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Cognitive Development

Helpful TermsCognitive Development - Older Toddler (18 to 36 Months)

Your older toddler is undergoing major changes in brain development right now - and yes, tantrums and turmoil come with the territory. Remember, this is a normal stage of cognitive development. It's important to be patient and use such episodes as a learning experience. You can help avoid meltdowns by providing plenty of order and structure to their days. Try not to rush. Older toddlers have no sense of time, only sequence - so plan ahead for outings.

About This Domain

The Cognitive Development domain focuses on children’s ability to acquire, organize, and use information in increasingly complex ways. In their search for understanding and meaning, young children play an active role in their own cognitive development. They begin to explain, organize, construct, and predict—skills that lay the cognitive foundation needed to explore and understand increasingly sophisticated concepts.


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Construction of Knowledge: Thinking and Reasoning


Goal CD-1: Through their explorations, play, and social interactions children use their senses to discover and construct knowledge about the world around them.

Explore and experiment with objects and materials to learn about their properties.

Experiment with safe tools to learn how they work (wooden hammer with pegs, sifter, funnel).

Put together multiple combinations of actions and objects (put toothpaste on brush and brush teeth).

Share simple concepts they have discovered with their senses through play (imitate something they have seen an adult do, show they understand how to sort by sorting toys as they are playing).

Goal CD-2: Through their explorations, play, and social interactions children recall information and apply it to new situations and problems.

Search for objects in several places, even when not seen recently.

Show they remember people, objects, and events (tell about them, act them out, point out similar happenings).

Show they remember the order in which familiar events happen (finish a phrase in a story or song, get ready to go outdoors after snack).

Try multiple times to cause an effect or solve challenging problems, combining actions and behaviors used before. (ask another child to help remove a lid with them after trying unsuccessfully themselves).

Repeat simple problem solving strategies to find solutions to everyday problems.

Choose objects to represent something else with similar features during play (block for cell phone, large sheet for tent).

Perform more complex action after watching an adult (activate sound from toy, open a latch).

Goal CD-3: Through their explorations, play, and social interactions children demonstrate the ability to think about their own thinking: reasoning, taking perspectives, and making decisions.

Notice and respond to others’ feelings and behaviors (hand a toy to another child as a play invitation).

Observe and imitate adult actions and adjusts interactions based on those observations (after seeing adult set table, put napkins on table).

Use words like “think,” “remember,” and “pretend.”

Talk about what they and other people want or like.


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Place non-mobile children where they have opportunities to see and hear new things, see familiar things from different views, and watch or join in with others. Hang clear, simple pictures, mobiles, and unbreakable mirrors where infants and toddlers can see and/or hear them.
  • Provide objects of varying sizes, textures and shapes to play with such as empty appliance boxes (check for staples and sharp edges), baskets, or pillows.
  • Provide toys and household items that pose problems for children to solve, such as empty containers with matching lids, measuring cups, pots and pans, sorters, busy boxes, simple puzzles, and large Duplo® blocks.
  • Make a chart with pictures, showing the schedule for the day. Hang it up in the room where both parents and children can see it.
  • Provide dolls and other open-ended materials to encourage pretend play.
Effective Strategies to Support Children’s Development and Learning
  • Hide toys while infants are watching and encourage them to find them. Play peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek.
  • Give children a chance to collect, sort, and organize objects and materials both indoors and outdoors. Make sure children with disabilities and non-mobile infants have access to the same wide variety of materials.
  • Use routines and real-life situations to help children learn. For example, talk about body parts during diapering or “hot” and “cold” while eating. Talk about things that go together and the concepts of “same” and “different” while sorting laundry and picking up toys.
  • Give children many experiences with cause and effect, such as winding up a toy, playing a music box, shaking a rattle, and rolling balls down a ramp.
  • Welcome questions from children about why things happen. If possible, show them while you explain. (For example, if a child asks, “Where did the ice go?” in a pitcher of water, put out a bowl of ice and invite children to watch what happens).
  • Help children work together on age-appropriate computer games that require that they remember things or figure out the solution to problems.
  • Play a variety of games, including games that involve imitation such as “Simon Says” and “Follow the Leader”.
  • Take pictures as you work together with children on a longterm project. Make documentation panels with the pictures, art, and other work children have done to document things that happened during the project. Revisit the panels and discuss with children.
  • Take pictures of an event the children shared or ask children to draw pictures; and then ask children to put the photos or pictures in order.
  • Invite children to tell or retell stories and talk about recent events. Discuss the sequencing and timing of experiences.
  • Provide opportunities to play with materials in ways that change them, such as cutting play dough and squishing it back together or mixing two colors of finger paint.
  • Read and act out stories in which the characters must work to solve challenging problems or make decisions. Talk about what the characters might be thinking or feeling.
  • Introduce a problem and encourage the children to come up with as many solutions as possible. Then ask them to think about possible consequences: “What would happen if they use this solution?”
  • Play games that involve thinking and reasoning, such as “I Spy” or “I’m Thinking of an Animal.”
  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage children to think about what they are doing and possible next steps (e.g., “I wonder what would happen if you…”).
  • Use reflective dialogue and comment on what you see children doing as they play. This encourages children to pay attention to what they are doing and it makes it easier for them to recall the event later.
  • Encourage children to carry over their activities to the next day. For example, if children run into a problem they had not anticipated, they can come up with solutions to try the following day.
  • Be aware that children might be solving problems silently. Allow them time to do so. Invite a child to use words to state, or show you, what the problem is if you believe this will lead them to a solution (don’t require them to explain the problem to you).
  • Help children simplify complex tasks by breaking it into smaller parts.
  • Provide safe opportunities for children to explore and problem solve; understand that failed attempts are part of the learning process and allow children to continue to investigate without immediately being shown the correct way.
Adaptations for Individual Children
  • Help children participate in activities and enjoy a wide range of sensory experiences, especially for children with sensory impairments. For example, play music with a bass beat that children who are deaf can feel through their bare feet. Make sure children see others moving in time to the music. Remember, some children are overly sensitive to sound, light, or touch. Expose them to new sensory experiences gradually.
  • For children who cannot point or talk, look for gazes or other gestures that communicate their thinking or response to questions.
  • Make extra efforts to help children with disabilities connect concepts and words to their experiences. For example, for a child who is blind, provide different things to touch, hear, feel and smell.
  • Make sure a child with hearing loss is looking at you and at the object you are communicating about before speaking or signing about it.
  • When possible, introduce new ideas and concepts in the child’s native language.
  • Use props or pictures when asking a child with cognitive disabilities to recall previous events.
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Mathematical Thinking and Expression


Goal CD-4: Through their explorations, play, and social interactions, children count with understanding and use numbers to tell how many, describe order, and compare.

Use words or actions that show understanding of the concepts of “more,” “all,” as well as “none” (become upset when told there is no more play dough).

Count to 5 with the support of an adult.

Understand the meaning of “one.”

Place items in one-toone correspondence during play and daily routines (one spoon at each plate; one doll in each toy car).

Make a small group (1-3) with the same number of items as another group of items (take 3 balls from a basket after the teacher shows the group that she has 3 balls and asks each person to take the same number of balls).

Goal CD-5: Through their explorations, play, and social interactions, children demonstrate concepts about position, as well as identify and describe simple geometric shapes.

Respond to and begin to use words describing positions (in, on, over, under, etc.).

Name or match a few shapes.

Stack or line up blocks that are the same shape.

Goal CD-6: Through their explorations, play and social interactions, children compare, sort, group, organize, measure, and create simple patterns using concrete objects.

Use size and amount words to label objects, people, and collections (big truck, a lot of cookies, little baby).

Group objects into categories (cars with cars, plates separated from cups).

Recognize objects that are different but go together (such as shovel and pail or cup and plate).

Goal CD-7: Through their explorations, play, and social interactions, children use mathematical thinking to ask questions and solve problems.

Use observation and emerging counting skills (1, 2, 3) during play and other daily activities.

Match objects by shape, color, or size.

Match object to picture of object.

Match objects that have the same function (a brush and a comb or a bowl and a plate).


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Provide counting, number, and shape books. Include books that encourage children to interact and engage with the book (varying textures, lift flaps, push a button, etc.).
  • Offer toys or objects with one-to-one relationships (e.g., containers with lids, makers with tops).
  • Provide toys that have incremental sizes (e.g., nesting cups or stackable rings).
  • Set up a mathematics area in the room where children three and older can play with mathematic manipulatives including materials such as Unifix Cubes, rods, pattern blocks, 2- and 3-dimensional shapes, a balance scale, and counting bears.
  • Provide many opportunities for children to play with blocks. While they are playing, talk with children about the size of the blocks, the shapes they are using, and how two blocks can be put together to make another shape.
  • Set up areas where children can make shapes out of play dough. Talk with children about the names of the shapes they are making.
  • Set out trays children can use to sort toys or blocks according to size or shape.
  • Provide a variety of objects in the mathematics areas that children can use to make patterns, such as counting bears, small cars, and blocks.
  • Offer materials in the art area that encourage children to create patterns (e.g., 3 colors of washable stamp pads).
  • Provide a water table or large plastic container with water or sand where children can play with measuring cups and containers of varying sizes. Talk about which containers hold more, less, and the same amount.
  • Make a number line with the children by writing numbers in order from 1 to 10 on a long sheet of paper. Keep the number line up in the room and use it when singing number songs, counting in other languages, etc. Make another number line that can be used on the floor for children to stand on and line up objects (perhaps using a strip of shower curtain or wide colored tape).
Effective Strategies to Support Children’s Development and Learning
  • Talk frequently with children throughout the day using math words, such as words referring to quantity, number words, size, more, less, etc. (Talk about how many Cheerios on the plate, “Your shoes are bigger than the kitty’s paws”).
  • Set up centers that encourage children to interact and work together so that more skilled peers can model how they are using math.
  • Point to and count as you do activities such as building a block tower or passing out materials.
  • Read books that present basic mathematics concepts in the context of everyday environments or routines (e.g., home, going to bed, mealtimes, etc.).
  • Use the computer to help children explore mathematical concepts together by using a software program where two children work together to count objects, explore shapes, and solve mathematical problems.
  • Look for shapes and patterns in the natural environment and teach concepts such as shapes through everyday routines and interactions. For example, say, “I see that you have red circles on your shirt.”
  • Help children pair items that go together because they are used together (pail and shovel).
  • Sing counting songs, such as “5 Little Ducks,” finger plays, and number rhymes and use fingers or other objects to indicate the numbers being sung.
  • Talk about adding to and taking away from blocks and other toys as children play with them.
  • Provide many opportunities for counting in play, even when the items are scattered and not in a line. Together, count the number of children in the room, the number of children wearing shoes that tie, the number of stop signs or trees you see on a walk in the neighborhood, etc. Ask children to give you a specific number (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) of items.
  • Practice counting backward during activities such as space shuttle countdowns, running races countdowns, etc.
  • Count objects or children using the words first, second, third...tenth, and last.
  • Do comparison activities, such as comparing five pieces of paper and three crayons. Discuss with the children which group has more. Use matching and counting to determine if groups have more, fewer, or the same. Practice separating a collection of 10 items into 2 equal groups.
  • Prompt thinking and analysis by asking open-ended questions. (“How will you know how many plates you need for the guests at your party?”)
  • Provide opportunities for children to sort objects or household items, such as socks, blocks, crayons, groceries, lids, recyclables, and toys.
  • Sort and match objects with the same shape and size, and lay an object of the same shape and size on top of another to show they are the same. Compare two objects by placing one on top of another and indicate which object takes up more space.
  • Play games with children that include asking them to put objects “beside,” “next to,” “behind,” “above,” “up,” “down,” “near,” and “far.”
  • Provide experiences breaking apart or combining 2- and 3-dimensional shapes to make new shapes, such as breaking apart a square graham cracker to make 2 small rectangles.
  • Point out patterns in the environment, such as patterns in a quilt, a butterfly wing, or piece of native cloth.
  • Set up patterns with children using common objects such as red apple, green apple, red apple, green apple, or sock, shoe, shoe, sock, shoe, shoe. Have the children indicate what would come next in the patterns.
  • Play pattern games with the children, such as clap, clap, tap your toe, clap, clap, tap your toe.
  • With the children’s help, measure and weigh objects in the room or objects that are brought in, such as pumpkins. Compare the measurements.
  • Measure using a variety of non-standard objects, such as blocks, crayons, beans or paper clips. (e.g., “How many steps does it take to walk from the front door to your cubby?”)
  • Measure the children’s height at the beginning of the year and periodically throughout the year. Make a chart to display their measurements and growth.
  • Give children experiences with various measuring devices, such as rulers, balance scales, measuring tape, calculators, and measuring cups. Use the correct names for the measuring tools as you and the children use them. Keep these tools readily accessible to children.
  • Give children opportunities to put objects in order according to size, weight, and length, and recognize when an object is out of order.
  • Cut a paper plate, familiar picture, or the front of an empty cereal box into puzzle pieces children can put together.
  • Provide opportunities for children to participate in gathering data about a question, such as “What kind of pets do you have?” Children can place a picture or toy animal on a graph to indicate the type of pet they have. Ask questions about the graph once it is complete, such as “What kind of pet do most of our children have? Which pet does the least amount of children have?”
  • Model problem-solving strategies (talk out loud about what you are thinking as you solve a problem).
  • Make a large graph by drawing lines on a large sheet of paper or an inexpensive, white shower curtain. Graph often with children, making graphs of things such as children’s likes and dislikes of food or activities, types of shoes children are wearing (Try using real objects on the graph or have the children stand on the graph themselves).
Adaptations for Individual Children
  • Put out materials for mathematics activities that most children can easily pick up and use, such as large beads and blocks.
  • Use verbal and physical prompts to help children classify, count, or measure objects; for example, guide the child’s hand to put a blue square in appropriate container while describing what she/he is doing.
  • Give children numerals made of various materials while practicing counting so they can hold up the numerals as they count or place them next to objects for one-to-one correspondence
  • Make areas for construction physically accessible to all children.
  • Provide blocks of different shapes and sizes covered with various textures to help children discriminate between shapes.
  • Teach children who are Dual Language Learners the names of numbers and shapes in their home language as well as English.
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Scientific Exploration and Knowledge


Goal CD-8: As a result of their explorations and participation in simple investigations through play, children observe, describe, and demonstrate respect for living things, the environment, and the physical world.

Show curiosity and investigate the world of nature indoors and outdoors (roll in the grass, scratch frost on window).

Help adult with the care of living things (water plants, feed classroom pet).

Cause toys they are playing with to move and provide simple descriptions. (“My train go fast!”)

Collect items that may share an attribute

Classify things into groups but may overgeneralize (call all small animals “puppies”).

Use one word descriptions (hot, soft, bumpy).

Observe and choose simple clothing for weather (mittens and boots when snowy).

Goal CD-9: As a result of their explorations and participation in simple investigations through play, children demonstrate their ability to use scientific inquiry by observing, manipulating objects, asking questions, making predictions, and developing ...

Make simple scribbles, sounds, or movements to describe what they are seeing and experiencing.

Use simple tools to investigate objects (magnifying glass, ramps for rolling balls, or spoon for digging) or to obtain a desired object (i.e. ruler to guide ball back from under shallow cabinet).

Try out different materials to create a structure.

Investigate differences between materials (sand, water, “goop,” moving air).

Notice and comment on changes in materials when mixing and manipulating (paint, playdough, food ingredients).

Ask, “What’s that?”


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Offer toys that allow children to experiment with cause and effect (for example, knobs that twist to make a sound or levers that slide open to make an object appear).
  • Arrange the environment to encourage exploration. For young children who are not yet able to roll over or search for desired toys, adults may need to help them find or hold these items.
  • Use moving objects to attract young children’s attention and stimulate interest. Hang mobiles, wind chimes, or plants where children can watch them move, as well as enjoy their color and shape.
  • Offer different textures and surfaces for children to explore (e.g., furry material, smooth silk, bumpy sandpaper, bubble wrap taped to floor, or hard plastic).
  • Provide a variety of hands-on experiences so that children are able to actively explore their environment.
  • Integrate science themes and materials into dramatic play. Add stethoscopes, examples of x-rays, etc. to create a dramatic play theme of hospital to allow children to learn about how their bodies work.
  • Add several different types of magnets to the science area. Also add different kinds of materials that will and will not be attracted by them.
  • Provide toy cars and trucks for children to play with in the block area, along with ramps and other accessories.
  • Find or purchase animals such as caterpillars or tadpoles. Create an indoor environment for them and observe their life cycles
  • Set up water and sand tables or a large plastic container of water and sand where children can play with various objects, such as funnels, cups, and a variety of other toys to scoop, pour, fill, and dump.
  • Choose high quality developmentally appropriate apps and software, such as those recommended at
  • Give children opportunities to explore new uses for materials, such as using an empty margarine container as a boat in the water table.
  • Set up a recycling area in the room where children can put paper scraps and sort other recyclables by type.
  • Give children the opportunity to play and experiment with mixing colors, using different types of paints, adding two colors together, adding white to other colors, etc. Ask children to describe what they notice (“Ooh, look, I made orange!”).
  • Provide a science discovery area where children can explore a variety of open-ended materials (pine cones, shells, branches, leaves, rocks, plants) and use science tools (magnifying glasses, balance scales, levers, eyedropper, sieve, and simple microscope). Also include science materials throughout the indoor and outdoor environments. Modify simple tools when needed to make them accessible to all children in the group.
  • Provide a variety of natural materials (smooth stones, shells, pinecones, acorns) that children can investigate.
Effective Strategies to Support Children’s Development and Learning
  • Observe what children are interested in (what toys/objects they like to play with). Notice and name things that interest them. Add toys or other objects that may extend their current play or make it slightly more complex.
  • Make a telescope out of a paper towel tube and encourage children to look around the room or outdoors for certain objects (e.g., “Do you see anything green?” or “Where is an animal?”)
  • Play “Name That Body Part” while changing infants and toddlers and as you help preschool age children dress. (For example, “Where are your toes?” or “Show me your ears.”) Sing songs with actions, such as the “Hokey Pokey” or “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” where children can use and identify various body parts.
  • Look for books with real pictures of animals and practice making animal sounds together. Talk about the animals. (For example, “The goat is furry and makes a sound like this, ‘M-a-a-a-a.’”)
  • Allow children time to figure out what to do with new play materials. Take time to watch rather than direct their actions.
  • Talk with children during routine care-giving tasks about sights, sounds, and smells in the environment (“Smell that bread baking!”).
  • Place infants and young children in various positions that allow them to observe the environment from different perspectives (tummy time on a blanket, sitting with support, seated in an infant swing).
  • Ask children open-ended questions, such as “What do you think will happen when you put this toy in the water?”
  • Encourage children to wonder and ask questions. Model your own sense of wonder.
  • Teach children the steps in the problem solving process: figure out what the problem is, come up with possible solutions, choose and try out a solution, evaluate how well it worked and draw conclusions, and choose another solution if the first one did not work.
  • Challenge children to design tools to solve problems in their everyday environment and then to evaluate how well their tool worked.
  • Provide experiences for children that allow them to see that they can use their senses to discover more about the world around them. Give them opportunities to taste, touch, smell, listen to, and see a variety of objects and materials.
  • Collect data and then make graphs frequently with the children, such as how many seconds it takes various objects to roll down a ramp or what color apple each of them prefers. Discuss and reflect with the children what the data they collected shows.
  • Give children opportunities to play with ice cubes and watch them melt in their hands or the water table. Challenge them to try to keep them from melting as long as possible. Talk about the ice being a solid, and then melting into a liquid.
  • Do cooking activities, including making play dough and “goop” from cornstarch and water. Talk about how the ingredients combine to make a new type of material, often changing from a liquid to solid.
  • Do simple experiments with children, such as adding vinegar to baking soda. Investigate other mixtures using water, flour, salt, cornstarch, etc., and ask children to predict what will happen each time.
  • Sing with children, asking them to sing very low and then very high, slow and rapid, soft and then loud. Explore vibration by providing instruments that children can play and use to make different types of sounds.
  • Provide opportunities for children to learn about light, shadows, and rainbows by playing with prisms, flashlights, crystals, an overhead projector, or sunlight.
  • Provide examples of different kinds of plants and animals, talking about their differences and similarities. Provide opportunities to sort plants and animals.
  • Take trips to places where children can observe plants and animals: a pet store, playground, backyard, gardens, or farm.
  • Observe and compare nonliving and living things. Talk about what living things need in comparison to non-living objects. Although children at this age cannot usually accurately distinguish between living and nonliving things, pointing out differences will help children develop this understanding over time.
  • Give children opportunities to show respect for living things and their environments by caring for pets and protecting the environment. Model and teach responsible behavior; guide children in the handling and care of pets and plants.
  • Provide experiences that invite children to learn that living things have basic needs, such as food, water, and air. Plant seeds and observe changes. Experiment by caring for the seeds differently, such as giving one no water, putting another in a dark area, etc. Plant gardens that change over the seasons. Provide a variety of plants and trees that attract wildlife (e.g., butterfly bushes, trees for birdhouses, and bird feeders).
  • Give children opportunities to explore earth materials such as rocks, soil, sand, water, and snow. Look at and talk about these materials on nature walks or during play.
  • Read books about night and day, stars, sun, moon, and space.
  • Ask children to describe the current weather and keep track of the weather on a chart. Keep these discussions short and interesting. Ask children to make predictions about the future weather. Allow children to take turns as “weather reporters” describing current conditions.
  • Play outside during different seasons; observe and talk about seasonal changes. Play in the leaves and snow.
  • Point out technology that we use in our daily lives, including computers, tablets, radios, and electronic toys.
  • Use a variety of devices with the children, such as a vegetable-peeler and an apple-peeling machine. Make ice cream with an old-fashioned, hand-operated ice cream maker, and then with an electric machine.
  • Occasionally have children help you record data in a chart on the computer. Print and display at the children’s eye-level.
  • Talk about how technology helps people find information. Model for children how to look up a topic they are interested in or find resources to answer questions related to science topics.
  • Talk about cause and effect. Point out examples in day-today life such as: turning a knob to make a toy move or open a door; turning on a mixer to stir ingredients; and using switches to cause an effect, such as turning on a light.
  • Take a walk and talk about which things are found naturally in the environment and which things people have made. Graph and discuss your findings together when you return. Keep in mind that young children may have different reasoning for their conclusions; the important thing is the discussion and reasoning, not the right answers.
  • Choose interesting science topics as themes and long-term projects that children can investigate over a period of weeks and months. Engaging topics may include rocks, insects, pets, birds, and recycling.
  • Encourage children to clean up their environment by clearing the table and picking up toys and litter.
  • Talk about the many ways we can recycle and reuse materials. Encourage children to use both sides of a sheet of paper. Visit a recycling center if available.
  • Talk with children about the fact that science and engineering help us to discover and solve problems in the world. Emphasize that both boys and girls are good at science and engineering.
  • Be careful that all materials and experiences are age-appropriate and safe for the children using them. Make sure that children are well supervised.
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Social Studies, Family and Community Connections


Goal CD-10: Through their explorations, play, and social interactions, children demonstrate an understanding of relationships, roles, and what it means to be a participating member of their families and the diverse groups/communities they belong to.

Intently watch and imitate other children and adults (try to swing a plastic bat they have seen an older child use).

Use play to show what they know about relationships and roles in families and other familiar contexts.

Talk about what others do during the day. (“Mommy at work. Gramma at home.”)

Help with daily routines (put napkins out for lunch).

Seek out familiar playmates to sit next to when playing.

Goal CD-11: Through their explorations, play, and social interactions children identify and demonstrate appreciation of similarities and differences between themselves and others.

Describe people who are similar and different based on characteristics such as age, gender, and other physical characteristics.

Show awareness of similarities and differences among people and families by taking on different roles during play.


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Ask families to bring pictures of their families including their children. Hang at the children’s eye level, checking with parents first for their permission.
  • Provide materials and activities that show other cultures and people from many different backgrounds in positive ways so children can see and experience how diverse humans are (diversity of all types including gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation).
  • Play music from many cultures, such as Native American flute music. Provide instruments from a variety of cultures, such as rainsticks, drums, and maracas for children to play.
  • Use fabrics from various cultures to decorate the room. Display posters and pictures of children and families from many different cultures and regions around the country and around the world.
  • Include clothes reflecting different aspects of families, communities, and cultures, such as a dance shawl, in the dramatic play area for different seasons.
  • Include multicultural dolls and other multicultural items in areas around the room, such as the dramatic play area and math area. Change materials and props according to the interests of the children.
  • In the library area, provide books about many different people, places, and traditions around the country and around the world.
  • Set up dramatic play areas that give children opportunities to explore various roles in the community, such as a play store so children can use play money to purchase things.
  • Label items around the room in the home language(s) of children, such as Lakota, and include these languages as you introduce different topics (for example include Lakota names for animals when doing a project or theme related to animals)
Effective Strategies to Support Children’s Development and Learning
  • Learn as much as you can about the cultures of the families in your program. Incorporate books, pictures, toys, music, and other materials that are familiar to children into daily activities. This brings family cultures into play areas in positive ways.
  • Learn to say a few important words in the home language of children whose families speak a different language. (Consult with parents about which phrases are most important.)
  • Use wordless picture books, creating opportunities to use words in a variety of languages.
  • Model pleasant, polite interactions with family members and other adults. Children will imitate you.
  • Implement activities that will support children in exploring the similarities and differences among the children and families (Read books, such as “We are Alike, We are Different” and then take photos of children’s faces for a class book with words such as, “We all have eyes, but our eyes are different. We all have hair, but our hair is different”).
  • Allow and support children’s choice of playmates. Help children play together, including children who are different from each other. Model and encourage gentle touch while playing. Make a special effort to help children who speak different languages play together by helping them communicate with each other.
  • Make scrapbooks or memory books and revisit them with the children.
  • Talk with children about what makes a family and what it means to be a good family member. Read books about many different types of families, including a variety of family configurations and cultures.
  • Invite family members to share family customs, stories, celebrations, food, music, dance, traditions, and dress from their culture.
  • Involve children in making simple decisions as a group, such as voting for which snack to have that day. Help them see democracy in action.
  • Talk with children about their ideas of what a neighborhood is. Take a walk around the neighborhood if possible, pointing out buildings, houses, schools, parks, playgrounds, or other features. Observe different types of homes and/or apartments in the neighborhood.
  • Involve children in helping others, such as making cards for the elderly.
  • Model cooperation and negotiation. Ask children to help develop positive rules/expectations for the group. Tell children what we want them to do (“Use walking feet.”) instead of what we don’t want (“No running!”) Display these rules with both words and pictures to help children see what is expected of them.
  • Create opportunities for children to work together, for example to prepare and distribute a special snack for other classes.
  • Help children develop skills as community members and leaders by having a job for each child, such as watering the plants or feeding the fish. This will help each child be seen as an important, contributing member of the group.
  • Take children to visit a market, restaurant, bakery, post office, museum, cultural center, powwow, library, or home. Visit them virtually through pictures, video tours, or other tools available on the internet. Help children change the dramatic play area to represent what they have observed.
  • Show children pictures and books about various homes, transportation, and geographic places, discussing their similarities and differences, such as Childcraft’s “I Love the Mountains” which includes Mt. Rushmore.
  • Investigate jobs in the community, at home, and at school. Create pictures, charts, and dramatic play about these jobs. Ask children what jobs they might like to do when they get older.
  • Visit a farm or ranch if possible so children can see where much of our food comes from. Read books about food and farming. Make butter from milk, and talk about how milk comes from the cow. If possible, create special ways to involve children who live on farms, or whose families lived on farms.
  • Hold meetings to discuss concerns and issues that occur. Encourage children to use a variety of problem-solving strategies to work through any concerns (e.g., use roleplaying and puppets to help children empathize with their peers).
  • Build opportunities to discuss different points of view, especially during small group times or when a conflict arises.
Adaptations for Individual Children
  • Be sure that all areas, both inside and outside, are physically accessible to all children.
  • When taking walks or field trips, plan ahead for any obstacles that may prevent any child from participating, such as stairs, grass to cross, or busy streets.
  • Pair up children with a peer to complete jobs, such as watering plants or feeding the fish.
  • Provide assistive devices for children who need them to dictate stories or share information about their experiences or families. For example, a picture board, sign language, computer, or other electronic device may help children express themselves.
image for Creative Arts and Expression

Creative Arts and Expression


Goal CD-12: Children engage in a variety of creative activities for enjoyment and self-expression including play, visual arts, music, expressive movement, and drama.

Experiment and create 2D and 3D art with clay, crayons, markers, paint, and collage materials.

Create representations of familiar objects and scenes using play materials, language, scribbles and other actions.

Make up simple nonsense songs, sign, chant, and move to music (twirl around and fall down, “march” by lifting knees high).

Talk or sing to themselves for comfort or enjoyment and express ideas and feelings through music and movement.

Goal CD-13: Children demonstrate an appreciation for different forms of art including visual arts, music, expressive movement, and drama.

Express delight in different forms of art (choose to look at a book with colorful photographs).

Participate in and use simple words to describe art, music, movement, drama, or other aesthetic experiences (talk about colors in a painting).


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Provide musical mobiles for infants to watch and listen to.
  • Display children’s artwork on their eye level on a rotating basis. Include other items of beauty such as wall hangings, tapestry, weavings, posters, stained glass, or arrangements of flowers and leaves. Laminate pictures and attach them to the wall with Velcro so young children can touch them without damage.
  • Provide a wide variety of sensory materials both indoors and outdoors, such as play dough, goop (cornstarch and water), clay, finger paint, chalk, sand, mud, and wood pieces.
  • Set up an art area so children can access materials independently. Provide a variety of art materials, such as washable paints, modeling materials, crayons, markers, chalk, and pencils. Choose materials that are suitable for the age and development of the children. Materials should encourage children to use their imagination and express ideas through art, construction, movement, music and play. • Use a variety of horizontal and vertical surfaces (easels, floor, and walls) and two- and three-dimensional objects (boxes, clay, and plastic containers) for creative expression.
  • Have a place where children may store unfinished artwork and projects to continue at a later time.
  • Provide many different items for stamping or painting including household items such as potato mashers and thread spools, items from nature such as leaves and sticks, and other shapes and textures.
  • Provide glue or paste and materials for making collages such as craft feathers, ribbon, fabric scraps, small pompoms, and shells. Use contact paper for collages with children who cannot handle glue.
  • Use mess trays and smocks or old oversized shirts to make cleaning up easier and to keep clothes clean.
  • Provide woodworking tools, wood scraps, glue, and paint in a closely supervised woodworking area.
  • Include books with artwork in the library area and hang pictures of great artwork representing a variety of countries and ethnic groups. Some libraries have paintings you can check out for extended periods of time. Encourage children to talk about what they like about the pictures.
  • Set up a music area with different types of instruments that children can explore and play such as xylophones, rhythm instruments, triangles, bells, and multicultural instruments including rain-sticks, maracas, sand blocks, shakers, and drums.
  • Play a variety of music, including classical, jazz, and multicultural music.
  • Play music with many different beats and rhythms, such as marches, waltzes, polkas, Reggae, Latin, folk music, and jigs. Encourage children to move to the music.
  • Provide streamers, ribbons, and scarves for children to use as creative movement props.
  • Set up a dramatic play or pretend area where children can act out a variety of roles and explore projects or themes of interest. Include dolls and clothing from a variety of cultures and props for children to use to act out different types of roles such as hats, big boots, and tools for builders; dresses, ties, shoes, and play watches for house and office play; fruit and vegetable play foods for farmers. Provide a variety of male and female articles of clothing.
  • Encourage children to act out familiar stories by providing props to go along with stories or nursery rhymes.
Effective Strategies to Support Children’s Development and Learning
  • Build time into the daily schedule for the arts, including creative movement activities at the end of group time, or at transitions.
  • Use puppets and stuffed animals to act out songs, rhymes, and stories.
  • Offer creative play activities both indoors and outdoors. For example, children might use chalk on a blackboard indoors or on the sidewalk outdoors. Play music outdoors where children can make large dance movements.
  • Encourage children to move and dance to music in many different ways (march, clap, stomp, gallop, jump, sway).
  • Take pictures of the children doing creative activities and support children in taking their own photos. Display these pictures to help children recall what they have done and to help families appreciate the creative process.
  • Give children many opportunities to experience beauty through all their senses (touching snow, looking at rainbows, smelling freshly mowed grass, tasting different foods, listening to birds chirp).
  • Set an example by demonstrating spontaneity, a sense of wonder, and excitement.
  • Allow children to freely create their own artwork, focusing on the creative process rather than the finished product.
  • Talk with children individually about what they would like to create, the materials they will use, and how they will carry out their plans. Encourage them to spend time developing their artwork.
  • Encourage children to mix primary colors and predict what color will result from the mixing. Provide white paint to mix with colors to make pastels.
  • Put out play dough of many different colors, encouraging children to mix colors as they mold and shape the play dough with their hands, craft sticks, rolling pins, and other materials.
  • Ask children to tell you and others about their artwork, what they like about it, how they created it, and what they might like to try in the future. Express an encouraging attitude without judgment (“You put a lot of effort and beautiful colors into your creation!”).
  • Expose children to a variety of art from the past and present. Take children to museums, galleries, plays, concerts, and other appropriate cultural activities in the community or online.
  • Model your own sense of wonder about various types of artwork by asking questions about how the artists created their work and what messages they were trying to convey. Prompt children to ask questions as well. Provide opportunities for children to use similar materials and techniques in the art area to create their works of art.
  • Provide access if possible to developmentally appropriate art and music apps and programs that allow children to be creative.
  • Sing often with the children in large and small groups both inside and outside. To add variety, use your own voice, an instrument, or recorded music.
  • Repeat familiar songs often so children can sing them by heart.
  • Read and sing along with books that have words to songs, such as The Wheels on the Bus and Mary had a Little Lamb, to help children acquire beginning literacy skills.
  • Make homemade musical instruments such as oatmeal box drums.
  • Talk to children about how different types of music make them feel and what they like about music.
  • Model your own enjoyment of music and the feelings you have while listening to, singing, or playing music.
  • Encourage children to sing along and to play instruments in rhythm with music. Talk with the children about varying the tempo from fast to slow and the dynamics from loud to soft. Vary the tempo and dynamics as you sing and play music.
  • Add movement activities to curriculum themes or projects (for example, in a project on fish, children can move like fish). Encourage children to move and use their bodies in space (e.g., pretending to be a cat, a volcano, or a butterfly). Assist children with modeling movement positions as needed.
  • Encourage children to listen carefully to music and move according to the beat and feeling of the music.
  • Sing songs or play music that encourages movement, such as Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and The Hokey Pokey.
  • Invite family and community members in to teach simple dances from a variety of cultures.
  • Take trips to local plays, puppet shows and other performances that are geared toward young children.
  • Invite family members, authors, artists, musicians, and storytellers from different cultural and language backgrounds to visit so children can observe firsthand the creative work of a variety of people in the arts.
  • Play with children in the dramatic play area by taking on a role, making suggestions, or demonstrating how to use new props or materials.
  • Use role-playing during large and small group times to help children express feelings, discuss conflicts, or solve problems. For example, an adult could act out the role of a child who feels left out, and then ask the children for suggestions about how to solve the problem.
  • Provide time and materials to support children in recreating experiences and new understandings (for example, materials to create a farm stand in the dramatic play area after taking a trip to a pumpkin patch).
Provide time and materials to support children in recreating experiences and new understandings (for example, materials to create a farm stand in the dramatic play area after taking a trip to a pumpkin patch).
  • Use paintbrushes with large handles.
  • Provide painting mitts or gloves for finger painting.
  • Provide thick crayons, markers, and pencils that are easier to grasp and control.
  • Set up easels on the table or at the child’s level to help hold paper in place and to provide a raised surface.
  • Use special scissors that children with motor disabilities can squeeze together.
  • Attach musical instruments to a mitten or glove to make them easier to grasp and hold.
  • Encourage children who have difficulty singing to participate in music activities by humming or some other vocalization or by playing an instrument.
  • Encourage children who have difficulty with movement to move any parts of their body they can.
  • Give children with hearing impairments opportunities to touch speakers as music is played, feel instruments as they are played, and to learn familiar songs in sign language.
  • Support the creative expressions of each child to boost confidence and help children see value in their own work.
  • Allow children to work with materials such as the sensory table and art supplies both indoors and outdoors.