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Chapter One on a strong foundation, and soon they need to drag a chair over to keep building—and then they find themselves back in time-out for making such a tall, “dangerous” structure. What passes as child’s play in many early learning programs today is planned, regulated, organized, supervised, and documented by adults to the point that the lightheartedness, spontaneity, and freedom that define childhood no longer exist. Gabby went from hours of autono- mous play every day to an environment that was so overly controlled and regimented that her free time was planned out for her. Her curiosity and creativity went from being nurtured to being punished. The pilfering of Gabby’s play-based learning was not malicious: everyone in her life wanted the best for her. Still, the unrelenting and misguided push for early academics and school achievement took away the autonomy and joy from Gabby’s learning. The new environment transformed her from a child eager for self-discovery and new experiences into an unsure and timid little girl. Gabby learned that she could avoid time-out and scold- ings by gluing the frog eyes where the teacher said to glue them, by not taking initiative, and by not being creative. After a few months in the new program, Gabby seemed . . . diminished. On her first day of kindergarten, Gabby is excited and nervous. She has a bright new pair of Mary Janes and a scuff-free backpack, and her long hair spills like a fountain from the top of her head. She has reason to be nervous: the school district expects Gabby to know today what her mom knew at the end of kindergarten, because the curriculum has been accelerated. There will be more worksheets and tests for Gabby; not as much art, music, gym, and recess as her mom had; and little time for play. The magical playhouse that anchored the kindergarten classroom for a generation has been removed to make way for three computers. The dress-up clothes, kitchen supplies, dolls, and building blocks went with it. The kindergarten teacher says she knows the school is pushing kids too hard. “I feel it in my bones,” she says. Gabby’s teacher would like her students to have more time to play, but she is under local, state, and federal pressure to make sure the kids in her class achieve certain learning benchmarks— whether they are developmentally ready or not. 4