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At this kindergarten, the work is play

THE laboratory nursery school for a prominent eastern college. Do you envision computers? Video screens? Four-year-olds reading ``War and Peace'' in the original? Not here. Director Marian Blum calls the Wellesley College Child Study Center an ``island of sanity'' for young children who face new pressures in their lives. This is the ``traditional'' nursery you may remember from your own childhood.

It's a sturdy stone structure just off the Wellesley campus, with bright airy rooms, one for each age group from two to four. The materials are basic -- paints, blocks, Play-doh, sand -- and there's a cozy corner for stories. The staff has laid out the materials at various play stations around the room, and the children gravitate to what they like. Most are happily engaged, but a few need prodding, which the ample staff provides. These are suburban children; football jerseys and bib overalls are common.

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Marian Blum is a serene woman, whose book, ``The Day Care Dilemma,'' did not win her points with hard-core feminists; she says she sometimes feels as if she ``has her finger in the dike holding back the flood.'' She is concerned about ``haphazard parenting,'' and about young children who get shuffled from one form of care to another, and who have worries youngsters didn't have in the past, such as who's going to pick them up, and where they're going next. ``There is no one at home any more,'' she says. ``Every day is a disruption.''

Blum has resisted pressures to go to a full-day schedule -- ``few groups can function well for children for 50 hours a week,'' she says -- and this is one reason there is not a huge waiting list for the center's 44 spaces. She also refuses to push the youngsters into reading and other ``cognitive'' skills. ``Flashcards'' and other ``superbaby'' strategies ``have nothing to do with learning,'' she says.

Does she see a difference between today's pressured children, and the children she had in the past? ``Oh sure,'' she replies. ``[I'm seeing] kids who are less confident. The emotional . . . drain is enormous.''

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