With more parents focused on their children’s early education, many may forget about the importance of play—an essential touchstone of childhood. Increasingly, this is even the case when it comes to preschoolers. However, by making their children concentrate on academic endeavors at such a young age, parents risk neglecting their children’s emotional, sociological, and interpersonal development.

A lack of play has increasingly become a problem in traditional preschools and kindergarten classes, where the trend has been to follow the standards of education found in older grades, which involves less play and more classroom instruction.

Depression and the Decline of Play

According to a recent study headed by Jean Twenge at San Diego State University, anxiety and depression rates among youth have been rising for at least the past 50 years. Connected to this phenomenon is the gradual shift away from traditional unstructured play and recreation. By veering away from the concept of free play as a tool for teaching children essential skills to an emphasis on academics and more heavily structured scholastics, parents are raising children with great test scores but severe bouts of anxiety.

Free Play Improves Social Skills and Reduces Anxiety and Depression

According to Twenge’s study, anxiety and depression are connected to the amount of control a child has, but when children play they gain a sense of control and self-determination. Twenge theorizes that the shift away from play is a change from “intrinsic” goals such as personal growth and social growth, to “extrinsic” goals such as materialism, status, income, and success. If children are not given much free play at an early age, they may be deprived of the ability to develop their intrinsic goals and may begin to suffer from anxiety. Free play gives kids the chance to develop their interests and their social skills while curbing depression and social disorders.

Tips for Creating a Positive Play Environment

Introducing children to education at an early age is great, but be sure to keep playtime in your children’s day. Here are a few tips for building more immersive social playtimes in your children’s lives that will be fun, relaxing, and beneficial:

  • Take everything in stride: Even though play is important, don’t take it so seriously that it’s no longer fun for the kids. Part of the growth that comes from play is enjoying the activities. Parents should enjoy playtime and make sure their kids see them having a good time.
  • Give regular and honest praise: Parents need to make sure to praise their children when they try new things, make new friends, and play. This is very important when it comes to kids who have issues socializing.
  • Prioritize play: Parents need to make sure their children understand that playing is important too. Setting aside time to play outside of school makes it clear that socializing and creative thinking are important in daily life.
  • Pair play with music: Don’t let music become just part of television and clean-up time. Music inspires the imagination and can lead to creative thinking and having fun. Put on your favorite album when your children are playing, or let them pick out their own music.
  • Don’t pressure shy kids: The best way to deal with a hesitant child is to let them socialize at their own pace. Never try to force them into situations where they feel uncomfortable.
  • Provide creative toys: Things like blocks, clay, crayons, and brushes and paints are perfect for constructive play and can keep a child happy and inspired.

Be sure to keep the importance of play in mind when choosing your child’s preschool or kindergarten to ensure that he receives a good balance of play and instruction time. As an involved parent, you may want to consider K12’s online learning options, which offers preschool and kindergarten school options as well as elementary and high school choices.

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