The Essential Parent’s Guide To Play-Based Learning

Learn why Play-Based Learning matters to Your Preschooler


Parents of infants and toddlers! It is time to ask that age-old question – what kind of preschool or kindergarten should you send your kids to?

In Singapore, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to picking the ‘best’ school for our kids.

Should you opt for an academic preschool that offers a more formal education, believing that it will prepare your child better for primary school? Or are you more inclined towards a preschool that focuses on play-based learning – one that nurtures your child’s naturally inquisitive mind?

Even better, why not a combination of the two?

If you’re wondering what play-based learning is, this guide will walk you through all the aspects of a play-based curriculum and how, when integrated with inquiry-based learning, gives your child the best of both worlds.

Curious? Let’s read on!

What Is Play-Based Learning?

Play-based learning is essentially learning through play. Yes, your child can have fun and learn at the same time!

Let’s see how this can be done.

Play-based learning combines your child’s natural motivation to play with conveniently learning other skills.

It encourages your child to experiment, discover, explore and solve problems in fun ways. It also develops their social skills, fine motor skills, and communication skills.

More importantly, it boosts your child’s cognitive skills – enhancing their natural abilities to reason, remember, think, and focus…and have fun while doing so!

Now, why should your children have fun while learning? Shouldn’t education be a serious affair?

Well, a study by Harvard University showed that children with positive early experiences have a higher tendency to thrive and become healthy adults. They are also expected to have longer life expectancies and an improved ability to manage stress and solve problems.

Now that you’re convinced about the benefits of play-based learning, let’s dive deeper into what it entails.

What Are Play-Based Learning Programmes

A play-based classroom promotes your children’s ability to learn new things through different types of play.

Free play occurs when your child is given the ability to play in whatever way he or she wants without a specific end goal. Also called open-ended play, they are free to explore their own interests at will.

Example: Natural materials including water and sand are often used in free play. Blocks and construction materials may also be used in free play.

Dramatic play, on the other hand, happens when your kids take on roles and act them out, such as in the creative arts. Dramatic play encourages learners to express themselves, explore their surroundings, and share their thoughts with others.

Example: You watch with amusement as your little one runs around trying to put out an imaginary fire as a firefighter or scurry around trying to take your order and make food for you to eat.

Teacher-directed play is facilitated by an educator who introduces activities like simple board games and blocks. She then asks questions during the activity to strengthen your children’s cognitive skills and encourage them to think critically.

Example: When a child is playing with blocks, the teacher may ask questions that encourage problem solving and hypothesising, coupled with little nudges at numeracy (“how many blocks are there?”) and colours (“name the colours of the blocks used.”).

Unstructured play occurs when your kids are allowed to think up activities that they’d like to do on their own, with minimal adult intervention. This allows them to test their imagination and learn their limits.

Example: Playground play, imaginative games, exploration of favourite spaces such as cupboards, under the beds, backyards and parks.

Elements Of Play-Based Learning

Let’s now look at the top four elements of play-based learning for children in their early years:

1. Enjoyable
The process of play has to be fun and enjoyable for your child. While there may be disagreements during playtime involving other children (and there certainly will be!), their overall experience is nice and memorable. Your child will then wish to revisit that experience. Such social interactions promote problem-solving skills among little children and when resolved well, instil positive attitudes towards learning that will stay for years to come.

2. Unstructured
The child is given ample time to explore and play. As mentioned above, there is little to no adult intervention – the child is given free rein to follow their own interests and plans and play with whomever they choose. Unstructured play allows a child to develop self-esteem, self-confidence and self-regulation – enabling them to learn things on their own terms.

3. Self-Chosen
Your child plays whatever he or she feels like playing, without being guided. They will determine how they’ll play the game and for how long they want to play it. Sometimes, they are empowered to create their own rules for play.

4. Make-Believe
Such play involves stimulating the imaginary powers of the learner – children may make up imaginary friends, characters, and environments during the process.

Why Play-Based Learning Matters

Kids are naturally motivated to play. You don’t have to tell them to play – they’re natural play seekers. Interestingly, the latest research suggests that children should have twice as much play experiences in a kindergarten classroom than in non play activities!

The good thing about play-based learning is that children at play will be more inclined to learn things naturally. For instance, your child will learn how they approach other friends to play with them. How and when they should share their toys. Or how tall they can stack a building of blocks.

Natural life skills such as decision making (which parents love to do for their children) will come more naturally to them over time, allowing them to be more independent.

Play also makes children happy, helps them learn, and motivates them to go to school.

Many parents have been through the days where children cry and beg to stay at home, even those at older ages of seven and above. These are often due to the rigours of traditional approaches in academic learning. A child is naturally inquisitive and curious – what fun can there be when they attend school only to follow one direct instruction after another? Such regimentation is taxing even for disciplined adults!

With this in mind, traditionally academic-based preschools are now introducing more playful ways of teaching, striving to make children’s learning a more enjoyable activity. This directly correlates with recent research, which saw how play-based learning resulted in happier kids with better academic success who always looked forward to going to school.

Defining A Play-Based Approach To Learning

While the instinct to play and explore is hardwired into each and every child, you do need to create boundaries, limits, and occasionally the right way to play, depending on the people around your child and the types of play they’re doing.

This is why it is so important that play-based learning programmes should include not only child-initiated activities, but teacher-supported learning.

As Singapore’s first play-based preschool, Shaws ECDA certified teachers can give your child the best play-focused learning experience by:

– Empowering them to research any topic that interests them
– Equipping them with essential life skills such as self-confidence, resilience, speech coherence and respect for others
– Instilling a passion for learning
– Preparing them for later stages of schooling and life

Play-Based Learning Vs Academic Programmes

By now, you’ll have a good idea of what play-based learning is. It is about letting children take the initiative and in the process pick up important life skills, language skills, problem-solving skills and more. Beyond these, there are lots of other benefits to play-based learning in a preschool.

Understandably, academic learning is still very popular among parents. This is due to concerns over whether their children are able to cope, follow instructions, and understand their limits and boundaries in primary school.

Having said that, consistent rote learning and continuous instructional teaching may eventually lead young students to become:

– Less motivated, because they are expected to follow instructions daily
– Less interested in studying, because they are required to repeat the same ordeal every day
– Less creative, because they are not asked to think outside the box often enough
– Less well-equipped in problem-solving
– Less able to interact with others owing to a lack of communication skills
– More afraid to speak up, lest their answers and opinions are considered ‘incorrect’ or ‘wrong’ by the book

Because both play-based learning and academic learning pedagogies are important, Shaws preschool has a unique curriculum where both academic and non-academic components are integrated.

The academic component prepares your child for formal school while the non-academic and play-based component equips them with necessary life skills and promotes cognitive development.

Thanks to our play-based curriculum, preschool children can have fun and enjoy their school days, while getting the necessary academic foundation they need to move on to public or private schools in the future. They may be role playing one minute, and be recounting numbers and new words the next, all of which are done with smiles and laughter.

In short, your child gets the best of both worlds!

How A Play-Based Environment Supports Your Child’s Development

At this point you must be wondering: Is too much play good? How much can my child learn from just playing all day long?

Ah, but they’re not just playing. They’re playing, and gaining both academic and essential life skills in the process!

We commonly hear of physical skills in children such as running and walking. We also know of cognitive skills such as understanding and remembering, and there are academic skills such as reading and writing.

There is another aspect to a child’s development that is very important, and that is their social emotional (socio-emotional) skill.

Social Emotional Development

According to this article, social emotional skills are vital not only for children but adults. Such skills help individuals to cope with life’s stresses, manage them, and work through their emotions in a healthy way. Children with strong social emotional skills often grow up to become a positive influence on the people around them.

Without social emotional skills, children may find it hard to maintain positive relationships, control their emotions, or share their feelings.

Children mirror what they see adults do. Hence, teachers and parents should project healthy ways to manage fear, anger, and stress.

Examples of social emotional learning that can be learned through play include:

– The ability to maintain eye contact
– Inculcating a child’s awareness towards non-verbal cues
– Displaying respect for other people’s feelings and ideas
– The ability to focus and pay attention
– Having self control and patience
– Learning to share and compromise with other children
– Expressing fear, anger, and sadness in a healthy manner
– Coming up with ideas to solve the problem at hand

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development revolves around your child’s growing ability to process information. A huge part of every early childhood education syllabus, cognitive development is deemed to be the common core of a child’s language, numeracy, and literacy skills.

Play-based learning allows your child to learn through a mix of curiosity, interest and determination. Examples of cognitive skills they can develop through this include:

– A strong sense of independence
– The ability to think critically and out of the box
– Improved communication skills
– Improved language skills
– Enhanced memory retention
– Increased focus and attention span
– Being more inquisitive and practising inquiry learning (asking many questions related to the type of play they are
– Strong cognitive skills work well with academic learning

Physical Development

Physical skills are clearly seen in children who have ample time to play. Kids who play often are more agile, dexterous, and confident in climbing rails and trees – even if their watching parents are quaking in their boots!

You see your child racing across a field chasing after a ball. He not only has the ability to run after the ball without needing to stop and catch his breath, but many times, instead of just stopping the ball and bringing it back to you, he tries kicking it back instead – a reaction naturally associated with the motivation to play.

Examples of physical skills a child can develop through play-based learning include:

– Balance
– Coordination
– Strength
– Confidence
– Becoming more adventurous
– Becoming more outgoing
– Healthier and fitter
– Working well in teams and understanding teamwork
– Stronger bones
– A better immune system

Pros and Cons of Play-Based Learning

Advantages Of Play-Based Learning
We’ve gone through a lot of what play-based learning is, and how it helps our kids to develop emotionally, socially, physically, and academically.

Let’s now recap in a nutshell what the benefits of play-based learning for your children are:

1. More creativity and imagination
2. Better social and negotiation skills
3. Language development
4. Communication skills
5. Ability to focus and pay attention
6. Ability to remember and understand
7. Better dexterity and flexibility
8. Better strength and overall health
9. Ability to explore and think out of the box
10. Better problem-solving skills
11. Ability to express one’s feelings clearly and healthily
12. Ability to mix and work well with others
13. Happier and more eager to learn
14. Generally exhibits good behaviour

Preschool programmes these days are becoming more and more aware of the importance of play and how it promotes learning in early education. What sets Shaws Preschool apart from other preschools is the fact that we’ve focused on a play-based learning philosophy for over 30 years! We’ve continuously revised and improved our curriculum so that it not only makes for playful learning, but ensures that every Shaws child is well-equipped for the later stages of education by giving them a strong academic foundation.

Every child is unique. Here, children are not fitted into cookie cutter boxes, but are given equal opportunities to grow, learn and develop at their own pace.That’s not all. Play-based learning also helps your children to reach their developmental milestones on time! This ensures that they’re well-equipped to progress to a higher stage of education.

Dispelling Misconceptions Of Play-Based Learning

While play-based learning has significant developmental learning outcomes, some parents may have concerns over to this educational philosophy. For instance, they may feel that a play-based curriculum doesn’t expose their little ones to scientific concepts, letters or numbers relative to a traditional preschool. Or that incorporating too much free play into a preschool’s programme could lead to child discipline and safety issues.

These concerns are unfounded. At Shaws, our play-based curriculum is just as rigorous (if not more so) than traditional rote-based learning preschools. Our kids excel in science, maths and letters — often better than those in other preschools. This is possible as we seamlessly weave our play-based approach into academic domains like Maths, Chinese, and even STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) topics!

Our children are also well-socialised and are better at problem solving and anger management than any average group of children. In addition, we adopt the utmost health and safety measures to ensure that our kids can play and learn safely in a comfortable environment.

In short, play-based learning, combined correctly with teacher-supported guidance, can do wonders for your children’s holistic development – emotional, physical, academic, and social.

How Do I Find A Good Play-Based Preschool Programme?

Now that you know what play-based learning is and how it can benefit your child, you’ll need to know how you can find a preschool with a good play-based programme.Here are some tips you can use!

1. Ample Outdoor Areas
A good play-based preschool should have ample outdoor spaces for children to run around in and have fun exploring. For preschools that are housed within shoplots, there should be special playrooms set aside for downtime and playtime.

Some schools also provide sensory rooms and drama rooms for children to dabble in dramatic play and free play.

Shaws Preschool offers lots of play areas such as a gym pit, a mud kitchen, a playground, a tinkering corner, a sand pit, a water play area, and a gardening spot, amongst others.

2. Play Allocation In Roster
Talk to your early childhood educator to find out if there are allocated times for children to play, or if the rosters reflect a series of uninterrupted academic classes.

There is no need to have play time in between every period. However, there should be time set aside at the start of the school and towards the end of the school for children to indulge in play.

The teachers will also be able to share the different ways of play they have planned out each day – there may be sand play, water play, playground play, face painting activities, dress ups, and more.

There are also play-based preschools whose activities go by monthly themes – Halloween themes, Mooncake Festival Lantern themes, Christmas themes, and so on.

3. A Wide Array Of Play Materials
The preschool you’re looking at should have a wide range of play materials that cater to different ages of preschool years. These materials should aim to help their students have fun, pick up new skills, and generally enhance their learning experiences.

All Shaws Preschools have a wide range of learning materials and environments – outdoor water play areas, messy play areas, sand pits and mud kitchens, as well as building blocks, construction materials, and actual working kitchens!

4. Exciting Classrooms
Your children’s preschool classrooms are, in a sense, like their second home. They are easily the places where they spend the most time apart from their own homes. Thus, they should be places where they look forward to going, making friends, socialising and finding excitement.

There are many different ways to spruce a classroom up – one can go by themes or by segregating it into different departments for the children, where every department or section showcases different designs or projects representing different subjects.

5. Experienced Play-Based Teachers
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, you need preschool teachers who are trained to facilitate play-based learning in their children. Acting as facilitators more than drill coaches, they focus on making learning fun, enjoyable and relevant to their charges, empowering their kids to explore, experiment and learn on their own while providing a gentle guiding hand.

Here at Shaws, we take great care to create the perfect environment for play-based learning and interaction. Our teachers pay special attention to the learning environment, ensuring that your child can enjoy the full benefits which play-based education offer.

Wrapping Up

Every child learns through play. Leaning into it and making their learning process a pleasurable and fun one results in happier and more fulfilled children and parents.

We hope that this comprehensive guide has helped you to understand the ins-and-outs of what a play-based preschool education should have. As Singapore’s foremost play-based preschool, Shaws objective is to provide a preschool education that prepares your child for not only formal education, but life itself.

Need to Prepare Your Child for Preschool?