Starting the journey towards a concept-driven EY programme

In my previous post, I called for an Early Years (EY) programme to be added to the programmes offered under the IB. In that post, I talked about how I envisioned this programme and how I would put these ideas into action.

My vision for an EY programme used the current components of the PYP – concepts, learner profile and AtLs. This would be a conceptual programme, giving children’s play, interests and curiosity the freedom to be nurtured and grow. 

When working conceptually, it is essential to all have a shared common understanding of what each concept means, diving into each and exploring what they mean for education and early years specifically. 

Over three weeks, together with my colleagues (this includes our teaching assistants), PYP coordinator and Principal, we explored these words, their meaning and application in the classroom. We explored the play that we had observed over the week and where we saw these concepts in action, sharing our thinking on how more than one can often be applied in a child’s play. 

These discussions opened each of us up to how we all viewed play and the learning that takes place within it. We were able to view the play from other viewpoints giving us a greater understanding of what is happening in our classrooms every day. 

Growth doesn’t often come from success alone, and this process has been no different. After exploring all eight concepts, the question ‘which one do you find the hardest to notice/use’ gave us all an opportunity, to be honest about our struggles. I instinctively moved towards function, as I felt that in observations, I know I can be guilty of assuming understanding when young children cannot always articulate themselves or their learning. However, my colleague Caroline had a different viewpoint, and this pushed my thinking and perspective, which gave me pause for thought. She felt that causation requires a deeper understanding than is often evident in children’s play. This created a discussion about how we interpret the play that we observe and why it is so important that learning is never static; it is learning in motion, always growing and changing. What can start as a simple rudimentary understanding can grow into something deeper, with time, scaffolding and repetition, as well as developmental growth. 

We have now begun to put a greater emphasis on the concepts in each child’s play. When setting provocations, such as bringing in a guitar to explore function (how does it work?) and causation (why is it like this?) or a walk in the school forest to dive into form (what is it like?)  and connection (what is the link to other things?), we are giving real-world opportunities for our children, looking for those big picture conceptual understandings. Through the documentation via Storypark, we are able to reflect on and be explicit about how these concepts are part of each child’s learning. This ultimately gives us, our students’ parents and the wider community, an opportunity to see how each concept is embedded in children’s play.

We are no longer constricted to predetermined concepts linked with transdisciplinary themes, rather we now have greater freedom to zoom in on all the play happening every day, using the concepts as our lens. 

As teachers, we can now focus on extending thinking and wonderings in ways that are determined by our students. This has given our students greater scope to truly have agency over their learning.

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