Play-Based Learning at IPS

“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

These children are developing social-emotional skills as they take turns sharing materials. They use math skills when they count the items, sort them into different categories and use the materials to create designs and patterns. It’s also a science lesson: using trial and error, they learn about physics when they successfully balance the tower or determine which shapes can roll. They can also sort the animals by their species, habitat or other attribute.
Making self portraits and family portraits are signature projects at The International Preschools. The children learn how we are all unique, yet alike in many ways. They refine their fine motor skills and identify the different colors and shapes. They become comfortable sharing facts about themselves and their families.
Early in the school year, we find out where our families have lived, and what countries they are from; then bring those flags into the classroom.  All of our classes start identifying and creating flags, and as they get older the media becomes more challenging. Two year olds may simply find the same color tissue to create color collages of their flags.  Threes classes will paint their flags and the oldest students will make detailed collages with cut paper and other art materials. The teachers encourage them to note similarities and differences in each flag.  How many of these flags have stars? Which direction do the stripes go?

Children are born with natural impulses to explore; play-based learning allows children to learn naturally. They understand their world best through hands-on, sensory-based experiences that allow them to actively participate, get messy, and make meaning of both the familiar and the new. Group play leads to social interactions, providing opportunities to build social-emotional competence. Children who play together talk, negotiate, turn-take, explain, compromise, practice self-control, and experience shared joy, frustration, and wonder. When conflict arises, children’s play can lead to expressing emotions, problem-solving, flexibility, and higher-level thinking.  These experiences help young children grow into older children and adults who have open-minded, nuanced views of the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will my child be taught academic skills?

The answer is a resounding yes! Play-based education doesn’t change what we teach, just how we teach it. Through play, students learn all of the academic skills they will need to begin kindergarten. This includes recognizing letters, number concepts, how to write their names, and more. Studies have shown that play-based learning is more effective at teaching these skills than rote memorization approaches.

Also, Circle Time is a daily opportunity for students to learn and review these concepts through activities such as charting the weather, taking attendance, decoding a morning message, and singing songs with rhymes.  The Circle Time materials incorporate pictures and text. The children begin to learn the familiar words and the teachers use guided reading techniques to help them decode new words as they are introduced.

At Circle Time the class takes turns working with the calendar, daily schedule, attendance chart, and other materials. The teacher uses guided reading methods to help the class read the daily message.
How many apples does it take to measure a friend?
Another Fall-themed math lesson.

2. My child already plays at home; how is this different?

The difference between play at home and play at IPS is intentionality. Our teachers carefully and purposefully guide the play in the classroom, taking advantage of opportunities to support learning goals. This may be done by asking the children thoughtful questions about their play, modeling appropriate skills, and providing certain types of play materials. The teachers are thoughtful about the types of materials they provide, choosing things that allow for creativity and open-ended play, help children build their fine and gross motor muscles, and encourage language building. For example, most classrooms contain a variety of building blocks made from solid wood, cardboard, and foam, all in different sizes and shapes. This allows for endless avenues of play including stacking, building, measuring, balancing, and more!

Flat magnetic tiles become increasingly complex three dimensional structures. The addition of a lightbox helps the children explore concepts of light, dark, and translucency.

3. Are structure and routine a part of the day, or is it mostly free play?

Structure is a big part of the school day at IPS. Each day typically follows a schedule posted at the children’s eye level displaying each activity with both  picture and text. The schedule is read aloud and discussed each day during Circle time. While students get to make many choices about what they do and how they play, they do so within the safety and familiarity of a daily routine.

At Circle Time the children ask and answer questions, and listen to their teachers and friends with respect.
Every day at Circle Time the children perform jobs like reading the Daily Schedule, posting the Calendar or announcing the weather for the class.

4. What is Choice Time?

Choice Time is an important part of the IPS school day. This is a period when the teachers organize the classroom into a range of centers that are related to current curriculum themes.  During a typical Choice Time, children may choose to work at centers such as the writing table, dramatic play, sensory activities, art projects, blocks, and more. A very meaningful aspect of Choice Time is the need to be able to take turns and negotiate. Usually only four children at a time are allowed at each center. What does a child do if the center they want is full? Initially, teachers help the younger children solve this dilemma. As they get older, children learn to work it out for themselves. If  they count the children and realize the center is full, they look around to see which center has room. While playing at their second choice, they may keep a watchful eye on their first choice and make a switch when they see an opening or even ask a classmate to switch places. This teaches children to be patient and flexible. It also encourages children to interact with many different children. The teachers encourage every student to work at all the different centers.

Some Choice Time activities are guided by a teacher; at others children work on their own.
Writing activities are also part of Choice Time. Children draw in their journals and dictate descriptive text to their teachers.
Literacy, math, social skills, and more are part of imaginary play.
Theme-based imaginary play is often an option at Choice Time.

5. Don’t all children play in preschool?

Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are many schools in New York where children are taught their letters and numbers by tracing them on worksheets. At IPS, students might learn them by tracing them in at the Sensory Table or by forming them out of blocks in the Blocks Center. Worksheets are passive; in play, children are mentally active. Our students learn using hands on opportunities that are meaningful to them. If dramatic play is a restaurant, then children want to write down what their friends are ordering. At the writing center they write letters to family members and friends. They are playing restaurant and post office, but they are strengthing their pencil grip at well!  If a class has a fall “Apple” theme, the children will learn scientific facts about the life cycle of the apple tree, taste different types of apples and graph the class preferences, read books about apples and apple picking, draw pictures and dictate comments about apples, follow the steps of a recipe to make applesauce and even do math activities with apples!