Child's Play

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Life is not all tea parties and T-ball. While more than 90 percent of parents today believe play is important to their child's well-being, they're also concerned about hitting the books. Roughly 72 percent of parents in a new American Toy Institute study think it's very important for their kids to start learning early, and 53 percent say a good report card will lead to success in life.

At the same time, however, many parents moan about how competitive classrooms have become. Almost half (47 percent) strongly believe that the educational system places too much emphasis on grades. "It really is a cultural dilemma," says Dr. Stuart Brown, president of the nonprofit Institute for Play in Carmel Valley, California.

Most parents believe their children have the same amount of time to play as they did when they were kids. They also feel that there's a balance between organized play and free play in their households. Two out of three parents, for instance, say their kids spend the right amount of time in organized sports. A small number of respondents - 8 percent - feel activities like Little League and Pee-Wee football games have replaced unstructured play time.

But Mom and Dad aren't completely satisfied with how their kids spend their days. One-third of parents report that their children don't read enough or participate in family-related activities. Maybe that's because their kids can't let go of their Game Boys: 43 percent of respondents blame video games for cutting into play time.

For more information, contact the American Toy Institute at (212) 675-1141.

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