Each day on our schedule we have Integrated Program Time from 8:30-9:40am. This time is one of the most important blocks of the day for both academic learning and social development.
What is Integrated Program Time?
This fancy term, Integrated Program, translates as one simple idea: play. Integrated Program Time is the very first block of our school day and it is the only time children are allowed free exploration in all of the Peace & Unity classroom spaces. During this time, children work with materials, play with peers, and interact with teachers of their own choosing. It is also a time period where teachers set out specific materials to aid children in achieving learning goals and make observations to assist us in assessment, environment design and social development.
Why is Integrated Program Time Important?
To some it may look like simple play, but for a 3-year-old it is a time where important learning takes place. It is where children practice being a friend (an important learning goal for our current Unit of Inquiry: Relationships), entering and exiting play, telling friends “No” or “Stop! I don’t like it!,” and asking to join in. These social connections give children a sense of community and belonging in the classroom, and are vital in creating a positive feeling towards school. During this time, students are able to explore and play with a wide variety of peers. It is the only time the classroom is open to all 26 students.
Integrated Program Time is also at time when teachers integrate specific activities into children’s play. For example, this week, children were assigned to Peer Group. For a 10-minute period from 9am-9:10am, children played in a specific area with specific teacher-chosen peers. These groups were chosen based on the varying interest and needs of all 26 students to allow them to take risks playing in a different areas of the classroom and with different peers.
It is also a time teachers guide and model play. Many of our students are learning how to play, both with peers and individually. During Integrated Program, teachers invite students to play with them, allowing students an opportunity to watch and mimic play in action. As the year progresses, teachers will be able to set back and observe play. We have already seen play become more abstract and complex, a pattern we expect will continue throughout the year. The article The Case for Play by Tom Bartlett explains the complexity of play. Bartlett states:
[As] Vygotsky explained, when a child can pretend that a broomstick is a horse, he or she is able to separate the object from the symbol. A broom is not a horse, but it’s possible to call a broom a horse, and even to pretend to ride it. That ability to think abstractly is a huge mental leap forward, and play can make it happen.
Imagination is a complex process, and play allows children to naturally explore this ability. In the years to come thinking abstractly will allow children to picture faraway places described in the books they are reading, complete complex math equations, and understand the solar system. Play provides a solid foundation for further learning in Elementary school and beyond.
Through play, children are also able to practice self-regulation and self-help skills. Many 3 year olds are still learning how and when to stop themselves, and play is a wonderful opportunity to them to test these skills with constant peer and teacher feedback. For example, in the blocks and train area many students are unable to stop themselves from knocking over a peers train. Often the peer will become very upset and will display this emotion by yelling “No!,” allowing the child to understand the limits of their peers.
Language is also developed through play. When interacting with peers, children often have have to explain their actions or reasoning to avoid disagreement. As they grow and learn this skill, children are also naturally expanding their social language. While acting out grand pretend sequences either with blocks, trains, a dollhouse, or in the kitchen, children are using subject specific vocabulary. For example, while playing with trains children may use the words: passenger or travel. The article the Case for Play further explains:
… when young children are pretending, they often use bigger words than they normally would and fully inhabit their roles, like mini Method actors. If they’re playing doctor, for instance, they might say “injection” or “thermometer.”
Teachers are also constantly adding new centers, manipulatives, or toys to the environment to further expand children’s vocabulary. For example, we recently added an old phone to the kitchen to provide opportunities for children to speak to each other, often mimicking what they hear the adults around them say on the phone. For children who are learning English, this is even more important. It is a time for them to practice, listen, and process the language around them.
Here is some of the learning that has already taken place in the Peace & Unity classroom.
There is much learning taking place during our Integrated Homeroom time, making it vital every student arrives on time to take full advantages of its benefits.
Further reading: http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Case-for-Play/126382/
Upcoming Blog Posts:
- Peer Groupings
- Family Frames