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PYP Early years series: Early years in the PYP (ep. 1)

In the first of a series focused on the PYP support material ‘The early years in the PYP’, IB Voices spoke to Anne van Dam and Kathryn O’Connell, two early years educators who have worked in local and global contexts, to explore what excites them about the new support materials and the opportunities it offers for early years educators to reflect on their own practice. Read a summary based on the podcast conversation.

“When I’m leading workshops for the IB, one of the most frequent questions I get is, am I doing this right?”


Can you tell us what excites you about the new materials?


What I really like is the accessibility of the document, the distinctions that are made in the tables and the three sections, Early Learner, Early Learning and Teaching, Early Learning Community. One of the other really useful parts are the examples of teaching practices and the role of the educator which is included in each section.

When I’m leading workshops for the IB, one of the most frequent questions I get is, am I doing this right? This new publication defines the role of the educator and connects play and agency, the concept of play as inquiry and the links between play and those skills that are known as the approaches to learning.  Also, I just really love all the tables, the figures and the charts that really help access the information.


What excites me is more information about the role of concepts in the Early Years, and that liberation of that idea of play as inquiry and the links between play and how it supports the development of those key skills that are known as the approaches to learning.

Also, the link with the IB learner profile. The link that is made to the work in the Primary Years and the suggestions for further reading. Those questions that are part of each section that coordinators and teams can discuss together. It’s an overview of not only the approaches to learning, but all these key skills, including the approaches to teaching in the Early Years.

“We move away from this idea that we’re working on the development of that sort of individual separate set of learning goals, but that we look at this more holistically and that this is a skill that children evolve over time. “


What opportunities do you think this document invites?


It invites us to think more deeply about the link between literacy and numeracy as key symbolic language forms that support students in gaining more sophisticated understandings over time.  We move away from this idea that we’re working on the development of that sort of individual separate set of learning goals, but that we look at this more holistically and that this is a skill that children evolve over time. Literacy and numeracy are interconnected forms of being in the world. It really focuses on languages, spoken at home and in the community as forms of symbolic expression, and that we see those home languages are really viewed as crucial for cognitive growth.


The document invites opportunities for both individual teachers’ self-reflection, but also for group reflection. It supports Early Years coordinators or curriculum coordinators in meetings, with the reflection questions and the readings, with clearer definitions, tables, charts, and graphics. Even if you’re someone who is an advanced Early Years educator, you can say, what more can I be doing with symbolic exploration and play, or what more can I be doing with agency?  I feel that the questions offer an opportunity for differentiation for different levels of practitioners to access the document.


I want to get back to what you were saying about the importance of those funds of knowledge that the children bring with them. The languages and the funds of knowledge from home they bring with them in literacy and numeracy practices. I’m really pleased that you’ve also picked up on that from the documentation.


Yes. Each child is a competent, capable learner.

Anne Van Dam

Anne van Dam has worked as a teacher, coordinator, head of school and vice-principal at international schools in China, Singapore and Switzerland. She joined Eton House International Pre-School in 2007, drawn to the school for its vision to centre learning around young children’s competencies in making meaning and establishing relationships. In August 2011, Anne became the Assistant Principal at the International School of Zug and Luzern(ISZL). At ISZL, she supported the development of a new shared vision for learning in the early years, placing a strong emphasis on relationships, play, learning spaces and documenting learning.

Anne moved back to the Netherlands in 2015. This has given her the opportunity to collaborate for two years with the PYP development team at the IB regional office in The Hague. She has been working on the IB PYP review focusing on learner agency, early years, inquiry and several aspects of ‘the learning community’. Anne still works for the IB as a workshop leader and collaborates with international schools as an independent educational consultant. Since May 2019, Anne also learns alongside 4,5 and 6 year olds at an inner city, local PYP school in her home town The Hague.

Kate O’Connell is a passionate educator and lifelong learner with 25 years of experience in teaching and leading. She has worked and consulted in 30 schools, in 12 countries on 4 continents. This experience includes teaching various grade levels and leading as a PYP coordinator, Principal, and Head of School. She is currently teaching at The Australian International School Phnom Penh.

She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from Michigan State University. She is currently pursuing a Certificate of School Management and Leadership through Harvard Business School and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

She leads and writes workshops for the International Baccalaureate, Compass Education, and online she has coached courses through Harvard Graduate School of Education’s WIDE World.

She is unapologetically passionate about children and education.

Kate O'Connell
Sue Tee

Sue Tee is a PYP curriculum manager with responsibility for early years and the arts, based in the IB global office here in The Hague. Originally from the UK, she has worked in a number of international schools in Hong Kong and The Netherlands as both a class teacher and administrator. Whilst she has worked across the primary age range, her heart belongs with the early years and it is here she has spent most of her time, learning from and with amazing educators and children

The early years is designed for PYP students ages 3-6. To learn more about the PYP early years implementation strategies and Programme outcomes, please click here. 

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