What Is the IB Primary Years Programme


You’ve likely heard of the

IB diploma for high school students

, but did you know that there’s an IB program specifically for elementary school students, too?

The IB Primary Years Programme, or IB PYP, aims to promote responsibility, critical thinking, and independent inquiry.

Learn more about what the IB PYP entails here in our in-depth guide. We’ll go over the curriculum, how to find an IB PYP school near you, how the IB PYP differs from other IB programs, and how hard the IB PYP actually is.

What Is the IB PYP?


International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO)

offers four distinct types of learning programs for students in elementary school, middle school, and high school.

One of these programs is the

International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP


, an internationally recognized educational framework geared toward primary school children aged 3 to 12. (The three other programs are the

IB Middle Years Programme

, the

IB Diploma Programme

, and the IB Career-related Programme.)

The IB PYP was introduced in 1997, and its curriculum is

taught at nearly 1,800 schools in more than 100 countries

around the world. Many different kinds of schools teach the IB PYP, including public, private, and international schools.

The IB Primary Years Programme is the first of the four IB programs and was designed to ease the transition for students into the IB Middle Years Programme. The program aims to promote inquiry and foster the development of the whole child through a unique

“transdisciplinary framework,”

meaning that children learn in terms of issues and themes rather than categorically defined subjects.

Through the IB PYP, as well as the other three programs,

students will come to exhibit these 10 traits, which make up the

“IB learner profile”


  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective

With the IB PYP specifically, children learn how to become more self-reliant and independent, and how to take control of and responsibility for their learning.

The following video by IBO should give you a clearer sense of what the program entails:

Why Should You Do the IB PYP?

The IB PYP is a unique approach to learning that offers many benefits to primary school students.

For one, the IB PYP

encourages children to think independently and take responsibility for their actions and learning

. Students are taught the basic tenets of the IB learner profile to help them develop positive, open-minded attitudes toward a variety of topics, skills, and issues.

The program’s

“inquiry-led approach”

allows students to be active participants in their learning by asking questions, exploring ideas, and sharing knowledge with their peers. The classroom is a dynamic atmosphere that encourages students to make discoveries and choose what they would like to study—characteristics that are reminiscent of the

Montessori method


The IB PYP also emphasizes


or becoming more culturally aware and empathetic toward others. This is where the key element of “attitudes” comes into play: students learn how to interact appropriately and openly with others from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and languages.

It’s also where the idea of learning a foreign language comes in: all IB Primary Years Programme students who are at least 7 years old have the

option to learn another language

. This could be in the form of a bilingual program, for instance.

Additionally, through the IB PYP’s transdisciplinary curriculum, children can engage with issues and subjects in multiple ways. While students will still study traditional subject areas such as math, science, and social studies, they will also

learn how to apply the knowledge and skills they gain from each subject to other issues and areas


Regarding academic performance, participation in the IB Primary Years Programme has been proven to

strengthen students’ critical-thinking skills and improve comprehension

. One study, which was conducted from 2009 to 2011, found that

PYP students performed better in math, reading, and writing than did non-IB students


Finally, the IB Primary Years Programme

offers helpful preparation for the IB Middle Years Programme (IB MYP)

, which many students go on to take once they finish the IB PYP and enter middle school. Note that you are


required to do the IB MYP after completing the PYP. Ultimately, it’s your choice whether you want to stay on the IB path or not!


How Can You Find an IB Elementary School?

The IB PYP is offered at certain primary schools around the world that have undergone a special

authorization process

to become designated as “IB World Schools.”

Any school that teaches students aged 3 to 12 can apply for authorization to adopt the IB Primary Years Programme and become an IB elementary school.

Here’s a brief overview of what the

process of becoming an IB World School


  • Having teachers complete special training and professional development courses
  • Paying annual fees
  • Doing a trial run of the IB PYP

Once a school has completed these requirements and received authorization, it can implement the IB Primary Years Programme as an official IB World School.

If you’d like to find an IB World School near you, you can

use the

IB World Schools Yearbook

, a digital repository of all schools that offer IB programs. Here, you can search by country and/or program type (in this case, IB PYP); you can also search by school name to see whether a particular school is already a registered IB elementary school.

At present,

only 11 schools in the United States offer the IB PYP


The yearbook is updated once a year since schools can lose or gain IB World School status on an annual basis, so it’s a good idea to check back every year.

What Is the IB PYP Curriculum?

The IB Primary Years Programme uses a

unique transdisciplinary curriculum

, which

encourages students to make connections between local and global issues in a real-world context and using an inquiry-based approach


The main aims of the IB PYP curriculum are as follows:

  • Address students’ personal, emotional, and academic needs
  • Encourage independent thinking and responsibility
  • Support students’ learning
  • Promote international-mindedness

Specifically, the curriculum consists of

five basic elements

, which IBO describes below:

The five essential elements of the PYP are:

  • Knowledge

    , which is both disciplinary, represented by traditional subject areas (language, maths, science, social studies, arts, PSPE) and transdisciplinary

  • Concepts

    , which students explore through structured inquiry in order to develop coherent, in-depth understanding, and which have relevance both within and beyond subject areas

  • Skills

    , which are the broad capabilities students develop and apply during learning and in life beyond the classroom

  • Attitudes

    , which contribute to international-mindedness and the wellbeing of individuals and learning communities, and connect directly to the IB learner profile

  • Action

    , which is an expectation in the PYP that successful inquiry leads to responsible, thoughtful and appropriate action.

The PYP curriculum is described as “rigorous and challenging,” so students can expect to be fully immersed in their learning. That said,

there are no required IB tests in the IB PYP, and grades are not moderated


For the “knowledge” element above, learning is underscored by

six transdisciplinary themes

, which students are expected to apply to real-life issues and topics, regardless of subject area:

  • Who we are
  • Where we are in place and time
  • How we express ourselves
  • How the world works
  • How we organize ourselves
  • Sharing the planet

From the age of 7 onward, IB PYP students are also given the option to study a foreign language.

Exactly how this is implemented at schools can vary. For example, one IB elementary school might be fully bilingual, whereas another might offer a program taught in a language that is


the mother tongue of most students.

In the last year of the IB Primary Years Programme,

students are required to work on an in-depth, collaborative research project called the

“PYP Exhibition.”

This project allows teachers to evaluate each student’s individual abilities and understanding of the concepts they’ve studied. It’s also a way for students to synthesize their skills and prepare for the IB MYP should they choose to enroll in it.


How Does the IB PYP Compare to the IB MYP? The IB DP?

The IB PYP is just one IB program that students can enroll in. But how exactly does it differ from the IB Middle Years Programme and the IB Diploma Programme?

The following chart offers a summary of the differences between the IB PYP, IB MYP, and IB DP:

IB Primary Years Programme

IB Middle Years Programme

IB Diploma Programme

Student Ages
3-12 11-16 16-19

Program Goals
Foster the development of the IB learner profile; prepare students for the IB MYP Foster the development of the IB learner profile; prepare students for the IB DP Foster the development of the IB learner profile; prepare students for the rigors of higher education; allow students to earn college credit in high school

Core Elements
Knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes, actions Approaches to learning (ATL), key and related concepts, global contexts Theory of knowledge; the extended essay; creativity, activity, service

Who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves, sharing the planet Identities and relationships, personal and cultural expression, orientations in space and time, scientific and technical innovation, fairness and development, globalization and sustainability Identities, experiences, human ingenuity, social organization, sharing the planet

Subject Areas


, but still with a focus on language, math, science, social studies, arts, PSPE*
Language acquisition, language and literature, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical and health education, design
Higher level (HL)


standard level (SL)

courses in the following: studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, the arts

Final Project
PYP Exhibition Personal Project Extended Essay; Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) Project

*PSPE = Personal, social, and physical education

Perhaps the most obvious difference is the first one listed above:

student ages

. Whereas the IB PYP focuses exclusively on primary school students aged 3 to 12, the IB MYP is an IB middle school program (ages 11-16), and the IB DP is for high school students (ages 16-19). As such, we can say that

the IB PYP is the easiest program

(since it’s the first of the three programs and targets the youngest age group), while the Diploma is the most challenging.

Next, the curriculum of each program differs significantly. As you know, the IB PYP curriculum is highly transdisciplinary and doesn’t follow specific subject areas; rather, it abides by six essential themes.

By contrast, the IB MYP and IB Diploma Programme have specific subjects students must study.

Lastly, all three IB programs have different final projects required of students. The IB PYP requires students to do a research project called the PYP Exhibition, while

IB MYP students must do a Personal Project and IB DP students must write an in-depth research paper


complete a project

, which typically involves community service.


How Hard Is the IB PYP?

The IB Primary Years Programme isn’t necessarily


than basic elementary school curricula, but it’s definitely


—and this unique nature can be either good or bad for certain types of students.

In the IB PYP curriculum, children are taught to take control of their own learning, which can be

intimidating or even uncomfortable

for those who would rather be told by their teachers what and how to learn.


some students (and parents) might not enjoy the transdisciplinary framework

and the lack of emphasis on separate disciplines. It’s possible that children could find it difficult to make connections across subject areas and would do better with more distinctly defined lessons.


some children might be turned off by the PYP Exhibition requirement

and the notion of working with others to produce such an elaborate project. The exhibition entails synthesizing what you’ve learned to come up with something you can share with the entire school community. That sentence alone might be pretty intimidating to some students!

Overall, although the IB PYP is defined by IBO as “rigorous and challenging,” it’s really only hard if you’re not used to or comfortable with the transdisciplinary teaching methods and the program’s emphasis on inquiry and exploration.

Conclusion: What to Know About the IB PYP

The IB Primary Years Programme, or IB PYP, is one of four educational programs designed by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO). It’s geared toward primary school students aged 3 to 12 and focuses mainly on inquiry and helping children develop skills such as responsibility, independence, critical thinking, and international-mindedness.

The IB PYP curriculum is unique in its transdisciplinary approach

, which encourages students to make connections between local and global issues across traditional subject areas.

If you wish to enroll your child in an IB Primary Years Programme, you can search for a recognized IB elementary school in your area using the

IB World Schools Yearbook


Though the IB PYP is not necessarily more difficult than your basic elementary school curriculum, it

can present unique challenges to certain students

due to its emphasis on inquiry, independent learning, and global mindfulness.

What’s Next?

The IB Primary Years Programme is not the only IB program out there (as you know!).

Check out our expert guides to the

IB Middle Years Programme

and the

IB Diploma Programme

to learn more about your options for IB learning in middle school and high school.

Aiming for the IB Diploma?

Then you’ll definitely want to know

what IB classes you can take


when IB scores and results come out


Interested in other educational programs and learning methods?

Learn all about the famous Montessori method

and how it’s not


for young children.

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