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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


AL Goal-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 (look at self in mirror and plays with their feet).

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

AL Goal-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 mixture 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 their senses such as several types of music, outdoor wind chimes, paintings, children’s artwork, 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 an array 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 placemats to make materials look interesting and stand out. Add real items as props for pretend play.
  • 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 through these challenges.
Effective Strategies to Support children's Development and Learning
  • Provide children with adequate time to fully explore materials both indoors and outside.
  • Notice and respond to children’s interests and encourage them to explore and learn more. Infants may show their interest through simple reactions, which adults can acknowledge, describe, and provide additional experiences. 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 or portfolios.
  • Provide a variation of experiences for children of all abilities.
  • Share excitement and interest in activities, wonder at plants, animals, and events in nature, and show 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 by listening, responding to their ideas, interests, questions, and concerns.
  • 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 so they may return to activities they are comfortable with.
  • Encourage children to find answers to questions using resource books or web searches if available (“Why are those ants carrying grass?”).
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Initiative, Effort, Engagement, and Persistence


AL Goal-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).

AL Goal-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).

AL Goal-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, indoors and outdoors, at child’s current level of ability, as well as materials that will require more effort and challenge.
  • Design spaces, that enable children to make choices, using interest areas and centers.
  • Organize materials so children can choose and put away supplies on their own.
  • Keep materials on low shelves; use child-sized furniture and materials, making adaptations as necessary so all children can access them.
  • Provide extended periods of uninterrupted time for children to work in self-selected interest areas and on activities they choose, promoting engagement, independence, initiative, risk-taking, and persistence.
  • Keep some materials out for several days or even weeks to encourage more in-depth involvement and persistence.
  • Provide space to store children’s unfinished work so they can return to it over a period of several days or longer.
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


AL Goal-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 pick up crumb with pincer grasp).

AL Goal-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).

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


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


AL Goal-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 spoon-caregiver picks it up).

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

AL Goal-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 bye-bye 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.
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