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What Happened to “Go Play”? Gabby feels the pressure, too, and she senses her teacher’s stress. Some days her tummy hurts and she begs to stay home. Her lips are red and badly chapped from nervous licking—a condition that magi- cally clears up during school breaks. What if Gabby’s mom hadn’t felt so worried and pressured to move Gabby to an academic program? What if Gabby had stayed with Miss Cindy and had been allowed to “just play” until it was time for her to start kindergarten? What if her kindergarten teacher had been able to allow the children in her class to learn through play, as so many earlier generations of kindergartners had? What if parents, caregivers, and early educators shifted their mind-sets and really trusted play as a teacher and really trusted children as capable learners? Childhood has changed. Listen to one parent and teacher we ques- tioned for this book, who grew up in the 1950s: One of my most vivid memories [of childhood] is playing “Wagon Train” with neighborhood children. Backyard Adirondack chairs were our wagons. We wore discarded adult garments as our dress-up clothes and picked berries and leaves to make mud pies. We stayed outdoors for hours, going in only to eat lunch or use the bathroom. We got along, and if there was a problem, we settled our own disputes without fights. We used our imaginations and were very creative. Mary and her playmates were given freedom to play on their own for hours at a time. They decided how to spend their time and engage the world. Along the way, they built strong bodies, learned to solve problems, developed social skills, flexed their imaginations, grew their intellects, and had a ton of fun. Encouraging such play-focused learning is a core goal of this book. Play-Focused Learning Play is an inborn learning strategy. When asked why play is impor- tant, Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College and author of the Freedom to Learn blog at, responded, “Can you imagine life without play? How dreary it would be. 5