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Approaches to Learning

Approaches to Learning - Younger Preschoolers (33 to 48 Months)

It's all about imagination! Your younger preschooler's approach to learning still revolves around play - although now their pretend play is getting much more complex and imaginative. Continue to provide a supportive environment with plenty of new experiences. You can also build learning skills and nurture your child's emerging need for self-reliance by letting them manage simple choices, such as deciding what to wear or what to eat for a healthy snack.

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.

Components

image for Curiosity, Information-Seeking, and Eagerness

Curiosity, Information-Seeking, and Eagerness

Milestones

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

Seek out a trusted person to approach something new.

Discover things that interest and amaze them and express that interest to others.

Share what they have done with others through verbal and nonverbal means (take teacher to the easel to see a painting).

Show interest in a growing range of topics ideas, and tasks.

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

Ask questions about the people and things around them.

Use all available senses, tools, and a variety of strategies to actively explore the environment (drop objects in water to see if they sink or float).

Purposefully try different ways of doing things to see how they work (adjust blocks used as a ramp to make a ball roll faster and farther).

Strategies

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.
  • Provide a variety of materials children can use to express their creativity and represent what they are learning, including washable, non-toxic paints, crayons, and markers, as well as paper, and open-ended materials such as blocks, containers, and fabric.
  • Regularly add new materials to the indoor and outdoor environment that will engage children’s interest and encourage them to try new experiences and ask questions.
  • Organize and arrange materials in an inviting manner. Use trays or place-mats to make materials look interesting and stand out. Add real items as props for pretend play.
  • 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.
  • Provide activities and materials that support children at their current level, as well as those that offer a challenge. Support and encourage children as they work on these challenges. Be especially sensitive to children with special needs. Observe children to know when to offer additional support, allow for independent exploration, or when to end an activity. (“Maria, look how that toy is lighting up when you push that button, can you do it again?”)
  • Have rich conversations with children, listening, responding to their ideas, interests, questions, and concerns.
  • Provide a variety of props and pictures that will allow children with limited vocabularies and dual language learners to learn more about topics that interest them and communicate their ideas more effectively.
  • Encourage children to listen carefully to others, ask questions of one another, share, and compare ideas.
  • Combine new materials and activities with familiar ones to allow children to explore changes, and then to return to activities they are comfortable with, when needed.
  • Let children watch new activities from a distance if they are uncomfortable joining right away, and then participate when ready.
  • Avoid overwhelming children with too much stimulation, especially those with special sensory needs.
  • Encourage children to ask questions and find answers. Use resource books or web searches with children to model finding in-depth answers to children’s questions and observations. (“Why are those ants carrying grass?”)
image for Initiative, Effort, Engagement, and Persistence

Initiative, Effort, Engagement, and Persistence

Milestones

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

Purposefully try different ways of doing things to see how they work (adjust blocks used as a ramp to make a ball roll faster and farther).

Express goals or plans and follow through on them. (“I’m going to build a really tall tower.”)

Expand self-help skills, interest, and enjoyment in doing things on their own (brushing teeth, putting on boots).

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

Remain engaged in more complex activities they have chosen.

Focus on age-appropriate activities for a short period of time, even with interruptions (continue painting after answering another child’s question).

Maintain interest and focus and return to an activity after a break.

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

When something does not work, try different ways to complete the task (when a block tower falls, try putting the blocks together in a different way to build the tower again).

When experiencing difficulty with a challenging task, ask for and accept help from peers or adults (ask for help putting materials away on a high shelf; ask a friend for help in naming an unfamiliar animal in a book).

Strategies

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.
  • Provide a variety of materials children can use to express their creativity and represent what they are learning, including washable, non-toxic paints, crayons, and markers, as well as paper, and open-ended materials such as blocks, containers, and fabric.
  • Regularly add new materials to the indoor and outdoor environment that will engage children’s interest and encourage them to try new experiences and ask questions.
  • Organize and arrange materials in an inviting manner. Use trays or place-mats to make materials look interesting and stand out. Add real items as props for pretend play.
  • 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.
  • Provide activities and materials that support children at their current level, as well as those that offer a challenge. Support and encourage children as they work on these challenges. Be especially sensitive to children with special needs. Observe children to know when to offer additional support, allow for independent exploration, or when to end an activity. (“Maria, look how that toy is lighting up when you push that button, can you do it again?”)
  • Have rich conversations with children, listening, responding to their ideas, interests, questions, and concerns.
  • Provide a variety of props and pictures that will allow children with limited vocabularies and dual language learners to learn more about topics that interest them and communicate their ideas more effectively.
  • Encourage children to listen carefully to others, ask questions of one another, share, and compare ideas.
  • Combine new materials and activities with familiar ones to allow children to explore changes, and then to return to activities they are comfortable with, when needed.
  • Let children watch new activities from a distance if they are uncomfortable joining right away, and then participate when ready.
  • Avoid overwhelming children with too much stimulation, especially those with special sensory needs.
image for Risk-Taking, Problem-Solving, Flexibility, and Resilience

Risk-Taking, Problem-Solving, Flexibility, and Resilience

Milestones

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

Express a belief that they can do things that are hard.

Choose to participate in an increasing variety of new experiences when offered.

Show flexibility by adapting to changes in routines and situations.

Accept new challenges and opportunities when offered.

Try things they are not sure they can do, while avoiding dangerous risks.

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

Welcome new challenges (add additional pieces to a new construction toy).

Seek and make use of ideas and help from adults and peers to solve problems.

Purposefully attempt several different strategies when encountering difficulty during daily routines or when using materials.

Talk to themselves to work through the steps to solve a problem.

Recovers from setbacks with the support of an adult.

Strategies

Suggestions for Enriching The Environment
  • Provide plenty of open-ended materials, both indoors and outside, that can be used in more than one way and materials that challenge children’s problem-solving abilities (new, challenging puzzles; different kinds of paint and brushes).
  • 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.
  • Encourage children to use materials in new ways. Validate their feelings of disappointment when their efforts are not initially successful. Encourage them to try solving their problem another way.
  • Model flexibility and positive approaches to new experiences. Demonstrate your own willingness to try new ideas, activities, materials, foods, etc.
  • Help children who have difficulty trying new things, by introducing the material or change slowly, and preparing them in advance for changes that are coming.
  • Encourage children to seek help from each other or an adult when needed. Role-play a variety of situations that involve solving problems and asking for help, providing words that children can then use on their own
  • Support and praise children’s efforts, helping children see that their efforts are more important than final products.
  • Support children’s efforts to think flexibly and do things in their own way.
  • 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.
  • Teach children the steps involved in problem solving: identifying the problem, generating possible solutions, choosing a solution, trying it out and evaluating how well it worked.
  • Engage children in applying their prior knowledge by prompting them to ponder why something might have happened, such as why a plant might be wilting.
  • Set up safe and engaging science activities and experiments that give children opportunities to use their thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Encourage children to talk out loud as they reason and work through a task.
  • Suggest that children ask for help and support one another. Model this, especially for children who may have limited social interaction skills or additional challenges.
  • Routinely involve children in thinking through real-life problems (how to clear a path through the new snow).
  • Promote reflection by asking open-ended questions as children are working on a project.
  • Help children use conflict resolution skills when they are working through problems with other children. Model negotiation skills by talking about the problem, the feelings related to the problem, and how to explore possible solutions.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate children’s successes. Encourage them to recognize their own achievements and congratulate peers on their successes.
  • Help children identify coping skills that will help them when feeling stress, such as asking for a hug, holding a blanket and taking a break.
  • Role model relaxation skills, such as deep breathing, slowly counting and progressively relaxing muscles to help children cope with challenges.
  • Encourage children to think of mistakes as opportunities to explore alternative solutions and ways to complete tasks. Avoid making critical or negative comments. Acknowledge when you yourself make mistakes and talk about how you try to learn from them.
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Play and Imagination

Milestones

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

Engage in pretend play themes that include interacting with other children, but often are not coordinated.

Talk to peers and share materials during play.

Engage in make-believe play with imaginary objects.

Use language to begin and carry on play with others.

Express knowledge of their everyday lives and culture through play (pretends to shop at a Farmer’s Market and prepare a meal, pretends to fix hair the way his/her family styles hair).

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

Explore and experiment with a wide variety of materials and activities.

Use imagination to try new ways of doing things and work with materials in creative ways.

Use materials (art materials, instruments, construction, writing implements) or actions to represent experiences or ideas in inventive ways.

Experiment with language, musical sounds, and movement.

Strategies

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.
  • Provide large amounts of time for children to make choices and play imaginatively.
  • Adapt materials and the environment as needed so that children of all abilities can participate fully.
  • Set out a variety of art materials that encourage creativity. Change these materials periodically to give children new experiences.
  • Add unique objects to interest areas, such as toy animals to the block area to expand play and imagination. This could include objects that fit with a theme or project you are working on.
  • Encourage divergent thinking by combining unlikely objects and activities, such as adding colorful fabric squares to the math area or artificial flowers to the sand table.
  • Transform the Dramatic Play/Housekeeping area periodically to promote new play scenarios, such as Post Office, Restaurant, Vet Office, Pet Store, Flower Shop, Grocery Store, Bank, Library, etc.
Effective Strategies to Support Children's Development and Learning
  • Observe children’s individual interests and abilities and provide a variety of materials as well as indoor and outdoor activities that allow them to pursue their interests and develop their imaginations.
  • Expand children’s experiences by exploring new places and introducing them to new activities.
  • Nurture creativity by encouraging children to use materials in unique and creative ways.
  • Assure children that it is fine to get messy as they work with materials. Recognize that some children will not be comfortable with messy activities. Support children in thinking of alternative ways they can do the activity.
  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage broad, creative thinking; “What would happen if... Why do you think... What could we do... etc.”
  • Follow children’s lead as they play and design activities that will allow them to pursue their interests.
  • Model skills that support children’s ability to join others who are playing, as well as how to invite others to join them.
  • Provide a variety of props to support children’s pretend play.
  • Encourage children to plan and talk about what they might do in the dramatic play area (roles they might like to play, props they might like to use, etc.).
  • Support children’s ability to use their imaginations (help make up new words to songs and new endings for stories).

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.

Learn More
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Learn More
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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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