As a parent, you’ve probably heard the adage: “Children learn best through play.”  Research on play-based learning has shown that play promotes the development of important cognitive, socio-emotional and physical skills in preschool children, such as the ability to plan, socialise, and regulate their emotions.

But what does your child really learn when they are playing? And what are some of the important features of play-based learning that parents of preschoolers like you should look out for?

What is play-based learning?

Play-based learning is essentially about learning through play. It allows children to uncover the world around them through both outdoor and indoor play-based learning activities.

Play-based learning typically comprises two main types of play: 

  • Free Play

Free play is child-directed and independent of close adult supervision.

Unstructured and voluntary, free play develops your child’s creativity, imagination and spontaneity. It encourages them to explore, experience and enjoy the world around them, and arises from their innate curiosity, love for discovery, and enthusiasm to try new things. 

Free play may include playing with building blocks, dolls, clay, crayons and paper, or climbing trees, playing on the playgrounds, or playing with sand. 

  • Guided Play

Guided play, on the other hand, is play that has some form of parent or teacher guidance.  

Research focused on play and academic learning has found that teacher-directed play activities tend to support academic learning in various subject areas such as literacy and mathematics. 

Teacher-directed play in kindergartens, childcare centres and preschools can support your child’s developmental goals. They include building their social and emotional competencies when resolving conflict, following rules, and supporting the emotional well-being of others.  

Both parents and preschool educators can play an active role in play-based learning. You can do so by leading pre-designed games or collaborating with your preschool child in mutually-directed play. 

Types of play-based learning activities

Every classroom or home should seek to provide a good range of play resources and play-based activities for children.

Some examples are:

  1. Building blocks 
  2. Pretend play toys such as a cooking station or costumes
  3. Natural resources (potted plants, watering can, etc)
  4. Play dough
  5. Water play station
  6. Sand play station
  7. A variety of puzzles (shapes, colours, alphabets)
  8. Drawing and painting
  9. Dress up and role play (eg as a police officer or ballerina or chef)

What are the benefits of play-based learning? 

The benefits of a play-based learning programme are manifold. Apart from simply being fun and enjoyable activities in themselves, your child will grow socially, emotionally, cognitively  and academically. 

Here are some noteworthy benefits of a preschool curriculum that is founded upon play:

  • Builds confidence

Your child’s confidence will grow when he is able to accomplish the goals of any game or activity during play time. 

At Shaws, we progressively increase the difficulty of the activities to empower each child and affirm their progress.

  • Builds communication skills 

Play helps children develop key language and communication skills. As they engage in fun and age-appropriate play activities, your children will be naturally motivated to express and communicate with their peers or teachers. 

During play, they may also pick up new vocabulary naturally as they tune in to the teacher’s instructions and absorb words that are tailored to a specific learning context.

  • Develops social and emotional skills

By interacting in playgroups, your child will learn to work together with others to achieve a common goal. In doing so, they will learn essential teamwork skills such as patience, emotional self-regulation, and perseverance.

Teamwork and working with others is a core part of Shaws play-based curriculum. We get our kids to interact and pick up vital social skills as they spend time with each other.

  • Spurs creativity and imagination 

In play, there is often no one right answer. Children feel free to come up with their own creations, and often think of novel ways to use ordinary objects or to take on new roles. 

Through this process of trying out new ways of doing things, they learn to think out-of-the-box and that their ideas can help to improve our world. 

  • Enhances problem-solving skills

Play provides an abundance of opportunities for your child to encounter, explore and overcome obstacles. From simple tasks such as building blocks to more complex ones such as performing a drama piece, your child will be stretched to sharpen his critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

How do you choose a play-based preschool?

Every preschool subscribes to a certain pedagogy or philosophy so it’s important that you take the time to get to know the school culture, the principal’s viewpoints, and the teachers. 

Where possible, make time to visit the school during its Open House or book an appointment to tour its facilities and surroundings. 

Things to look out for in a well-planned and fitted play-based preschool:

  • Organised and well-lit classrooms
  • Variety of learning corners such as literacy and artistic corners
  • Ample outdoor spaces and sports-play areas
  • Sensory play spaces such as messy play areas, sand or water play stations

If you get to speak with the principal or a senior teacher, take the opportunity to ask about their practices and methods of teaching. 

Some good questions to ask include:

  • How do you teach a child to love learning?
  • How do you help soothe an upset child?
  • What are your methods of disciplining a child?
  • How do you typically communicate with parents?

Shaws Preschool’s play-based philosophy

Shaws is one of the first play-based preschools in Singapore, with over 30 years of experience. We recognise that play is one of the most effective approaches for preschool children to learn and retain knowledge – both academic knowledge and essential life skills.  

Shaws’ preschool curriculum merges inquiry-based learning, play-based approaches and learning through play. This not only sparks a love for learning in all our children, but ensures that they are well-prepared for life’s challenges.  

To learn more about our play-based preschool programmes, get in touch here.