Various Approaches to Childhood Education

Many different types of preschool programs and early education philosophies have entered Singapore. The philosophy that a school employs will impact the centre’s learning goals, how the teacher interacts with the students, and the kinds of toys and materials available in the classroom.

Play Based (Child-centred)

The primary belief of play based centres is that children learn best through play. Children therefore decide on the activities for themselves at each point in time and learn at their own pace.

Classrooms are set up with stimulating materials and activities. The teacher’s main role is to facilitate learning rather than to teach per se. Examples of materials/activities include blocks, art materials and musical instruments. Through these materials, children learn concepts like shapes, sizes, balance, cause-and-effect, coordination, etc.

And because activities often take place in groups, children also learn to get along with others by sharing, taking turns, having empathy and resolving conflicts amicably.


  • Active, independent children do well in these settings as they are motivated to learn and to try new things. Also suitable for children with long attention span and who can follow directions well.
  • As learning stations are usually varied, children get to develop a spectrum of intelligences such as linguistic, logical, creative, physical, social, etc.
  • Learning develops naturally and at the child’s own pace.
  • Fosters independence and confidence.
  • Children tend to have more fun.


  • Children that require more structure may not learn as well in such settings
  • A play-based learning method may be too different from a Primary school setting and the child may not be able to adapt when entering primary school.
  • As effectiveness of this approach is heavily dependent on the teacher and his/her ability to observe and identify learning opportunities, ineffective teachers may result in students falling behind in their learning.


  • Montessori
    Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, based on her concept that play is the child’s work. Fostering independence and self-esteem is an important goal for these schools.

    Children learn things like putting shoes on the right feet, pouring themselves a glass of milk, use buttons and zippers, sweeping the floor, singing, dancing, art activities, etc. These are all called ‘work’ although it may seem like play.

  • Reggio Emilia
    Developed by parents and teachers in Italy, based on the concept that children are capable, curious learners who must be free to learn for themselves and express their thoughts and ideas. Learning is through projects guided by the interests of the students.

    Children are encouraged to explore, ask questions and hunt for the answers to foster intellectual curiosity and build confidence and problem-solving skills. The classroom is designed to support this exploration and cooperation and usually includes items like plants, natural materials, etc.

  • Waldorf
    Developed by Rudolf Steiner, based on the concept of educating the child holistically. It focuses on creativity and the arts, hands-on activities and imaginary play. Academics are not emphasized at all.

  • Multiple Intelligence
    Developed by Professor Howard Gardner, based on the concept of exercising various smarts in a child to develop each to its full potential. It identifies and separates 8 different types of intelligences:
    • Linguistic (listening, reading, speaking, writing) intelligence;
    • Logical-mathematical (numbers, reasoning, patterns) intelligence;
    • Spatial (3D perception) intelligence;
    • Bodily-kinestic (whole-body, fine-motor co-ordination) intelligence;
    • Musical (pitch, melody, rhythm, tone) intelligence;
    • Naturalist (observation, recognising details) intelligence;
    • Interpersonal (EQ, relationships) intelligence;
    • Intrapersonal (self-awareness) intelligence.
    The classroom setting usually involves learning centres/stations that develop one or more of these 8 intelligences.

Academic (teacher-directed)

The primary belief of the academic approach is that preschoolers benefit by preparing for the rigors of kindergarten, primary school and beyond at an early age. This approach is more structured with daily planned activities and some play during outdoors or free-play period.

Classroom time is devoted to developing knowledge and skills such as identifying colours, time, solving problems, reading, writing, etc. There may also be activity areas in a classroom but the teachers explain and lead the activities.


  • Children who can sit still and pay attention for twenty to thirty minutes and are able to follow instructions do well in these settings.
  • Learning is structured and not assumed.
  • Children usually find it easier to adapt when they enter primary school from such settings.


  • May be too formal for some children
  • Learning pace is set by the teacher

Balanced Approach

The approach marries the ideologies and methodologies of the play-based and academic approaches and finds a balance that fits the students and their needs best.

Typically, classroom time is divided between that of structured, planned teaching (e.g. circle time) and of activity centres (e.g. learning centres) that encourage free play and self-paced learning.


  • Has the benefits of both the play based and academic approach
  • As learning stations are still incorporated, children will still develop holistically in various intelligences
  • Tends to make preschool years be a balance of fun and structured learning
  • Children usually find it easier to adapt when they enter primary school from such settings.