What Happened to “Go Play”?
she doesn’t have a lot of proof; after all, Gabby spends all her time “just
playing” in her current provider’s program, and the academic preschool
advertises “an academic curriculum designed to prepare students for
school,” which placates Jenny’s fears. The academic program promises
regular evaluations and even tests Gabby before enrolling her.
Gabby begins attending the new program three days a week for
three hours each day. Her time there is broken up into chunks of no
more than thirty minutes, which means numerous transitions and
no time for self-directed free play. Initially Gabby is in a classroom
with other three-year-olds, but in less than a month, she turns four
and is moved to another room with another set of kids and teachers.
Self-confident, curious, apple tree–climbing Gabby keeps to herself.
Every once in a while, she tosses a fit for her mother and begs to “go
back to Miss Cindy’s house.” Jenny writes these changes off as part of
In a syrupy, singsong voice, one of the four part-time caregivers
staffing Gabby’s new preschool classroom explains to ten fidgety
children exactly where on the construction paper frogs they should
glue the googly eyes so the frogs will be pretty. “If it’s pretty,” she
says, “then your mommy will like it and hang it up.” Gabby seems
lost. She’s not used to being still for so long. She’s not used to this
sort of boxed curriculum, to precut project pieces, and to having so
little control over her time and energy. She makes a sea of glue on
the frog’s chest, dips the googly eyes into the glue, and places one
on the frog’s front left foot and the other on the center of its face.
Then she jumps out of her chair and frog-hops across the room to
the baby dolls. She is scolded and placed in time-out, where—still in
frog mode—she tries to catch a passing fly with her tongue. When
she gets up, it’s free time, but not the kind of “free” she’s used to.
She and a redheaded boy who was also in time-out are assigned to
the block area. They have to put in fifteen minutes of free time there
before they can move to the dramatic play area, and then, after
another fifteen minutes, they get to use the playdough. They try
to sneak a couple of big yellow trucks into the block area from the
car area but are told that today the trucks aren’t allowed with the
blocks. Gabby and the redheaded boy are scolded for not listen-
ing, and then they start building a block tower. It’s a sturdy tower