image for Approaches to Learning

Approaches to Learning

Approaches to Learning - Older Toddler (18 to 36 Months)

Welcome to the older toddler learning stage! Everything is an adventure at this age - and kids tend to watch what others do and try to participate ("I do it!"). Give your little sponge plenty of new experiences to soak up. Keep introducing new materials to their indoor and outdoor environment that engage interest (feeling the bark of a tree, playing with dish soap bubbles in the kitchen) and encourage them to ask questions.

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.


image for Curiosity, Information-Seeking, and Eagerness

Curiosity, Information-Seeking, and Eagerness


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

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.

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

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?”)


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


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

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).

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

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.

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

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


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Provide interesting, engaging materials, inside and outdoors, at children’s current levels of abilities, as well as materials that will require more effort and challenge.
  • Design the room using interest areas or centers where children can make choices. Organize materials so that 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 that that 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 them over a period of several days or longer.
Effective Strategies to Support Children's Development and Learning
  • Provide children with opportunities to make choices in activities, materials, food, and interactions with other people.
  • Provide a wide variety of materials and individualize activities that are responsive to children’s interests, temperament, and developmental level so that all children can experience success.
  • Give children plenty of time to play, create, investigate and complete tasks and projects. Encourage them to take their time and avoid rushing to get finished.
  • Prepare children for transitions using cues to gain their attention (ring a bell at five, three, and one minute intervals to inform children that they need to wrap up what they are doing)
  • Encourage children to keep trying by asking questions and offering support. (“Where do you think this puzzle piece could go? It’s hard but you are really trying.”)
  • Recognize when dual language learners or children with limited communication skills need additional support to be able to express themselves (providing words, visual cues, gestures, or simple sign language).
  • Encourage children to finish activities they have started so they can enjoy a sense of accomplishment at completing a task.
  • Plan for activities or long-term studies that allow children to think about a topic over an extended period of time. (explore bugs with the children for a number of days or week in a variety of ways such as reading books, exploring outside, and drawing pictures).
  • Emphasize the importance of effort, not just getting a “right answer.” Encourage and praise children’s efforts.
image for Risk-Taking, Problem-Solving, Flexibility, and Resilience

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 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).

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

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).


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.
image for Play and Imagination

Play and Imagination


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

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).

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

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).


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).