BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – It’s the time of year where parents are starting to look at schools for their children for the upcoming fall. While parents are browsing and asking questions, experts say one of the top ones they should be asking is “How do you balance work and play?”

“We know that the earlier a child is exposed to quality care and learning, the better,” said Lynn Pullano, the CEO at the Child Care Resource Network in Buffalo.

Pullano says there are 30,000 children, ages 3 and 4, going to pre-k every day in Erie County.

“At those earliest ages, we’re really missing the mark if we’re not engaging the child physically as well as emotionally and mentally in learning,” said Pullano.

She tells me that’s the type of learning that should be taking place but recently, there’s been a shift from learning through play to working throughout the day.

“We do have to be careful not to expect from children things are beyond their age and beyond their stage,” said Pullano.

One parent, we caught up – Nick Rastelli – has young children of his own but he also runs a daycare facility. He says he understands the importance of balancing work and play.

“If you sit down with toddlers and try to get through books with them and they’re not in the mood, it’s a waste of time,” said Rastelli.

Pullano, who has her masters degree in education and has done doctoral-level research, said 90 percent of development happens during the first five years of our lives. The CEO adds if we don’t allow children to use their imaginations and learn through playing, it can have long-term, negative impacts.

“Kids need to work through some amount of frustration and some amount of real world experience in order to build their real-world problem-solving ability,” said Pullano. “The most critical time in a child’s life are those young years. If we take away those opportunities to learn and grow in ways that are conducive to them in those years, we’re robbing them of their future.”