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Frequently Asked Questions

Who should use this document?

The SD Early Learning Guidelines are intended for any adult who cares for or works with young children and their families. This includes a number of individuals such as parents, teachers, educators, or caregivers in a variety of educational settings (public, private, childcare, family care, preschool, etc.). Early childhood programs across the state, irrespective of their location or setting, should find the guidelines useful as a resource for planning. This document is also designed to be a resource for those that support educators or caregivers (administrators, coaches, professional development/technical assistance staff, higher education faculty) and others involved with improving the quality of children’s learning experiences.

What ages are covered?

The guidelines are divided into five overlapping age levels:

Infants: Birth – 12 months

Younger Toddlers: 8 – 21 months

Older Toddlers: 18 – 36 months

Younger Preschoolers: 33 – 48 months

Older Preschoolers: 45 – 60+ months

Since children develop at different rates, there is overlap across the age-level continuum. The overlap reflects the fact it is normal for children’s development at this age to vary. While the SD ELG describes general expectations for children within these age levels, not all children of a particular age will demonstrate progress on all the Developmental Indicators for that age.

What does it mean if a child in my group does not do what is described in the guidelines for his or her age level?

The age levels in this document serve as a guide about what to look for at different ages. Generally, most of the Developmental Indicators are intended to describe a skill or characteristic that emerges later in the age level. If the child is young for the age level, the skill may emerge later. However, it is important to keep in mind that each child is different. Some children may seem to do extremely well in one domain while progressing more slowly in another. Even children at the end of an age level may not show every ability or skill listed for that level. It is important to look at a child’s overall pattern of development and progress to decide whether he or she is developing as expected. One should not focus narrowly on just a few skills or abilities. If, however, the teacher/caregiver and/or the child’s family have concerns about a child’s development, it is important to refer the child for an evaluation to rule out a suspected disability

Why do the guidelines include five domains of development? 

Because the bodies, feelings, thinking skills, language, social skills, and love of learning for infants, toddlers, and preschool children all develop together, it is essential that we include all five of these domains in the SD Early Learning Guidelines. Children’s learning and development in each of these domains is important for their long-term success in school.

How do the guidelines compliment other early childhood efforts in South Dakota?

The Goals and Developmental Indicators describe how children develop and learn. There are other sets of standards that describe expectations for how programs will care for and educate children such as childcare licensing rules, accreditation standards, and program standards for Early Head Start and Head Start. Programs that strive for high standards of quality will help children make progress in the Goals described in the guidelines. Some programs, such as Early Head Start, Head Start, and Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) funded programs for children who have disabilities, also have their own expectations for child outcomes. The Goals and Developmental Indicators are designed to be consistent with these expectations so that teachers and caregivers can use both the Early Learning Guidelines and their program-specific child outcomes to plan learning experiences for children.

As children are at the age level of Older Preschoolers, they will soon transition into the school district. The South Dakota Early Learning Guidelines have been aligned with the South Dakota Kindergarten Content Standards with the development of a crosswalk. The main purpose of the crosswalk is to increase the consistency of a child’s experiences to create a continuum of learning that builds upon the previous year.

How can I use these Goals and Development Indicators in my work with children who have disabilities or delays?

Children will make progress toward the Goals and Developmental Indicators when they receive high-quality care and education. When working with children who have disabilities, begin by looking at the Developmental Indicators for their age level. If none of the Developmental Indicators at this age level seem to describe the child’s current level, look at an earlier age level. It may be helpful to use indicators from two or three different age levels to decide what comes next in different areas. This can help adults create opportunities for the child to develop those abilities or skills. The strategies included within the domains are considered good practices for all children. It may be necessary to adapt strategies to help individual children learn. When working with children who have disabilities, or those who may need extra support, adaptations are provided at the end of each domain. Specialists such as early interventionists, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists can help families, teachers, and caregivers develop additional strategies that have been tailored to meet the individual needs of the child. These strategies will help children with disabilities or delays develop to their full potential. Additional information for working with children who have disabilities is provided in Appendix A: Supporting Children Who Have Disabilities.  

How can I use these Goals and Developmental Indicators in my work with children who are dual language learners?

Children growing up in families who speak a language other than English will make progress in the areas described in the SD Early Learning Guidelines. Even though the adult may not speak the same language as the child, the Goals and Developmental Indicators are still a useful resource. Those working with children who are learning both English and their own home language should try to use the child’s home language whenever possible so the child can learn the skills and knowledge described in the ELG more easily. Adults may also need to provide additional support for dual language learners, such as short/simple instructions or pictures to illustrate a concept. Some of the strategies or adaptations included within each domain provide additional ideas for working with children who are dual language learners. Finally, adults should remember that children can demonstrate progress on the Developmental Indicators in either their home language or in English. Additional information for working with children who are dual language learners is provided in Appendix B: Supporting Dual Language Learners.

Are the guidelines meant for families to use too?

Research indicates that the extent to which families are involved in their children’s education is related to school readiness and their later school success. By reviewing the Goals and Developmental Indicators, family members can better understand how children develop and give ideas for activities or strategies they can use at home. When equipped with a better understanding of how children grow and what it looks like, family members may be better informed to identify potential concerns about a child’s development.

Is this a curriculum?

No, the guidelines are not a curriculum. It is a resource that can be helpful for choosing curricula and planning daily activities. This document describes the skills and knowledge goals for children as they develop. A curriculum is a resource to help children learn the skills and knowledge. This document will not inform which curriculum, activities, or materials to select, but rather will help guide what experiences are best suited to help children develop and learn. Once there is a good understanding of the Goals and Developmental Indicators that are important for the age/developmental level being served, use a curriculum that will help provide appropriate play-based experiences to help children develop the skills described in the SD Early Learning Guidelines.

What types of strategies are included in the guidelines?

Each domain includes strategies that are designed to provide ideas for how to support children’s progress on the Developmental Indicators included in the domain. Strategies are provided for each component, and most can be used with all children. A few of the strategies are written to provide specific ideas for working with children who have disabilities and who are Dual Language Learners. They are intended to be a starting point for helping children make progress on the Developmental Indicators. Adults are encouraged to seek ongoing professional development opportunities and resources to learn how to use the document and how to best support children’s learning and development.

Are the guidelines based on research?

Yes, the Goals, Developmental Indicators, and strategies included in the SD Early Learning Guidelines were developed based on current child development research. This research helped the team decide which Goals and Developmental Indicators are most appropriate for young children and informed the development of the strategies. The late Dr. Gera Jacobs, who was a Professor of Education at the University of South Dakota and served as a past President of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) served as the lead author for both this and South Dakota’s former 3–5-year-old Early Learning Guidelines document.

Is this an assessment?

No, the Early Learning Guidelines is not an assessment tool. This document describes the developmentally appropriate goals for children’s development and learning at each age level: infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. An assessment is a tool that helps adults gather information about a child to determine how she or he is making progress. The Goals and Developmental Indicators are guidelines that describe the areas of development and learning that families, and others working with the child, should promote. Assessing children’s progress should be done in ways that are developmentally appropriate, using observations, work samples, photographs, and other means of documenting children’s learning during play and daily activities. There are also several developmentally appropriate, systematic assessment tools that can be used to help assess children’s progress. The ELG can be used in conjunction with developmentally appropriate assessments to plan learning experiences for children that match their needs and help them make progress.