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Frequently Asked Questions

The "heart" of The South Dakota Early Learning Guidelines are charts that describe the Goals and Developmental Indicators for children's learning and development.


Who should use this document?

The 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 and caregivers in a variety of settings such as in child care centers and public schools, family child care homes, or family, friend, and neighbor care. Early childhood programs across the state, irrespective of their location or setting, should find this a useful resource for planning. The document is also designed to be a resource for persons who support teachers and caregivers. Administrators, professional development and technical assistance providers, higher education faculty, and others concerned with improving the quality of children’s learning experiences can use The Early Learning Guidelines as a guide for the types of learning experiences teachers and caregivers should provide for children.

What ages are covered?

The Early Learning Guidelines is divided into five age levels:

Because children develop at different rates, there is overlap at the youngest age levels (e.g., the age range between 8 to 12 months is included in both Infants and Younger Toddlers). The overlap in the age levels reflects the fact that it is normal for children’s development at this age to vary. While The Early Learning Guidelines 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 Early Learning 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.

How do The Early Learning Guidelines compliment other early childhood efforts in South Dakota?

The Goals and Developmental Indicators describe how children to develop and learn. There are other sets of standards that describe expectations for how programs will care for and educate children such as child care licensing rules, accreditation standards, and program standards for Early Head Start and Head Start. Programs that strive for high standards for quality will help children make progress in the Goals described in The Early Learning Guidelines. Some programs, such as Early Head Start, Head Start, and Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) funded programs for children with 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.

How can I use these Goals and Developmental 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 with 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. It may be necessary to adapt strategies to help particular children learn. They may move more slowly than their peers in some or all areas, and some children may not develop all of the skills and abilities listed. The strategies included within the domains are considered good practices for all children, and some of the strategies are written to provide specific ideas for working with children with disabilities. 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.

How can I use these Goals and Developmental Indicators in my work with children who speak a language other than English at home?

Children growing up in families who speak a language other than English will make progress in the areas described in The Early Learning Guidelines. Even though the teacher/caregiver may not speak the same language as the child, the Goals and Developmental Indicators are still a useful resource. Teachers and caregivers 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 ELG more easily. Teachers/caregivers may also need to provide additional support for children learning English in addition to their home language, such as short/ simple instructions or pictures to illustrate a concept. Some of the strategies included within the domain provide additional ideas for working with Dual Language Learners. Finally, teachers and caregivers should remember that children can demonstrate progress on the Developmental Indicators in either their home language or in English. Additional information and strategies for working with children who are Dual Language Learners is provided at the end of this document.

Is The Early Learning Guidelines document meant for families to use, too?

Research indicates that the extent to which families are involved in their children’s education is related to children’s 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 that 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. The ELG also provides resources and services that are available.

Is this a curriculum?

No, the ELG is 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 curriculum that will help provide appropriate play based experiences to help children develop the skills described in The Early Learning Guidelines.

Is this an assessment?

No, The Early Learning Guidelines is not an assessment tool. The document describes the skills and knowledge children to develop. An assessment is a tool that helps teachers and caregivers 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, teachers, and caregivers 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.

Is The Early Learning Guidelines based on research?

Yes. The Goals, Developmental Indicators, and strategies included in The 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. Dr. Gera Jacobs, a Professor of Education at the University of South Dakota and who 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. In addition, Catherine Scott-Little, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro served as a consultant through every phase of developing this document.

Why does The Early Learning Guidelines include five domains of development and learning?

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

What types of strategies are included in The Early Learning 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 with 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.