If you’re a parent trying to choose between preschool, pre-kindergarten, or another form of educational activity for your young child, no doubt you’ve seen a lot of different educational and psychological philosophies and agendas at these schools. Some parents want their children to go through classes that prepare them for kindergarten, while others just want the child to be somewhere safe. No matter which form of pre-elementary school class you choose, just be sure the classes allow the child to play at some point. Play, as non-educational as it might look, is actually a key part of healthy development.

Social Skills

Being able to play, whether alone or with others, helps social skills and self-sufficiency skills develop. Playing alone gives the child practice being alone and keeping him- or herself occupied. Playing with others develops skills like compassion, cooperation, a sense of fairness, decision making, conflict resolution, and language/communication.

If a child is not given a chance to spend time playing and not dealing consciously with academic concerns, especially a young child, that can result in a lot of restlessness. Young children of preschool age have energy and limited concentration skills. They need to have the opportunity to simply play and let go.

Math and Number Skills

Play improves math skills without any apparent math lesson. Children playing a physical game learn how to keep score and learn numbers — even very small children playing kickball or handball learn how to do this. They learn how to judge distances; even if they aren’t dealing with feet, inches, or miles, just running around a playground allows children to make the connection between the distance from one point to another with the time it takes to cross that distance.

Physical Skills

And speaking of running or playing games, play lets children learn physical skills, from more graceful walking to faster running to how to inevitably take a fall (as painful as those can be, falls show children that they need to be careful running lest they trip over something). Climbing skills, the connection between body movements and using a swing, fine motor skills when using building blocks, and learning the limits of their own strength are all reinforced during play time.

Even if your child is ahead developmentally and is showing early signs of being able to handle regular school days, incorporating general play time is essential for healthy growth. As you check each preschool or pre-K school, like Foundations Child Development Center Inc, to see if they’re appropriate for your child, ask about how the school handles play and how much time the children have to do so.