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Toddlers to tweens: relearning how to play

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This difference has always bothered her, she says, because she believes that play is critical for children's developing emotions, creativity, and intelligence. But when she learned that her daughter's middle school had done away with recess, and even free time after lunch, she decided to start fighting for play.

"It seemed almost cruel," she says. "Play is important for children – it's something so obvious it's almost hard to articulate. How can you talk about childhood without talking about play? It's almost as if they are trying to get rid of childhood."

Taylor joined a group of parents pressuring the principal to let their children have a recess, citing experts such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that all students have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. They issued petitions and held meetings. And although the school has not yet agreed to change its curriculum, Taylor says she feels their message is getting more recognition.

She is not alone in her concerns. In recent years, child development experts, parents, and scientists have been sounding an increasingly urgent alarm about the decreasing amount of time that children – and adults, for that matter – spend playing. A combination of social forces, from a No Child Left Behind focus on test scores to the push for children to get ahead with programmed extracurricular activities, leaves less time for the roughhousing, fantasizing, and pretend worlds advocates say are crucial for development.

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