What is a Play-based Preschool Curriculum? (Social-based preschool)

Preschool philosophy encourages social growth while learning

play based preschool
At a play-based preschool, kids learn life lessons through structured and unstructured play.. Tetra Images - Mike Kemp/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

 When you think about enrolling you child in preschool, what type of environment do you visualize? If what pops into your head includes your child playing restaurant or store at a play kitchen, running around a playground, building tall block towers, and other forms of socializing with other children, a play-based preschool might be exactly what you are looking for. 

One of the most popular type of preschools and usually the most loosely defined, play-based preschools do have structure, but the focus is on play and socialization, rather than academics.

That isn't to say that the children don't learn, but lessons are generally done through play-based activities and have their roots in basic social skills, like helping children to get along, learning to share and taking turns.

While there are structured learning times in a play-based preschool, there is quite a bit of teacher-supervised free play -- how much depends on the school and what their particular philosophy is (make sure you find out).

Structured learning times that can be part of a play-based preschool curriculum can include:

  • Calendar time
  • Arts and crafts time
  • Instructional play time -- if the teacher is leading the class in a game, for example
  • Story time
  • Show and tell
  • Listening to a guest speaker
  • Completing classroom chores as part of an assigned "class job"

In all of these instances, preschooler learn different skills and life lessons. For example, during show and tell, kids learn about public speaking, how to tell a story in the correct order, waiting your turn, listening, and how to behave when someone else is speaking.

They also have to remember to bring something in from home and remember to bring it back home from school. During arts and crafts time, kids learn patience, how to follow directions, the importance of following steps, sharing, and cooperation. They also learn to appreciate the work of others, as they see what their fellow classmates have created.


Other opportunities for learning at a play-based preschool include:

  • Lining up and walking quietly as a class between activities
  • Unpacking and eating lunch or snack, and then cleaning up afterward
  •  Recess
  • Free play time

Critics say that play-based preschools don't provide children with enough academic knowledge to do well in kindergarten, but those who support this method say that young children, while often good at memorization, don't have the cognitive resources and development yet to apply facts they can recite. For example, just because a 4-year-old child can count to 20, they cannot always correctly figure out the answer to 3 + 1, or how they would even set out to try to figure out how to solve it. Proponents of a play-based philosophy also say that it's socialization that is most needed at this young age because social instruction and life lessons aren't necessarily taught in kindergarten and grade school any longer since education has become so test- and standard-based.

It is important to note that "play-based preschool" is a general term and not a specific "brand" of preschool (such as Montessori or Waldorf).

Play-based preschool curriculum and play-based preschool philosophies can include many different types of methodologies.

These school can also be referred to as social-based preschools.

If you ever have any concerns about how much play or academic time your child gets in preschool, be sure to reach out to your child's teacher or the school administration. 

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