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Children at Play


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A fascinating look at how children's play has changed over the past two centuries

Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsPreface Introduction 1 Childhood and Play in Early America, 1600-18002 The Attempt to Domesticate Childhood and Play, 1800-1850 3 The Stuff of Childhood, 1850-19004 The Invasion of Children's Play Culture, 1900-1950 5 The Golden Age of Unstructured Play, 1900-1950 6 The Commercialization and Co-optation of Children's Play, 1950 to the Present 7 Children's Play Goes Underground, 1950 to the Present ConclusionNotes Index About the Author

About the Author

Howard P. Chudacoff is George L. Littlefield Professor of American History at Brown University. His many books include How Old Are You? Age Consciousness in American Culture, and The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture.


Throughout American history, argues Brown University historian Chudacoff (The Age of the Bachelor), parents have sought to control their children's games and toys, but kids have been determined to set the terms of their play. In the colonial era, children typically played with improvised toys, and parents tried to prevent play from degenerating into "idleness," insisting that games must serve God or family. In the 19th century, consumer culture intersected with a new conception of childhood as a distinct, adorable life stage to be cherished, while children increasingly played with toys that brought them into contact with the market. By the 20th century, adults, influenced in part by the new field of child psychology, focused on educational toys and directed kids off the streets and into playgrounds, where they could be carefully supervised. The tension between parental prerogatives and children's autonomy manifests itself still, says Chudacoff: parents try to keep children indoors for fear of dangers lurking outside, but children take new kinds of risks playing in cyberspace. While a bit dry and broad, Chudacoff's work gives historical depth to debates that continue to rage over what constitutes appropriate child's play. 22 illus. (Aug.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

"Fascinating and provocative... Chudacoff builds up a scathing critique of modern parents' intrusion in children's play." New York Times Book Review "[Chudacoff's] history demonstrates that the topic of play is anything but trivial. And by showing us where we've been, he can help us decide where, as a culture, we want to go." Wilson Quarterly "The tension between how children spend their free time and how adults want them to spend it runs through Chudacoff's book like a yellow line smack down the middle of a highway." New York Times "A strong addition to the growing literature on childhood, but it's also good reading for adults seeking a fresh perspective on their own kids." American Heritage

In this wonderfully polished, scholarly treatment of children and play from Colonial times to the present, Chudacoff (American history, Brown Univ.; The Evolution of American Urban Society) uses excellent historical methodology and perceptive psychological insights, putting primary sources to good use, as he presents an illustrated, chronological history of children at play from ages six through 12. Throughout, he notes the variations among different socioeconomic groups and notes that, whatever the context, children seem to have a "remarkable capacity to create their own pleasure." He decries the current multibillion-dollar children's entertainment industry. How lovely (and sad) to think that wrapping a package in brown paper and string or creating one's own play money was once considered as engaging (perhaps more so?) than having a new mass-produced "educational" toy. The authors of another kind of book relating to childhood play, The Dangerous Book for Boys, an enchanting new volume for children of all ages that consciously hearkens to an earlier era, observe that "You want to be self-sufficient and find your way by the stars." Chudacoff, in this fine volume, draws much the same conclusion. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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