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Approaches to Learning Domain

Approaches to Learning Domain

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

Infants & Toddlers

Infants and toddlers’ interest in the world around them influence their learning. They learn through their senses.

When adults support their efforts in a safe and secure environment, infants and toddlers are willing to try new things and take risks. Encouraging exploration gives young children emotional security, which is necessary for exploring, growing and learning.

Children

As children move into preschool, they are able to concentrate for longer periods of time and persist towards competing tasks after encountering obstacles. This is a time for children to develop specific areas of interest. They become more confident in their ability to learn through play and explore how the world works.

What You Can Do

Adults, caregivers and teachers can help children develop positive learning approaches by setting up safe environments and offering a variety of learning materials that children can explore. Encouraging curiosity, creativity, problem solving, and risk-taking will help child development.

It’s important that teachers recognize that children vary in learning styles. These differences may be the result of the child’s temperament, cultural differences, and/or disabilities that may affect how children process information. Teachers and caregivers must be attuned to these differences and provide support and guidance. The Early Learning Guidelines describe important approaches to learning that early childhood educators should foster as they work with young children, while also respecting individual learning.

Curiosity, Information-Seeking, and Eagerness

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

Developmental Indicator Continuum

Infants
(Birth - 12 months)
Younger Toddlers
(8 - 21 months)
Older Toddlers
(18 - 36 months)
Younger Preschoolers
(36 - 48 months)
Older Preschoolers
(45 - 60+ months)
  • 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).
  • Watch a trusted person to gauge their level of curiosity and eagerness before interacting with objects or other people.
  • Imitate facial expressions and movements of others.
  • Show curiosity about their surroundings (points, facial expressions, simple words).
  • Show delight when exploring and making things happen (clapping, smiling, repeating actions over and over).
  • Enjoy sensory experiences (splashing water, tasting, touching, and shaking objects).
  • Share objects of interest or discoveries with a trusted person.
  • Discover things that interest and amaze them and seek to share them with others.
  • Show enjoyment in what they have done.
  • Watch what others are doing and often try to participate.
  • 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.
  • Share discoveries with a trusted person when reunited with that person at a later time.
  • Demonstrate eagerness to find out more about other people, discover new things in their environment, and talk about these things with others.
  • Choose to participate in a wide variety of activities and demonstrate willingness to try new experiences.
  • Demonstrate interest in mastering new skills (writing name, riding a bike, dancing, building skills)

Curiosity, Information-Seeking, and Eagerness

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

Developmental Indicator Continuum

Infants
(Birth - 12 months)
Younger Toddlers
(8 - 21 months)
Older Toddlers
(18 - 36 months)
Younger Preschoolers
(36 - 48 months)
Older Preschoolers
(45 - 60+ months)
  • 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.
  • Initiate activities that interest them and try to get others involved.
  • Use toys and other objects to make things happen (kick a ball, push a button on a toy).
  • Move toward people and things that are new and/or interesting.
  • Seek information from adults by pointing or with a questioning look or sound.
  • Seek more information about people and their surroundings (study and gaze at an object carefully, become absorbed in figuring out something in their environment).
  • Use their whole body to learn (get mud or paint on themselves from head to toe, climb into a big, empty box).
  • Communicate what they want to do or know using gestures, facial expressions, or simple questions. (“What dat?”)
  • 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).
  • Ask questions and wonder about things that interest them (ask questions about future events, describe changes they notice in the seasons).
  • Choose among different ways to explore the environment based on past experience (use
    a magnifying glass that the class used previously to explore something new).
  • Use what they know from past experience to understand a current situation (get an umbrella to go outside because it is raining).

Initiative, Effort, Engagement, and Persistence

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

Developmental Indicator Continuum

Infants
(Birth - 12 months)
Younger Toddlers
(8 - 21 months)
Older Toddlers
(18 - 36 months)
Younger Preschoolers
(36 - 48 months)
Older Preschoolers
(45 - 60+ months)
  • 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).
  • Express choices with actions or simple language (points or reaches for desired objects or food options).
  • Seek to repeat experiences they enjoy or those that result in feeling successful (climb up and down stairs).
  • Try to help with self-care (brushing hair) and activities (turning pages in a book you are reading together).
  • Select and carry out activities (choose to set the table; gather play dishes and food, and then feed the dolls).
  • Show increasing interest in performing tasks independently (put on jacket, try to zip or button).
  • Increase self-help skills (putting on clothes, feeding self, using a tissue).
  • Show increasing independence and initiative when making choices. (“I want to go to blocks.”)
  • 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).
  • Demonstrate increasing independence, initiative, self-direction, and purpose when making choices. (“I’m going to the block area to make a track for my race car.”
  • Demonstrate self-help skills, independently identifying and seeking things they need to complete activities or carry out play scenarios (gather supplies and create a sign for the block building they created).
  • Set simple goals that extend over time, make plans and put effort into following through. (“Let’s make a rocket ship. We need blocks.”)
  • Move independently to another activity once their current activity is completed.

Initiative, Effort, Engagement, and Persistence

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

Developmental Indicator Continuum

Infants
(Birth - 12 months)
Younger Toddlers
(8 - 21 months)
Older Toddlers
(18 - 36 months)
Younger Preschoolers
(36 - 48 months)
Older Preschoolers
(45 - 60+ months)
  • 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).
  • Focus on self-selected activity for a short period of time (decide to play in the sandbox and stay there for a couple of minutes).
  • Focus on an interesting activity or interaction shared with adults for a short period of time.
  • Focus on a person or a hands-on activity for a short period of time (stay focused long enough to fill several containers with sand).
  • Continue to work on interesting activities while other things are going on around them.
  • 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.
  • Consistently remain engaged in self-directed activities (finishes a card they chose to make for a loved one).
  • Sometimes able to ignore irrelevant information when focusing on a task (sorting buttons by color regardless of shape).

Initiative, Effort, Engagement, and Persistence

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

Developmental Indicator Continuum

Infants
(Birth - 12 months)
Younger Toddlers
(8 - 21 months)
Older Toddlers
(18 - 36 months)
Younger Preschoolers
(36 - 48 months)
Older Preschoolers
(45 - 60+ months)
  • Try over and over to make things happen (make sounds to get attention, work to get something that is out of reach).


  • Keep trying to accomplish tasks that they are not initially able to do (put objects inside container, use spoon, put on hat).
  • Keep working on an activity even after setbacks (block structure collapses, puzzle piece does not fit).
  • Seek help from others to complete a challenging activity.
  • 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).
  • Persists in working to complete tasks, trying different ways until successful (when a block tower falls, try putting the blocks together in a different way to build the tower again).
  • Plan and follow through on longer-term tasks (planting a seed and caring for the plant).
  • Keep trying until a challenging activity is complete despite distractions or interruptions (multi-piece puzzle started before lunch and completed later).
  • Seek help and work cooperatively with others to complete a challenging activity (ask and work with peers to build a block bridge across the water table).

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

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

Developmental Indicator Continuum

Infants
(Birth - 12 months)
Younger Toddlers
(8 - 21 months)
Older Toddlers
(18 - 36 months)
Younger Preschoolers
(36 - 48 months)
Older Preschoolers
(45 - 60+ months)
  • 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).
  • Try unfamiliar experiences and interact with new people with a familiar adult nearby.
  • Move away from a familiar adult to explore, but check in frequently.
  • Show interest in toys that offer a challenge and try to make them work.
  • Explore freely without a familiar adult nearby.
  • Try out new skills in a familiar environment (learn to climb steps and then try to climb ladder to the slide).
  • Approach a challenge with confidence (try to lift a heavy object, work on a difficult puzzle).
  • Want to do things their own way. (push an adult’s hand away if the person is trying to help).
  • 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.
  • Expand their sense of self-reliance.
  • Approach new experiences independently.
  • Ask to participate in new experiences that they have observed or heard about.
  • Independently seek new challenges.
  • Demonstrate resiliency and coping skills when faced with challenges (after spilling paint on their favorite shirt are able to help clean up and continue painting).

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

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

Developmental Indicator Continuum

Infants
(Birth - 12 months)
Younger Toddlers
(8 - 21 months)
Older Toddlers
(18 - 36 months)
Younger Preschoolers
(36 - 48 months)
Older Preschoolers
(45 - 60+ months)
  • 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, or solve simple problems.


  • Try one or two strategies to get what they want or solve a problem (try giving a peer an alternate toy to get a desired toy from him/her; try to put a ball in a box—if it will not fit, gets a bigger box).
  • After unsuccessful attempt to solve a problem, ask for help from an adult (point, gesture, speak).
  • Vary actions on purpose to solve a problem (bang then turn shape to fit in sorter; shake handle then pull.
  • Use available resources to accomplish a goal or solve a problem (push a stool to a counter to reach for something).
  • Try a variety of strategies to get what they want or solve a problem, often by trial and error.
  • Recognize problems and make adjustments to actions to correct mistakes.
  • Use language to obtain help to solve a problem. (“My trike won’t go.”)
  • Use materials in new ways to explore and solve problems (bring a big spoon to the sand table when all of the shovels are in use; pile blocks on a towel and drag them across the floor when there are too many to carry).
  • 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.
  • Describe the steps they will use to solve a problem.
  • Apply their prior knowledge to evaluate different strategies for solving a problem.
  • Explain how they reasoned and solved a problem to another person.
  • Demonstrate satisfaction or delight when solving a problem or completing a task.
  • Exhibit flexibility in considering alternative suggestions offered by others.
  • Quickly recover from setbacks when working and playing with others.

Play and Imagination

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

Developmental Indicator Continuum

Infants
(Birth - 12 months)
Younger Toddlers
(8 - 21 months)
Older Toddlers
(18 - 36 months)
Younger Preschoolers
(36 - 48 months)
Older Preschoolers
(45 - 60+ months)
  • 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 spoon-caregiver picks it up).
  • Begin to participate in give-and-take exchanges of sounds and gestures (known as “serve and return”).
  • Play alongside other children, sometimes imitating their actions.
  • Imitate adult actions with objects, first with real objects and then with objects that are used to represent another object (talk on phone, feed doll, use a chair as a pretend car).
  • Take turns in simple games (pat-a-cake, peek-a-boo).
  • Offer toys and objects to others.
  • Try to involve other children in play (give a peer a ball).
  • Make believe, pretend, and act out familiar life scenes, sometimes using objects to represent something else (a shoe becomes a phone).
  • Play with others with a common purpose (play a chase game).
  • Communicate about what is happening during pretend play (“He eating,” point to a picture on a communication board when feeding a toy baby with a spoon; “Now go work,” after putting on shoes and vest).
  • 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).
  • Develop and sustain more complex pretend play themes in cooperation with peers.
  • Use more complex and varied language to share ideas and influence others during play.
  • Choose to use new knowledge and skills during play (add features to pretend play scene related to class project, write list, build a structure like that displayed in a book they have read).
  • Demonstrate their cultural values and “roles” through play (uses a blanket as a shawl while dancing).

Play and Imagination

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

Developmental Indicator Continuum

Infants
(Birth - 12 months)
Younger Toddlers
(8 - 21 months)
Older Toddlers
(18 - 36 months)
Younger Preschoolers
(36 - 48 months)
Older Preschoolers
(45 - 60+ months)
  • 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 bye-bye to a toy, make a sound to get a new adult’s attention).
  • React to unexpected events with laughter and interest.
  • Do new things with familiar objects or combine them in unusual ways (use a dress-up boa as a snake, pound a drum with a plastic bottle, try to stack bears).
  • Broaden their use of art and construction materials and toys in new and unexpected ways (use a tambourine as a hat, cut play dough with scissors).
  • Pretend to be somebody or something other than themselves (pretend to be an animal or another family member).
  • Pretend one object is really something different (use Legos as food while stirring a pot).
  • 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.
  • Plan pretend play scenarios and use or create a variety of roles, props, or tools to bring them to life.
  • Use materials or actions in increasingly varied, creative, and resourceful ways to represent experiences or ideas.
  • Develop creative solutions in play and daily situations.
  • Make up stories, songs or dances for fun during play.
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