What is the difference between play-based and academic learning in a preschool setting?  While there is nothing inherently wrong with early years academic learning, Maria Montessori, in my opinion, said it right when she said, “Play is child’s work.”  Playing comes naturally to children, and this may be, arguably, the best medium for children to learn.

While many parents do want to give their child a head start in primary school, one has to wonder what sort of educational style or philosophy is best for their child.  Is academic the way to go, or is play-based education a better bet?  The truth is, it depends entirely upon the child.  Each child has a different style of learning; where play-based learning may be best for one child, a more academic approach may be better for another.

Little Human Scholars is a play-based preschool, playschool and daycare located in Petaling Jaya, near Jaya One, Jaya 33, University Hospital, and PJ Old Town.  We opted to be a more play-based school because some children just want to play and have fun, and we believe that learning and play go hand-in-hand.  In fact, play stimulates learning!  This isn’t limited to children; the same goes for adults to.  If an adult is interested in what they do, and enjoy their job scope, they are better equipped to find fulfillment and satisfaction in their career.  And what better way is there to teach children than through things they already enjoy doing?  Children should be excited to go to school as opposed to being traumatised by it.

Play-based Learning

·       Play-based learning in a preschool is more child-centered as opposed to lesson-centered;

·       Teachers encourage more playing in preschool as children develop social-emotional and problem-solving skills along the way;

·       Children tend to be more interested in learning because it is fun, as opposed to having to sit down and ‘work’;

·       Play stimulates more creative development and builds confidence in children by promoting self-expression;

·       Play-based learning often includes an environment set up to stimulate play; this supports a child’s curiosity and confidence to explore their environment;

·       A play-based teacher asks a lot of open-ended questions to the children while playing to encourage cognitive reasoning and thinking;

In my experience, focus is a major key here.  And getting a child, specifically a two or three-year-old, to sit down and focus on what a teacher is saying for more than 15 minutes is asking too much of a child.  They are naturally curious, inquisitive and precocious, and when they are not interested in something, they busy themselves with something else more interesting.  And what great feedback that is for a teacher!  If you are teaching a class and half of the toddlers lose interest, it means that you have some room for improvement as an educator!

The key is understanding that children aren’t open to learning if they aren’t interested.  After a very play-based and fun learning environment for my daughter, she started primary school and naturally, she didn’t like it as much.  But regardless, she went.  The first thing I noticed over time was that her grades started to drop a little, and as a concerned mom, I worried.

She would come home with homework, something she wasn’t used to, and dread every minute of it….UNTIL I learned how she liked learning.  After much trial and error, and weeks of feeling like I was pulling my hair out, I discovered what made her interested in learning.  Being an auditory little girl, she liked talking things out, discussing and engaging in conversation.  Instead of making her sit down during study-time and telling her to write the same sentence over and over again (like they often made her do in school), we talked about things.  She spelled words out loud and her spelling grades and English vocabulary became better and better.  I would write out funny paragraphs about our family, and she learned how to better solve math problems.  Overall, because I took the time to understand how she learned and implemented my findings into our study time, her grades drastically improved.  In her last set of exams, out of four tests, she scored 100% on three of them, and 96% on the fourth one.

In summary, understanding what is fun for your child is crucial in getting them interested in learning, and it is crucial in getting them to look forward to preschool.  This can definitely be achieved through play-based learning at an early age.  All it takes is a bit of observation to see what makes your child tick!

Wishing you fun and fulfilling parental experiences!

Jana Moreno