While early childhood educators have long touted the importance of play, it has never been more crucial than during the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath.

We know that play and social interaction are critical to children’s emotional development and that it is loaded with cognitive learning opportunities as well. In fact, the social-emotional benefits of play boost learning, which cannot occur when children are stressed.

In a recent article in The Guardian, “Call for ‘summer of play’ to help English children recover from COVID-19 stress,” the benefits of social interaction and physical activity with friends are emphasized over more time devoted to playing academic “catch-up.”

Understandably, parents and educators are worried about the losses resulting from distance learning for all children, especially those from households with limited access to computers and the internet. However, experts are warning that trying to make up for losses can backfire if the social and emotional losses are not addressed first.

Since schools provide much-needed childcare as well as academic instruction, I am aware of the concerns that families have about turning down summer school opportunities. However, communities should push for local government to provide day camps and recreational activities instead of traditional summer school or at very least, in addition to.

Now is the time to be thinking about your child’s summer plans and that might include urging local school and community officials to provide increased recreational activities for children of all ages.

Many children have experienced heightened anxiety and depression as a result of social isolation. Providing increased opportunities for social interaction and physical activity is a much-needed antidote to the effects of nearly a year of quarantine and social distancing. In the words of Mr.Rogers, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

This post originally appeared on Little Folks Big Questions.