Children are born with an incredible capacity and desire to learn. More than 40 years of research confirms the foundational importance of early education and care for children’s school and life success. It is essential that children’s first experiences are robust ones, steeped in activities that develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, a deep understanding about themselves in a social society, and age-appropriate content. Instructional practices must adhere the domains of development – cognitive, social-emotional, and physical – with approaches to learning that enable children to explore, understand, and reach beyond the “here and now” to challenge themselves, experiment, and transform information into meaningful content and skills. Professionals interacting with young children have the critical task of providing rich information and experiences. Such experiences build skills and understanding in the context of everyday routines and within intentionally designed play opportunities that capture children’s interest and curiosity.
Learning Standards for Early Childhood are designed to support and enhance the learning environment; responsive relationships; age, cultural, and linguistically appropriate curriculum; and practices being used to assess children, classrooms, and programs.
Standards Aligned System (SAS)
The US Department of Education and the Office of Child Development and Early Learning use a Standards Aligned System. The Standards Aligned System is a collective body of research that identifies six elements that, when used together, provide a framework for program improvement and child success. The elements identified are standards, assessments, curriculum framework, instruction (including interventions), safe and supportive schools, and materials and resources.
The Learning Standards
Within all Pennsylvania’s Learning Standards for Early Childhood, the Key Learning Areas define the domains or areas of children’s learning that assure a holistic approach to instruction. All children, regardless of age and ability, should be exposed to experiences that build their skill development in approaches to learning, social and emotional development, language and literacy development, health wellness and physical development, creative expression, and the cognitive areas of mathematics, science, and social studies. The Standards within each Key Learning Area provide the information that children should know and the skills children should be able to do when they leave the age level or grade. Pennsylvania’s Learning Standards for Early Childhood are connected through a continuum of learning and link to the 3rd grade academic standards. Some skills will not emerge in a noticeable way until a child is older. These standards will be intentionally blank or identified as emerging. Professionals who view children’s skill development across ages and grades will be able to understand the sequential way children learn and become familiar with the way in which teachers at higher grade levels support learning.
Introducing the 9 Key Learning Areas
- Approaches to Learning through Play – Constructing, Organizing, and Applying Knowledge
The best way to support children’s learning in the early years is to provide hands-on, active learning experiences that include play activities. Play enables children to weave together past knowledge and new information to acquire new understanding and skill development. A child who discovers the characteristics of apples through manipulating, investigating, and exploring them understands the depth of apples better than a child who colors a worksheet picture of an apple. Children can cooperate in the block area to determine how many blocks can be added to a structure before it falls. This type of play enhances children’s social and creative thinking sequences. Play sequences and activities expand across all Key Areas of Learning and can build social, cognitive, and physical skill development when they are intentionally planned and facilitated by teachers who interact with children, asking open-ended questions to scaffold children’s thinking and problem-solving.
Constructing and Gathering Knowledge
Organizing and Understanding Information
Learning through Experience
- Language & Literacy Development – English Language Arts
Communication occurs in different ways. It is a way to share one’s ideas and understand the ideas of others. Reading involves the use of pictures, symbols, and text to gain information and derive meaning, and writing is used for a variety of purposes. Children should be exposed to a variety of books to acquire new information and for personal fulfillment. Children apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate text. Children draw meaning from their prior knowledge and experience, their interactions with others, their knowledge of word meaning, and their word identification strategies. Children vary their use of the spoken and written language to communicate effectively with others. One of the first building blocks of reading is phonemic awareness; this is one of the best predictors of early reading achievement. Children should be developing this awareness in the early years by listening to rhyming stories and songs and engaging in word play activities.
Reading Informational Text
Speaking and Listening
- Mathematical Thinking & Expression – Exploring, Processing, and Problem-Solving
Mathematical learning is a key element of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education. To fully understand math, children must be able to connect mathematical concepts to real-world situations and across disciplines. Math skills are developed and based on children’s experiences with their environment, their interactions with adults and other children, and their daily observations. Throughout the early years of life, children notice and discover mathematical dimensions of their world. Mathematics helps children make sense of their world and helps them construct a solid foundation for future success. Mathematical thinking is foundational and important to academic success in all subjects. All children are capable of developing a strong knowledge of mathematics in their earliest years.
Numbers and Operation
Measurement, Data, and Probability
- Scientific Thinking & Technology
Children are born with natural curiosity and the innate science and math skills to interpret and respond to the world.
Children learn about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) concepts through play. They explore, experiment, invent, design and test solutions, and form ideas about how the world works. Technology, engineering, and math are the application of science to the design, creation and construction of things. Children, who are given opportunities to conduct experiments, gather data and make conclusions, are developing skills that support discovery about the natural world and scientific inquiry.
Biological Sciences – Living and Non-Living Organisms; Genetics
Physical Sciences – Chemistry, Physics
Earth and Space Sciences – Earth Structures, Processes, and Cycles; Origin and Evolution of the Universe
Environment and Ecology – Ecology Standard Area; Watersheds and Wetlands; Natural Resources; Agriculture and Society; Humans and the Environment
Computer and Information Technology
- Social Studies Thinking (Connecting to the communities)
The foundation of social studies, economics, history, and the workings of government begin with children’s personal experiences and their initial understanding of themselves in relation to their families, homes, and schools. Gradually, students expand their understanding to include communities and the larger world. As their perception grows, they further expand their scope to understand how systems work together.
Civics and Government – Principles and Documents of Government; Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship; How Government Works
Economics – Scarcity and Choice; Markets and Economic Systems; Functions of Government; Income, Profit, and Wealth
Geography – Basic Geographic Literacy; Physical Characteristics of Places and Regions
History – Historical Analysis and Skills Development
- Creative thinking and expression (Connecting Through the Arts)
Creative thinking and expression is an important component of children’s early learning experiences. Children who are given opportunities to develop their imagination and creativity through a variety of media are learning to express their individuality in interests, abilities, and knowledge. When they view others’ work, children are also learning to appreciate and respect differences in culture and viewpoint. Creative expression influences children’s growing competence as creative problem solvers and provides insight about their world around them.
Production and Performance – Music and Movement; Dramatic and Performance Play; Visual Arts
Historical and Cultural Context of Works in the Arts
Critical Response to Works in the Arts
Aesthetic Response to Works in the Arts
- Health, Wellness, and Physical Development – Learning about My Body
Obesity is a growing concern even for very young children. Research indicates that even young toddlers are eating inappropriate foods with too many calories. Early childhood programs have a unique opportunity to influence children’s healthy eating and physical activity habits. Children’s health, safety, and ability to learn are inextricably linked. Health and safety activities, integrated throughout the day, provide a means to support children’s cognition.
Concepts of Health
Safety and Injury Preventions
Gross Motor Coordination Concepts, Principles, and Strategies of Movement – Fine Motor Coordination
- Social and Emotional Development – Student Interpersonal Skills
All children benefit from safe, nurturing environments, clear and consistent routines, and effective caregivers who understand children’s behavior as attempts to communicate needs. When children are taught skills to assist them in positive communication, coping, and interpersonal relationships, challenging behaviors can be prevented.
All children need early childhood experiences that nurture emotional security, positive self-concept, and respect for others. Children’s social and emotional developments are strengthened when they have experiences that promote a sense of identity and belonging within an accepting and responsive environment.
Self-Awareness and Self-Management
Establishing and Maintaining Relationships
Decision-Making and Responsible Behavior
- Partnerships for Learning – Families, Early Care and Education Programs, and Communities
The partnerships between the child, family, early care, and education programs and other agencies are critical to providing a holistic and seamless approach to children’s learning. Early care and education programs and families should work together to share information about individualized learning plans and goals, assure positive transition to and from the current setting, and identify and refer family members to other community agencies when appropriate.
Families are supported in times of need.
Families experience relationships with early care and education programs that are affirming, reciprocal, and build upon their strengths.
Families have the support and information they need to encourage their children’s learning and development.
Family members have support from other families.
Families have goals of their own and benefit from having supportive partners to help reach their goals.
Families grow in their leadership and use these skills in many different ways.
Families are supported in times of transition