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Approaches to Learning

Approaches to Learning - Infants (Birth to 12 Months)

From the moment they're born, babies begin learning about the world around them. They learn through their senses - tasting, touching, smelling, listening and looking at anything and everything. They also learn through movement, as they try new actions like playing with their fingers and toes, raising their hands for "so big" and putting everything in their mouth. Make sure to periodically rotate toys and materials to encourage new experiences.

About This Domain

The Approaches to Learning domain addresses how children learn and includes children’s attitudes toward and interest in learning. It reflects behaviors and attitudes such as curiosity, problem-solving, maintaining attention, and persistence.


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Curiosity, Information-Seeking, and Eagerness


Goal AL-1: Children demonstrate curiosity and eagerness and express interest in the world around them.

Begin to connect interests in the world through a trusted relationship ( utters squeal of delight when adult brushes flower against cheek)

Show interest in others (kicks feet excitedly when someone they care about approaches; smiles or gazes at caregiver)

Show interest in themselves (looks at themselves in mirror and play with their feet)

React to new sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches (may turn head toward loud sound; may repeatedly stick out tongue when tasting a new food)

Goal AL-2: Children actively seek to understand the world around them in play and everyday tasks.

Explore the indoor and outdoor environment using all available senses - smell, hear, see, feel and taste (puts objects in their mouth)

Move toward interesting people, sounds, objects, and activities, with appropriate supports.


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Design the environment with safety as a priority. Ensure that all surfaces and furniture are free from potential health and safety concerns. Sanitize frequently, especially any surfaces children put in their mouths.
  • Provide a variety of textures, including many soft surfaces and comfortable furniture that encourage climbing and exploration and a home-like atmosphere.
  • Include materials that will allow children to use all of their senses, which could include: several types of music; outdoor wind chimes; paintings; children’s art work; flowers and other plants; fabric; and a variety of different types of books.
  • Provide uncluttered spaces for relaxation, as well as room for moving.
  • Regularly add new materials to the indoor and outdoor environment that will engage children’s interest.
  • Provide children with adequate time to fully explore materials both indoors and outside.
Effective Strategies to Support children's Development and Learning
  • Notice and respond to children’s interests and encourage them explore and learn more. Infants may show their interest through simple reactions, which we can acknowledge, describe, and then provide additional experiences. We can also encourage them to notice each other’s activities.
  • Support children’s exploration and discovery. For infants, this may begin with providing tummy time with stimulating toys. Document learning with photographs that can be shared, displayed or added to photo albums, class books or portfolios.
  • Provide a wide variety of experiences for children of all abilities. Adapt materials and activities as needed to ensure that all children can participate as fully as possible.
  • Share your excitement and interest in activities, wonder at plants, animals, and events in nature, and your joy in learning new things. Encourage children to do the same.
  • Show genuine curiosity. Be a role model, showing how to approach new situations and engage in learning.
  • Have rich conversations with children, listening, responding.
  • Avoid overwhelming children with too much stimulation, especially those with special sensory needs.
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Initiative, Effort, Engagement, and Persistence


Goal AL-3: Children demonstrate initiative and effort in play and everyday tasks.

Communicate with sounds or movements to indicate preferences (make excited facial expressions or sound for food they like, push away food they don’t like).

Independently explore the different qualities of an object (notice the sound of a rattle, exploring it further by putting in their mouth).

Goal AL-4: Children are engaged and maintain focus in play and everyday tasks.

Focus and attend to people and things around them.

Repeat interesting actions over and over (push button to make toy light up).

Notice when the expected does not happen (makes disappointed sound when squeaky-toy does not make a sound when pushed).

Goal AL-5: Children persist at challenging activities in play and everyday tasks.

Try over and over to make things happen (make sounds to get attention, work to get something that is out of reach)


Suggestions for Enriching The Environment
  • Provide interesting, engaging materials, inside and outdoors, at children’s current levels of abilities.
  • Provide safe materials to explore.
  • Provide visually interesting materials, especially faces.
Effective Strategies to Support Children's Development and Learning
  • Encourage infants through affirming interactions.
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Risk-Taking, Problem-Solving, Flexibility, and Resilience


Goal AL-6: Children are willing to try new and challenging experiences in play and everyday tasks.

Explore new experiences both indoors and outdoors (toys, foods, people, spaces) with support of a familiar trusted adult.

Look to adults for cues and proceed when reassured.

Try to do things that are hard for them (stretch to reach toy, work to crawl or walk, try to capture crumb with pincer grasp).

Goal AL-7: Children use a variety of strategies to solve problems in play and everyday tasks.

Try simple strategies to get what they want (make noise, move or reach toward things, reject unwanted item).

Try a familiar action in a new activity (hit a button on a new toy, try to open a variety of containers).

Use trial and error to get something done, get what they want.


Suggestions for Enriching The Environment
  • Establish a consistent routine that promotes children’s sense of expectation, while also being flexible to teachable moments.
  • Provide time for reflection in the daily schedule (use snack time for conversations about the morning’s play activities).
Effective Strategies to Support Children's Development and Learning
  • Talk about what you are seeing, doing, and thinking. Use language to identify items in the environment such as what you are eating, what children are doing, and how you are solving a problem. (“We ran out of juice, so I’m going to pour some water instead.”)
  • Let children know you care about them and appreciate their efforts.
  • Model flexibility and positive approaches to new experiences. Demonstrate your own willingness to try new ideas, activities, materials, foods, etc.
  • Support and praise children’s efforts.
  • Help children take safe-risks. Be there to ensure their safety.
  • Talk out loud while reasoning through a problem or working through a task to model the problem-solving process for children.
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Play and Imagination


Goal AL-8: Children engage in increasingly complex play.

Engage in solitary play

Show interest in other children playing (watch, turn toward).

Imitate sounds, facial expressions, or gestures (cover face with hands, hands up for “so big”).

Play with simple objects, using them to make sounds and explore cause and effect (shake a rattle-hear a sound; drop a spooncaregiver picks it up).

Begin to participate in give-and-take exchanges of sounds and gestures (known as “serve and return”).

Goal AL-9: Children demonstrate creativity, imagination, and inventiveness in play and everyday tasks.

Use everyday household objects for play (spoons, pots and pans, plastic bowls).

Try a familiar action with a new object or person (try to bounce a block, wave byebye to a toy, make a sound to get a new adult’s attention).

React to unexpected events with laughter and interest.


Suggestions for Enriching The Environment
  • Incorporate movement and interest into the environment, using such things as fish and other pets, objects suspended from the ceiling, and music for dancing.
  • Periodically rotate toys and materials to spark new ideas.
  • Provide a variety of open-ended, real-life, materials for children to investigate, including boxes, wooden blocks, and safe household materials.
  • Adapt materials and the environment as needed so that children of all abilities can participate fully.
Effective Strategies to Support Children's Development and Learning
  • Expand children’s experiences by exploring new places and introducing them to new activities.
  • Follow children’s lead as they play and design activities that will allow them to pursue their interests.

About the South Dakota Early Learning Guidelines

The South Dakota Early Learning Guidelines serve as a shared vision for all adults supporting young children's experiences prior to entering kindergarten. Positive interactions with trusted adults, engaging with peers, and consistent environments that are safe, healthy, and enhance learning are vital elements to support young children.

Goals and Developmental Indicators describe expectations for what children learn starting with infancy and covering all ages through kindergarten entry. These goals apply to all children regardless of what language they speak, what strengths/disabilities they may have, or specific unique family circumstances. Strategies to enrich the environment, support development and learning, and adaptations provide a variety of ideas to consider.

At the “heart” of the document are tables or developmental continuums that describe children’s learning and development from birth up to kindergarten. You can find these tables under the Learning Domain tab in our main navigation. These Goals and Developmental Indicators are divided into five domains:

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Approaches to Learning

Children are born with an inclination to learn. This is reflected in behaviors and attitudes such as curiousity, problem-solving, maintaining attention, and persistence.

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Communication, Language & Literacy

From birth, children are learning language and developing the ability to communicate. Talking, singing, reading, and responding effectively when children express themselves are great investments supporting learning.

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Cognitive Development

This fascinating area of development includes understanding how children aquire, organize, and use information in increasingly complex ways. Through play, skills are developed as the foundation for exploring and understanding more sophisticated concepts.

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Health & Physical Development

Physical growth, muscle development, nutrition, self-care, health and safety practices are included in this area. Safe and healthy practices suppport the ability to learn more effectively in all areas.

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Children's areas of development are all integrated. While organized among five domains, each with different components, no one area is more important than another and are interrelated. These guidelines provide understanding for how children develop and why it is important to provide playful activities and experiences that support early learning.

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