Play-based = Brain-based!
Sometimes preschools that are considered "play-based" are assumed to be non-academic, as though it can only be one or the other. On the contrary, neuroscience research consistently points to play as the best way for a child to develop academic skills. Play in the early childhood years is essential for building healthy brain architecture; it creates the foundation upon which all later learning happens. The neural connections that are developed through play lead to the development of memory, self-regulation, oral language and social skills.
When children develop a plan for play and then follow through, they are utilizing the same cognitive processes they will use throughout their school career for academic tasks such as writing and solving math problems. Ever experienced a child who struggles with ideas for brainstorming and drafting a story in elementary school? Thinking about and then acting out a scenario in dramatic play is the precursor to developing the ability to plan and organize thoughts and the creativity required to write stories!
Teachers capitalize upon children's interest and engagement in play by embedding specific learning objectives into the classroom experiences. Not only are children then learning academic content in a brain-friendly way, the learning is also happening in context - which builds conceptual understanding and answers the question "why do we need to know this" without it ever being asked!
Next time you see your child engaged in complex, brain-building play, imagine the neural connections forming in their brains as concepts come to life!