Dr. Shen-Li Lee


If you are a parent choosing a preschool curriculum for your child, there are two basic questions you should begin by asking yourself:

• Play-based or academic?

• Child-centered or teacher-directed?

Actually, there is considerable overlap between the two questions since most play-based programs are generally child-centered, while academic programs typically necessitate teacher direction.

Play-based programs are based on a philosophy that children learn best by doing what comes most naturally to them – playing. They are encouraged to direct their own learning and are given the autonomy to follow their interests. By allowing children to pursue a course of learning that is self-motivated, this play-based/child-centered method for learning fosters independence, creativity and confidence.

The academic/teacher-directed programs are generally more traditional as they focus on imparting specific skills and knowledge to children. Teachers usually follow a set schedule of activities that is broken up with periods of free play in the form of recess. The objective of this type of program is to prepare children for the rigors of later school life, and could be a wise choice for your child if you are planning on sending him or her to an academically-intense primary school environment, such as a Chinese primary school.

Once you decide which type of curricular approach is best for your child, you can begin examining the various preschool curriculum options available in Malaysia. This article provides a broad overview of the major preschool curricula widely seen here.


The Montessori program is a child-centered curriculum that offers children the freedom to explore activities of their own choosing at their own pace. The teachers are present to facilitate rather than to direct children’s learning.

Here are the key strengths and benefits of a Montessori education:

• It fosters independence and encourages individualism.

• The teacher plays a very unassuming role in the classroom. The children are not motivated by the teacher, but by the need for self-development.

• The requisite mixed-age classrooms (typically 2/3 to 6 years old) allow younger children to learn specific skill sets from older children who have mastered them.

• It emphasizes concrete learning rather than abstract learning with the belief that children need to experience concepts in concrete “hands-on” ways.

• It offers a prescribed range of activities from which children can select activities for themselves.

• It offers periods of uninterrupted working time so children have the opportunity to work through their tasks at their own pace.

• It is a child-centered environment. All of the materials are easily accessible. Children are taught to respect and be responsible for the materials they use.



Beaconhouse, a renowned global education network, pioneered the “Play to Learn & Learn to Play” teaching philosophy, which ensures that preschool students truly enjoy the learning process. This internationally-proven and result-oriented methodology infuses the fun element into both teaching and learning, allowing students to grow mentally, socially, physically and emotionally into well-rounded individuals.

Here are the key strengths and benefits of a Beaconhouse education:

• Beaconhouse utilizes the “Play to Learn & Learn to Play” methodology, a wholesome and effective teaching philosophy that promotes experiential and play-based learning.

• It encourages students to develop a keen interest towards learning independently, teaching them to be confident and enthusiastic learners.

• It places an emphasis on building strong character traits and positive attitudes.

• With a history stretching back 37 years, the Beaconhouse methodology has a proven track record, and is used by more

than 226,000 students in nine countries.

• Beaconhouse offers both individual and group learning experiences and every child has a personal portfolio file charting his or her development.

•  Beaconhouse provides In-service Teacher Training (INSET) programs by accredited tutors from the United Kingdom to develop teachers’ skills as professionals.

• All Beaconhouse centers are owner operated, ensuring consistency of standards and delivery.


The Waldorf philosophy is child-centered, but children are encouraged to work together in cooperative play. Students participate in activities that engage all five senses such as painting, singing, modelling beeswax, baking bread, construction out of boxes and boards and pretend play. 

Here are the key strengths and benefits of a Waldorf education:

• It is centered on each individual child’s needs.

• The environment is warm, nurturing and home-like which makes it easier for children to adapt to.

• It encourages children to think creatively and imaginatively and express their ideas.

• It inculcates an appreciation for nature and the world around us.

• Only natural materials are used in the classroom.

• It develops the whole child by placing an emphasis on creative development and character education, rather than on the development of academic skills.

• The same teacher usually stays with the same group of students. Such continuity has been shown to be beneficial for child development.


If you follow a specific religion and would like your child’s education to emphasize the fundamental teachings and values of your religion, you may consider a religious preschool of your faith. The educational philosophies and curriculum content are often similar to other preschools, with the main difference being the incorporation of religious content. It is important, however, to enquire about the schools’ pedagogical approach to ensure that the teaching philosophies meet your expectations for your child’s education.


A language immersion preschool can be a good choice if you want your child to learn a language you do not speak or speak very little at home. These preschools usually incorporate one or more of the common pedagogies mentioned above. The essential difference is that all subjects are taught entirely in a foreign language and the teacher does not offer translations to the students, thereby totally immersing them in the foreign language.

Some preschools offer a multilingual approach, where two languages (typically English and a second language) are used by the teachers.

In Malaysia, the common languages taught in language immersion preschools are English, Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin.



Some preschools adopt a mixed-bag approach to preschool education by implementing a variety of teaching curricula and methods, such as the Singapore math program and the Cambridge reading program. They may also incorporate other educational methodologies such as the Doman method, which utilizes flashcards for teaching sight reading, mathematical concepts and general knowledge. Another methodology that has been gaining prominence and popularity is Right Brain Education, which focuses on tapping into the potential of the under-utilized “right brain” functions.

Many preschools combine the traditional curricula with elements of alternative curricula. For instance, a “Montessori” preschool may offer a largely Montessori curriculum, but also incorporate the Singapore math program and use Doman flashcards for teaching reading. 

It is essential to visit each and every school you are considering and speak to the principal and teachers to gain a clearer understanding of the curriculum being offered before deciding on a preschool for your child.