, however, feels a lot of pressure from her friends (who are also mothers of young children) to enroll Gabby in an aca- demic preschool program to make sure she’ll be ready to start learning in kindergarten. And while Jenny thinks her daughter is a bright bulb, 2