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American historian Howard Chudacoff has studied the interplay between parental control of toys and games and children's drive for freedom to play. In the colonial era, toys were makeshift and children taught each other very simple games with little adult supervision. The market economy of the 19th century enabled the modern concept of childhood as a distinct, happy life stage. Factory-made dolls and doll houses delighted young girls. Organized sports filtered down from adults and colleges, and boys learned to play with a bat, a ball and an impromptu playing field. In the 20th century, teenagers were increasingly organized into club sports supervised and coached by adults, with swimming taught at summer camps and through supervised playgrounds. Under the New Deal's Works Progress Administration, thousands of local playgrounds and ball fields opened, promoting softball especially as a sport for all ages and both sexes. By the 21st century, Chudacoff notes, the old tension between parental controls and a child's individual freedom was being played out in cyberspace.

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