Lily Valley_Blog_Jan 2-01

5 benefits of play-based vs. academic-based learning in preschools

Play-Based Approach
Last updated on 16 Jan 2024

5 benefits of play-based vs. academic-based learning in preschools

Play-Based Approach
Last updated on 16 Jan 2024

Lily Valley_Blog_Jan 2-01

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to early childhood education nowadays: play-based and academic. Of course, there are preschools that blend the two. However, most establishments nonetheless tend towards one over the other. 

This leaves parents wondering which option to choose. Should they focus on academics as soon as possible, perhaps as a way to get their children ready for more structured learning early? Or is it better to go for a more natural, play-based learning method?

Today, we’ll help you out by tackling the academic v.s. play-based preschool debate. At the end of it, you may get a better idea of which one suits your child better!

Lily Valley_Blog_Jan 2-02

What Is Play-based Learning?

Play-based learning is the approach that believes children learn best through play. In play-based preschools, programmes are often less structured or rigid. In fact, free movement and exploration are greatly valued in play-based institutions. 

Learning in such places is largely child-directed. Adults can guide and facilitate it, yes, but children are free to express themselves and learn naturally. 

Because of the emphasis on open-ended projects in such facilities, you will typically find non-traditional classroom materials in such schools as well. Such materials are then used to encourage children to experiment and make discoveries in the process.

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What Is Academic-based Learning?

Academic learning is the approach that focuses on school readiness. Academic preschools like to start children early on more rigorous programmes, for example, where they already focus on teacher-led instruction. 

This means that teachers in academic preschools tend to be at the front of the class (lecturing) rather than moving amongst them. The emphasis on subject-specific learning also means students are often given worksheets already, whether for reading or maths. 

Because of this, academic preschools generally use traditional materials guided by a curriculum too – in other words, worksheets and textbooks!

Benefits of a Play-based Approach in Preschools vs Academic-based Learning

Many experts today believe that a blend of both approaches is best, but with an emphasis on play-based learning. Indeed, this makes sense when one realises that play is actually how children learn by nature. 

Hence, play-based learning is an approach that makes use of children’s natural learning methods to facilitate their development and accumulation of knowledge – which includes even topics that academic-based learning covers, over time.

Below are some more benefits of play-based learning, many of which we’ve seen for ourselves in our own preschool and playgroup in Singapore!

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Play-based learning is more open-ended

As such, it allows children to explore their curiosities actively, keeping them active and interested participants in their education.

Furthermore, active exploration, supported by teacher guidance, develops children’s critical thinking, problem-solving, and social skills by allowing them to think through problems and communicate with others.

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Abstract topics are easier to understand through the context of play

When children perform abstract work or are introduced to abstract topics, they often struggle to make connections between everyday life and the new abstract concept.

Play bridges the gap between what they understand and the new concept, giving them a useful reference for building their own comprehension of (and often appreciation) of it. 

Children rarely understand why basic numeracy is useful from the get-go, for example. However, if you introduce them to roleplay scenarios or games involving things like counting their toys or money, they start to see its value. 

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Play can boost creativity and imagination

Play-based learning encourages imaginative thinking, allowing children to create and explore fictional scenarios, experiment with different ideas and express themselves freely. 

Its open-ended, child-led nature invites the little ones to come up with myriad ideas and possibilities for their activities. The result is unfettered imagination in experimentation and discovery!

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Play-based learning develops emotional intelligence in children


Self-awareness and empathy: these are skills that children learn during the early years of life, when they are given opportunities to play with one another. 

Since play-based preschools encourage collaborative learning, children have ample socialisation from the start, giving them plenty of opportunities to build their social and emotional skills.

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Associating play with learning cultivates a love for the latter

This is easily one of the most important benefits of play-based learning, in our own experience as a Reggio Emilia preschool. Because children come to associate something they love (play) with learning, they grow to love learning all of their lives. 

This means that they seek to continue learning too for the rest of their lives, as they always view it in a positive light. 

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Secure the benefits of a play-based learning approach for your child

In sum, play-based learning allows children to learn in a natural and developmentally appropriate way. They engage in higher-level thinking skills through the discovery and exploration of things that interest them, and not just topics that are chosen by adults.

If you want to reap the many benefits of such an approach for your child, enrol them in our preschool. At Lily Valley, we follow the Reggio Emilia approach, which is a play-based approach that is renowned around the world. 

You can even visit our institution to see how the play-based learning approach works in person, as well as see the facilities we have dedicated to it. Register your interest for a school tour with us today!