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What is a play-based preschool?

The main features and benefits of play-based preschools

Most preschools aim to prepare your child for the school years, by teaching them social and academic skills. While preschools sometimes are sometimes similar to nursery schools, daycares, and even kindergartens, they often have a different approach than these other options.

Play-based preschools and daycares

Play-based preschools (also called "play school") are based on the belief that young children learn best through play. They offer mostly open-ended activities, with minimal structure. They aim to develop your child’s social and emotional skills, and to promote a love of learning in an interactive environment.

Play-based preschools, like other preschool programs, tend to be child-centred. They mostly let children choose their own activities. They rarely follow a set curriculum, though they usually have a daily schedule.

In these preschools, classrooms are set up to promote interaction, socialization, problem solving, and discovery learning. Often, there are different stations in class where kids can engage in a wide range of activities. For instance there might be a kitchen, building, reading, and sensory area. This allows kids to pursue their interests and learn and interact in different ways.

Play-based preschools typically don’t offer much direct instruction. Teachers rarely, if ever, provide whole-class lectures. They also don’t normally follow a strict curriculum, at least compared to academic preschools. To learn about the differences between play-based and academic preschools, read our guide.

That said, children can learn important skills in a play-based preschool, including social, emotional, and problem-solving skills. They also may acquire knowledge in some core subjects, such as math, reading, and writing (among others).

As Maureen Myers, executive director at Sprouts, a preschool in Toronto, Ontario, says "We don't sit down and teach by rote or repetition, but the ideas and concepts of letter recognition, language, math, and sciences are learned by very hands-on activities."

Play-based preschools normally have lots of indoor and outdoor physical activity. Boys and girls run around a lot, dance, play hide-and-seek, sports, and other fun activities. They might also play board games and do jigsaw puzzles. And they'll likely do lots of arts and crafts, such as drawing, painting, and colouring.

An example of a play-based preschool is Waldorf. While Waldorf preschools provide some focused work time, they also allot plenty of time for free play and play-based learning. They also place a big focus on pretend or imaginative play.

Play-based preschools have some appealing features.

Benefits of play-based preschools

  • Young children sometimes learn well through play.
  • An important part of school readiness is knowing how to interact with other kids and adults.
  • Children love to have fun. When learning is “disguised” in playing and in games, it can be challenging and fun.
  • These programs can increase feelings of independence, self-confidence, and security with adults and other kids, and in a variety of situations.
  • Learning and understanding the world through play provides an opportunity to explore, experiment, discover, and create.
  • Play-based programs promote self-expression and offer constructive outlets for emotions.
  • These programs often have flexible schedules. They also sometimes offer before- after-school care, to help meet your family’s needs.
  • They are often quite affordable.

To learn about the differences between play-based and academic preschools, read our guide. You can also read articles comparing different preschool approaches: Montessori to WaldorfMontessori to Reggio EmiliaWaldorf to Reggio EmiliaMontessori to academic, and Montessori to play-based preschools. If you want to compare specific schools one-to-one, visit our compare hub.

 

Preschool questions (read our in-depth answers)

 

Answers to the question “What is a play-based preschool?” from school officials

“There have been numerous studies that conclude young students learn best through play. Children develop a good sense of self in an environment rich in language, play experiences, music, and gross motor development. They learn independence by developing their self-help skills and self-regulation. The many social interactions in a preschool environment help develop important emotional skills and foster a child’s larger perspective of the world.

Play is what makes learning meaningful and fun. A vibrant and successful classroom is rooted in daily activities that develop critical thinking through problem solving as children explore, predict, and investigate elements in the world around them.” Corina Gill, assistant head of the lower school at Bayview Glen Independent School, in Toronto, Ontario

“Play is how children learn—it is inquiry for young children. Learning in preschool is through play. There should be large blocks of uninterrupted time for children to play in the preschool’s schedule. There is a spectrum of play. Some play can be directed by the teacher with specific learning expectations in mind. Some play should be representative of the children’s own interests, with limited teacher interference. Some play should be completely unstructured and freely directed by the students.

Albert Einstein said that ‘play is the highest form of research.’ Young children also benefit from small increments of teacher-directed instruction. A balance of play-based learning and teacher-directed activities is ideal, with the emphasis being on play. ” Vanessa Sjerven, teacher at Elmwood School (the early years program), in Ottawa, Ontario

“We emphasize the importance of child-initiated play. Children play with natural, open-ended materials. A safe, secure, and gentle space is created where they can explore and evolve with their play, with as little interference from the teacher as possible. The teacher will only interfere when necessary in the free play of the child. In this way, the child is the master of their own activity, promoting feelings of confidence and trust in their own abilities.” Jennifer Deathe, head of admission at Waldorf Academy, a Waldorf school, in Toronto, Ontario

“Children learn more in one day of play than many of us learn in a week of hard work. When presented with the proper, enriched environment and opportunities for learning, your child can flourish. We do not expect any child to learn classroom material/content in a standard, regimented form. Our educators are there to help guide and lead your child to his or her best sense of self.” Paula Carrasco, director of Kendelhurst Academy, in Mississauga, Ontario

“My point of view: children can play and learn in preschool. One does not preclude the other. Play is an integral part of learning ‘academics.’ Through play, children investigate the world through their inquisitiveness and sense of discovery and develop a positive self-image. They also develop intellectually, socially, physically, emotionally, and acquire self-management skills.” Nora Ibrahim, preschool teacher and IB PYP (Primary Years Program) coordinator at Académie de la Capitale, in Ottawa, Ontario

Series: Preschools

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List of play-based preschools

 
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Branksome Hall (est. 1903)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • JK to 12 Girls
  • Day school (836 students)
  • Boarding school (64 students)
Branksome Hall is Toronto’s only all-girls, all-years International Baccalaureate (IB) World School. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
  • International Baccalaureate
$33,630 to $66,805


Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Girls 33630

The Giles School (est. 1989)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • Day school (180 students)
The Giles School is a French immersion private school in Toronto for children age 2 (Pre-K) to Grade 8. Open Admissions through Grade 1, small classes, and Mandarin introduced as a third language in Grade 1. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
$12,900 to $23,400


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 12900

La Citadelle International Academy of Arts & Science (est. 2000)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • NS to 12 Coed
  • Day school (180 students)
La Citadelle's Excellence in Bilingual Education and academically advanced curriculum develop successful global citizens through IB & AP programs and a holistic approach where students achieve their highest potential. [View profile]
  • Traditional
  • International Baccalaureate
$12,500 to $26,800


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 12500

Oakwood Academy (est. 2007)  

  • Mississauga, Ontario
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • Day school (50 students)
Oakwood Academy is a special education private school in Mississauga. It offers programs from pre-school to grade 12. Oakwood also offers a unique 6 week summer camp focusing on social skills and emotional development. [View profile]
  • Progressive
$19,590 to $66,850


Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 19590

Montcrest School (est. 1961)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Coed
  • Day school (330 students)
Montcrest School offers programs from JK to Grade 8. Its average class size is seven to 18 students. Montcrest offers an exceptional academic experience with balanced opportunities in leadership, the arts, and athletics. [View profile]
  • Progressive
$25,000 to $40,300


Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 25000

St. John's-Kilmarnock School (est. 1972)  

  • Waterloo Region (Breslau), Ontario
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • Boarding school (50 students)
  • Day school (350 students)
St. John's-Kilmarnock School, in Waterloo, offers enriched educational programming for students from JK – Grade 12 through its accredited International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. Its average class size is 17. [View profile]
  • Progressive
  • International Baccalaureate
$17,415 to $64,750

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Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Day Coed 17415

Upper Canada College (est. 1829)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • SK to 12 Boys
  • Day school (1082 students)
  • Boarding school (88 students)
Located in the heart of Toronto, Upper Canada College is the oldest independent boys' school in Ontario. Our IB graduates are highly regarded by top universities and post-secondary institutions worldwide. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
  • International Baccalaureate
$33,300 to $61,860

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Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Boys 33300

Lycée Français de Toronto (est. 1995)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • Day school (550 students)
Lycée Français de Toronto is a French school that offers programs from nursery to grade 12. Its average class size is 17 students. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$17,152 to $19,860


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 17152

Meadowridge School (est. 1985)  

  • Maple Ridge, British Columbia
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • Day school (660 students)
Meadowridge is an IB Continuum World School that supports the development of the whole child in a safe, supportive and challenging environment. [View profile]
  • Progressive
  • International Baccalaureate
$22,500 to $32,500


Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 22500

Alexander von Humboldt German International School (est. 1980)  

  • Baie-D'Urfé, Montreal, Quebec
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • Day school (300 students)
We offer a sound, internationally recognized academic foundation. Our students gain fluency in three languages and achieve mastery of biology, chemistry and physics. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$7,450 to $10,700


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 7450

Olivet School (est. 1893)  

  • Etobicoke, Ontario
  • PS to 5 Coed
  • Day school (45 students)
Founded in 1893, Olivet School is a Christian private school in Etobicoke, offering PS-Gr5. Olivet School combines quality teaching with individual attention to help each child achieve their personal potential. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$4,300 to $10,800

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Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed 4300

Junior Academy (est. 1988)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Coed
  • Day school (100 students)
The Junior Academy offers programs for junior kindergarten to grade eight in Toronto. Its average class size is 10 to 14 students. [View profile]
  • Progressive
$21,500 to $40,000


Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 21500

Magnificent Minds (est. 2011)  

  • North York, Ontario
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • Day school (30 students)
Magnificent Minds Inc. caters to learners whose needs are not being met in traditional school environments, pursuing academic excellence, and individual greatness. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$19,000 to $25,000


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 19000

Bayview Glen (est. 1962)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • Day school (1050 students)
Bayview Glen is a traditional co-ed day school in Toronto, Ontario from Preschool (age 2) to Grade 12, a global member of Round Square and offers Advanced Placement programme. Tuition ranges from $17,000 to $26,500. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$18,375 to $27,290


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 18375

Kelowna Christian School (est. 1978)  

  • Kelowna, British Columbia
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • Day school (775 students)
Established in 1978, our passion is to provide families with transformative, excellent education that equips and inspires students to be disciples who are world changers that love and serve God and others. [View profile]
  • Progressive
$4,750 to $6,550


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 4750

Calgary French & International School (est. 1969)  

  • Calgary, Alberta
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • Day school (780 students)
Calgary French & International School graduates will be active global citizens with a foundation for life-long success, and our school will be the leader in French immersion and international education. [View profile]
  • Progressive
  • International Baccalaureate
$7,900 to $15,100

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Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 7900

The Oakville Academy for the Arts (est. 2003)  

  • Oakville, Ontario
  • NS to SK Coed
  • Day school
Voted Oakville's Best Preschool, The Oakville Academy School for the Arts offers Preschool and Kindergarten classes in an arts-enriched learning environment. [View profile]
    $4,899 to $14,999


    Preschool Kindergarten Day Coed 4899

    Lower Canada College (est. 1909)  

    • Montreal, Quebec
    • K to 12 Coed
    • Day school (800 students)
    Lower Canada College is a coed, K-12 university preparatory school, committed to excellence in teaching and learning. It is the only English school in Quebec offering the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. [View profile]
    • Liberal Arts
    • International Baccalaureate
    $18,695 to $23,845


    Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 18695

    Edge School (est. 1999)  

    • Calgary, Alberta
    • 4 to 12 Coed
    • Day school (300 students)
    At Edge School, your child succeeds through integrated athletics, academics, and character-building programs. [View profile]
    • Traditional
    $17,220 to $18,270


    MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 17220

    North Point School For Boys (est. 2014)  

    • Calgary, Alberta
    • K to 9 Boys
    • Day school (80 students)
    North Point School for Boys is a Kindergarten to Grade 9 independent school in which curious and energetic boys are challenged and motivated, developing into young men of integrity with a genuine love of learning. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    $7,000 to $12,000

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    Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys 7000

    Joan of Arc Academy / Academie Jeanne d'Arc (est. 1954)  

    • Ottawa, Ontario
    • JK to 8 Girls
    • Day school
    In our all-girls environment, academic achievement in both official languages is the norm. A Joan of Arc Academy bilingual education prepares the women leaders for the challenges of tomorrow. Come and see the difference. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    $15,750


    Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Girls 15750

    Brockton School (est. 2004)  

    • North Vancouver, British Columbia
    • JK to 12 Coed
    • Day school (280 students)
    Brockton School is an independent, co-ed, non-denominational, IB World School. Brockton hosts an Early Learning Years program, a Junior School, and a Senior School, with students from Junior Kindergarten to grade 12. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    • International Baccalaureate
    $19,100 to $22,200


    Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 19100

    Calgary Academy & Calgary Collegiate (est. 1981)  

    • Calgary, Alberta
    • K to 12 Coed
    • Day school (540 students)
    Our school has two programs: Academy, for students with learning difficulties who have yet to consistently perform at grade level, and Collegiate, for students at or above grade level and looking for new challenges. [View profile]
    • Traditional
    $12,610 to $18,885


    Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 12610

    The Mabin School (est. 1980)  

    • Toronto, Ontario
    • JK to 6 Coed
    • Day school (150 students)
    The Mabin School offers programs from junior kindergarten to grade six in Toronto. Its average class size is 20 students. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    $26,450


    Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed 26450

    Miss Edgar's & Miss Cramp's School (est. 1909)  

    • Westmount, Quebec
    • K to 11 Girls
    • Day school (320 students)
    Miss Edgar's & Miss Cramp's School is a Tier 1 school for girls in Kindergarten through Grade 11, located in Westmount, Quebec. For every girl who has a mind of her own, we have a school to nurture it. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    $18,763 to $21,417


    Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Girls 18763

    Claren Academy (est. 2017)  

    • Vancouver, British Columbia
    • K to 5 Coed
    • Day school (45 students)
    Claren Academy is a technology & creativity focused independent school located in the heart of Vancouver. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    $15,500 to $16,500


    Elementary Day Coed 15500

    Banbury Crossroads School (est. 1979)  

    • Calgary, Alberta
    • PS to 12 Coed
    • Day school (90 students)
    Since 1979, Banbury's student-paced approach with tutorial instruction is in small, multi-aged groups of 10:1. Meainingful relationships enhance learning. Member of Canadian Coalition of Self Directed Learning--CCSDL. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    $8,000 to $10,000


    Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 8000

    Turnbull School (est. 1992)  

    • Ottawa, Ontario
    • JK to 8 Coed
    • Day school (360 students)
    Turnbull School is dedicated to academic excellence in a caring environment. We offer highly qualified teachers, small class sizes, well rounded and enriching programming, and variety in athletics, science and the arts. [View profile]
    • Traditional
    $19,350 to $21,300


    Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 19350

    Rundle College (est. 1985)  

    • Calgary, Alberta
    • K to 12 Coed
    • Day school (1080 students)
    Rundle College is a university preparatory school from Kindergarten-Grade 12 in Calgary, Alberta. Our small class sizes of 12-16 students, gives our students the advantage of and enriched and personalized education. [View profile]
    • Traditional
    $12,900 to $18,500


    Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 12900

    Gradale Academy (est. 2000)  

    • Toronto, Ontario
    • JK to 6 Coed
    • Day school (50 students)
    Gradale Academy at Evergreen Brick Works is a nature focused school like no other in Toronto. The education program supports strong academic time with a balance of outdoor creative learning. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    15,000

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    Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed 15000

    Clear Water Academy (est. 1994)  

    • Calgary, Alberta
    • JK to 12 Coed
    • Day school (440 students)
    Clear Water Academy is a private Catholic school that stands ready to meet and expand the minds and passions of some of the brightest students in Calgary, and exchange students from around the world. [View profile]
    • Liberal Arts
    $13,300 to $15,100


    Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 13300

    Fern Hill School - Ottawa (est. 1981)  

    • Ottawa, Ontario
    • PS to 8 Coed
    • Day school (180 students)
    Ottawa’s Fern Hill School offers Preschool, Kindergarten and Elementary Grades, including extended French. Tuition starts at $2,950. [View profile]
    • Traditional
    $3,250 to $14,950


    Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 3250

    Queen Margaret's School (est. 1921)  

    • Duncan, British Columbia
    • PS to 12 Coed
    • Day school (220 students)
    • Boarding school (100 students)
    • Day school (90 students)
    Queen Margaret's School is an independent day/boarding university preparatory school in Duncan, BC. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    $4,800 to $49,300

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    Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Day Coed 4800

    Pear Tree Elementary (est. 2015)  

    • Vancouver, British Columbia
    • K to 7 Coed
    • Day school (45 students)
    Small and intimate by design, progressive by choice, and innovative by necessity, Pear Tree Elementary is redefining what it is to teach and learn in the modern world. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    $16,125 to $19,350


    Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 16125

    Kingsley Primary School (est. 1981)  

    • Etobicoke, Ontario
    • PS to 5 Coed
    • Day school
    For the past 36 years Kingsley Primary School offers programs from junior kindergarten to grade five in Etobicoke. Its average class size is eight to 12 students. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    • Reggio Emilia
    $12,000

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    Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed 12000

    St. Mildred's-Lightbourn School (est. 1891)  

    • Oakville, Ontario
    • PS to 12 Girls
    • Day school (550 students)
    Oakville's SMLS continues to be a premier independent school for girls Preschool to Graduating Year since 1891. "Millie" graduates take on the world with confidence and the knowledge that they can do anything. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    • Reggio Emilia
    $18,000 to $28,430


    Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Girls 18000

    The Linden School (est. 1993)  

    • Toronto, Ontario
    • JK to 12 Girls
    • Day school (115 students)
    The Linden School provides a challenging academic program for girls from JK - Grade 12. We create opportunities to discover the joys of learning and foster the development of critical thinking and physical well-being. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    $16,800 to $22,600

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    Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Girls 16800

    Selwyn House School (est. 1901)  

    • Westmount, Quebec
    • K to 11 Boys
    • Day school (550 students)
    Selwyn House School provides a well-rounded education of exceptional depth and scope for boys from Kindergarten to Grade 11. It is located in Westmount, Quebec. [View profile]
    • Liberal Arts
    $19,880 to $25,760


    Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys 19880

    College Bourget   

    • Rigaud, Quebec
    • PS to 11 Coed
    • Day school (1450 students)
    • Boarding school (100 students)
    Collège Bourget is a day & boarding school situated between Montreal & Ottawa, that exceeds Quebec curriculum guidelines & ensures our students grow through different spheres: arts, sports, community service & science. [View profile]
    • Traditional
    $4,700 to $35,000


    Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Coed 4700

    Mulgrave School (est. 1993)  

    • West Vancouver, British Columbia
    • PS to 12 Coed
    • Day school (1000 students)
    Mulgrave School offers programmes from Preschool to Grade 12 in West Vancouver. Its average class size is 20 students with teacher to student ratios of 1:8. [View profile]
    • Progressive
    • International Baccalaureate
    $19,980 to $24,820


    Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 19980

    EPIC School (est. 1999)  

    • Toronto, Ontario
    • NS to SK Coed
    • Day school (45 students)
    e.p.i.c. is a leading progressive school specializing in early education for students in Pre-K, J.K. and S.K. Discover e.p.i.c. School! [View profile]
      $9,500 to $17,595

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      Preschool Kindergarten Day Coed 9500

      The Nature School (est. 2017)  

      • Vaughan, Ontario
      • PS to 3 Coed
      • Day school (50 students)
      • Day school (12 students)
      The Nature School at Kortright provides an alternative form of education designed to provide experiential learning opportunities and promote curiosity to nurture the whole child. [View profile]
      • Progressive
      $1,500 to $12,000


      Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Day Coed 1500

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