My dss reception class was very much about formal learning, lots of emphasis on phonics and writing and academic stuff really. My dd has just started reception in a very play based class where there doesn't (yet) seem to be much focus on academic stuff at all. I much prefer my dds class in that it is fun etc., but i do wonder if it will put her behind where my ds is now. He is very ahead academically and even though i know this isn't the be all and end all, it has enabled him to do things he enjoys easier. Both at state primary but different teachers. Or would he have learnt the same amount if he had been in my dds class?
I think it will depend on the child but in general a child would do better in the play based environment. My DS has just started school and I think he'd really struggle in a formal learning environment, he's only just 4 and it would have been very difficult for him had he not been doing so much learning through play.
We start school so young in this country I think reception should very much be about getting used to school, routines, sitting quietly, putting your hand up etc etc. In saying that, I am someone who (obviously years ago), was very formally educated and I thrived in that environment. But I do think I was probably more the exception than the rule!
I am also amazed at how much my DS is coming home having obviously learnt, whilst he is having wonderful fun and loves school, he is also learning so much which is a joy to see.
My understanding is that there are certain minimum levels of free play in reception. If there is a large age gap between your children this might explain the discrepancy. In which case all the other children of your daughter's age will be in the same position. I think also that different children focus on different things. Dd1 loves a learning through play approach, so I would hear about all her dressing up and model making, dd2 tells me about phonics and that the numeracy was too easy, despite being in the same school following the same curriculum, dd1 would like more play, dd2 more structure! If your daughter is happy at this stage I think see that as the main aim, if you want to do extra work with her then do it in the evenings it soon gets more serious further up the school.
Same school but my ds was mixed with year 1s and ended up grouped with them. I really don't know which approach i think is best (as my dd has only been at school 4 weeks). She is much too tired to start doing work with after school, but i can't help feeling a bit like i should as my ds was doing more stuff by now. But she is happy and enjoying school (which i know is vital), but so was my ds.