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Our Programs

Infants & Waddlers

6-18 months​


18-30 months


30 months - 4 years

4K First Steps

4 years +


 Curriculum & Milestones

South Carolina Early Learning Standards

Approaches To Play & Learning

Children are born with an inclination to learn and to figure things out, but each child approaches learning in his or her own way. The Approaches to Play and 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. Children display these characteristics in the way they learn in all domains and curriculum areas, including music, dramatic play, and art.

For infants and toddlers, their approach to learning begins with their openness and interest in the world around them and their desire to make things happen. They learn by mouthing, tasting, touching, smelling, listening, and looking at just about anything in their environment. They also learn through their physical actions as they try new actions and see what happens when they do something with objects. When adults support and encourage their efforts, children feel safe and secure and are more willing to try new things and take risks. With a consistent environment and responsive adults who encourage exploration, young children will experience the emotional security necessary for exploring, growing, and learning.

As children move into the preschool years, they begin to establish learning behaviors that are more closely tied to later school success. They become more confident in their ability to learn and enjoy exploration and discovery through play. This is also a time when children develop some specific areas of interest, and learn different strategies to find out more about those interests. They typically can concentrate for longer periods of time and can persist with tasks even after encountering obstacles. It is important for teachers of young children of every age to recognize that children vary in their learning styles and in how they express their approaches to learning. For example, some children show great enthusiasm for trying new things, while others are more content to sit back and watch. These differences may reflect the child’s temperament or cultural differences in how his or her family encourages the child to interact with the people and things in the environment. The presence of a developmental delay or disability may affect how a child takes in information and/or interacts with the people and things in the environment. Teachers and caregivers must be attuned to these differences and provide children appropriate support and guidance. The Goals and Developmental Indicators included in this domain describe important aspects of approaches to learning that early childhood educators should seek to foster as they work with young children. It is important to remember, however, that each child’s approach toward play and learning is unique. 

Emotional & Social Development

The Emotional and Social Development domain describes how children feel about themselves and how they develop relationships with others, as well as how they learn to express and manage their emotions. Children’s development in this domain affects their development in every other domain. For instance, children who develop a positive sense of self are more likely to try new things and work toward reaching goals. They tend to accept new challenges and feel more confident about their ability to handle problems or difficulties that they encounter.

Children’s social skills and the relationships they form with others are also important for their overall development. Children’s earliest relationships with their caregivers and teachers provide the basis for the relationships they will form with their future teachers and classmates. Through positive relationships with adults, children learn to understand and care about others and develop skills that help them adjust to the demands of formal schooling they will encounter when they are older. Sensitive interactions with caregivers and teachers are particularly important for infants and toddlers because they are learning to form attachments, that is, strong ties to people who care for them. These attachment relationships lay the foundation for children’s development in all areas. When adults are attentive to children’s emotional and social cues and consistently respond with kindness and care, children feel important and they learn to feel good about themselves. They also learn to relate positively to others.

Children also learn to manage their feelings and impulses during their early years. Very young children (infants and toddlers) need the support of sensitive adults as they learn how to regulate their emotions. Preschoolers’ ability to regulate and manage emotions is still developing, and it is not unusual for them to sometimes have difficulty controlling their feelings and expressing their emotions appropriately.

Several factors affect children’s emotional and social development. Children’s temperament, the unique way they respond to the world around them, plays a big role in how they express their emotions and relate to others. Some children may be generally happy and very friendly, while others may be often cranky, slow-to-warm up to newcomers, or shy. Sensitive teachers and caregivers accept that children respond to new situations and to people differently based on their temperament and learn to interact with children in ways that match each child’s temperament to support their developing emotional and social abilities.

In addition to temperament, children have other characteristics and experiences that can affect their social and emotional development. Children with disabilities may need additional support in learning to express their emotions and/or develop positive relationships. For instance, a child with vision and hearing loss may need specialized assistance to develop a strong sense of self and/or form relationships with adults and other children. Children who are Dual Language Learners may also need special accommodations. They may need help communicating their needs or cooperating with peers. Teachers and caregivers must be “in tune” with each child as an individual to effectively support their emotional and social development.

Finally, children’s family and culture play important roles in their emotional and social development. Some families and cultures encourage children to be more reserved, while others may encourage children to be more outgoing. Cultures and families also have different expectations for other aspects of emotional and social development, such as expectations for how assertive children are expected to be, and the way that children show respect to adults. Teachers and caregivers should keep these types of cultural differences in mind as they support children’s emotional and social development. 

Healthy & Physical Development

The Health and Physical Development domain focuses on physical growth and motor development, nutrition, self-care, and health/safety practices. It lays a foundation for children’s future health and well-being. Teachers and caregivers should keep in mind that the developmental trajectory of children with identified disabilities may differ from the descriptions of typical development described in this domain’s Developmental Indicators.

During the time from birth to age five, children grow rapidly. Their bodies more than double in size, and their brains develop more rapidly than during any other period in their lives. Children grow and develop best when they are provided, and enjoy, a healthy and balanced diet that promotes their physical growth and health, as well as their cognitive development, including their memory, problem solving, and decision-making skills.

In addition to healthy eating habits, children need sufficient rest and need to be physically active to develop strength and stamina. They benefit from a variety of activities that promote physical fitness and give them opportunities to practice both large and small motor skills. Although developmental milestones don't occur at the same time for all children, growth and motor development do follow a predictable sequence as children’s skills build upon each other. Teachers and caregivers see children’s large muscle development progress as they turn over and then sit up; as they creep or crawl and then walk; and then as they learn to run, climb, and play organized games. They develop fine motor skills when they use their hands to play with materials such as blocks, puzzles, and crayons, and when they learn to put on and button their clothes and become able to care for themselves. Early childhood programs can promote children’s motor development by providing them with a safe, well-supervised environment where they have many opportunities to play with a wide variety of materials that involve both their large and small muscles.

The health and physical development domain also addresses children's increasing ability to care for themselves as well as their developing awareness of how they can keep themselves healthy and safe. When children are very young, they need constant adult supervision and guidance. As they grow older, they show greater independence and can be helped to begin to recognize dangerous situations. Health and safety habits are nurtured when children are carefully supervised and when they have opportunities to participate in individual and group routines such as cooperating when their diapers are being changed, becoming adept at washing their hands, and using toys and materials in safe and appropriate ways.

It is particularly important for teachers to pay attention to families’ approaches to self-care, care-giving routines, and to encouraging children’s independence. They should make every effort to create classrooms that incorporate the cultural practices of the families they serve including helping children develop a sense of independence in ways that reflect their families’ cultural values.

It is important to remember that each child develops at his or her own pace. Often teachers and caregivers are the first to notice that a child is not reaching expected developmental milestones. If a child’s family, teacher, or caregiver is concerned that a child is not meeting many or all the Goals and Developmental Indicators described in this document, it may be appropriate to work with the child’s family to arrange for an evaluation by a specialist who can determine if specialized intervention services may be needed. If an evaluation reveals that a child has a developmental delay or disability, the teacher or caregiver should work with the family and any specialists to accommodate the child’s physical, emotional, or cognitive needs.

Language Development & Communication

From birth, children are learning language and developing the ability to communicate. The Language Development and Communication domain describes many important aspects of children’s language and early literacy development.

Language development begins with children’s ability to understand what others are communicating to them. Infants and toddlers often can understand much more than they can say. First, infants and toddlers learn the meaning of words and other forms of communication and gradually learn to express their needs through crying, gesturing, and facial expressions, and later using words to express themselves. By the time they are preschoolers, most children have developed a large vocabulary and are learning the rules of language, such as grammar.

Children also learn many important early literacy skills as they grow and develop. The youngest children build the foundation for reading and writing as they explore books, listen to songs and nursery rhymes, hear stories, and begin to scribble and draw. Preschoolers learn to follow along as someone reads to them, remember familiar stories and talk about them, learn the names of the letters of the alphabet, and begin to be more intentional about what they draw and scribble.

Adults who pay close attention to what children are trying to communicate and respond consistently to children’s communications help children become good communicators. This is especially important for infants and toddlers as they learn first how to communicate nonverbally, and then verbally. Teachers and caregivers also promote communication skills and early literacy skills as they talk with, read to, and sing with children of all ages. Children learn that reading and writing are important as they see adults using these skills in everyday life and, for preschoolers, as they begin to point out letters, help children follow print, and lead activities that introduce early literacy concepts such as the sounds included in words. Teachers and caregivers support children’s early literacy development through learning experiences that introduce early literacy concepts such as telling children the names of letters naturally as a part of daily routines and activities, as opposed to teaching one letter per week or focusing on early literacy skills outside of meaningful daily activities.

One way that children acquire cognitive and social development is through language. Teachers should recognize the linguistic and culturally diverse characteristics in their classrooms and support children and families who speak languages other than standard American English. While teaching standard American English, teachers should acknowledge, show respect, support and include each child’s home language or dialect. Children whose families speak a language other than English will probably demonstrate progress on the Goals and Developmental Indicators included in this document in their home language first; therefore, it is very important to encourage children and their families to continue to use their home language while they are learning English.

Teachers and caregivers should also keep in mind that children with disabilities may need extra support when they are communicating with others. They may need listening devices to help them hear so that they can learn the sounds and words used in language. They may need additional support from a specialist to help them develop communication skills. Teachers and caregivers should communicate with and observe young children carefully to see if they are picking up communication skills early on, and seek additional assistance if a child seems to have a delay in this area. 

Mathematical Thinking & Expression

Learning to think like a mathematician involves more than learning to count and to recognize numbers. It involves comparing objects that are heavy and light, big and small, and long and short; as well as identifying and describing shapes (circle, square, rectangle); recognizing repeating patterns (blue-yellow-blue-yellow); comparing quantities (which is more and which is less); and following sequencing directions that tell what to do first, next, and last. Young children are curious, independent, energetic, and eager to learn new things. These characteristics help children acquire and express the math concepts that will form a working foundation for more formal math learning in Kindergarten and the primary grades.

Adults can support the development of mathematical thinking and expression by being enthusiastic about noticing how mathematical concepts are part of everyday activities and using “math talk” to describe children’s experiences. There is no need to drill children with flashcards or worksheets in order to help them learn math. Those practices do not promote children’s curiosity or their confidence that they can “do math.” Adults who provide daily opportunities for children to solve problems, notice the shapes of the blocks they are playing with in the block center, count the number of children sitting at the lunch table, identify which box has more crayons, follow directions, or notice which stack of books is taller and which is shorter are helping children to learn mathematical concepts.

Nowhere is it more true to say that children learn by experience and discovery than when they are learning to think like a mathematician and express their mathematical understandings. Encouraging children to engage with numbers, shapes, and patterns in their everyday lives promotes a solid foundation of mathematical problem solving and understanding. 

Cognitive Development

The Cognitive Development domain focuses on children’s ability to acquire, organize, and use information in increasingly complex ways. Young children play an active role in their own cognitive development. Young children begin to explain, organize, construct, and predict - skills that lay the cognitive foundation they need to explore and understand increasingly sophisticated concepts and the world they live in. They learn to apply prior knowledge to new experiences, and then use this information to refine their understanding of concepts as well as to form new understanding.

For very young children, cognitive development is supported and encouraged through their daily activities, routines, and interactions with adults and children. Interactions with objects and people are foundational to cognitive development. Young children begin to understand simple scientific concepts by noticing, wondering, and exploring. As children grow older and move into the preschool years, their thinking becomes increasingly complex. They move from simpler to more complex cognitive skills and become more complex thinkers and begin to ask questions as they engage in increasingly more focused explorations. Children start to demonstrate effective problem-solving skills and to express themselves creatively using a variety of media. They also start to remember and use what they learn in the areas of science, creative expression, and social connections, the focus of three subdomains within the Cognitive Development domain. In this section of the ELS, take note of the interrelatedness among subdomains. Processes and skills such as making observations, comparing and classifying objects, solving problems, asking questions, and making predictions support learning across all the domains and link them together.

Many factors can be related to the progress children demonstrate in the Cognitive Development domain. Children with disabilities may need extra support to make progress on the Developmental Indicators in this domain because individual differences in how they see, hear, process information, and/or communicate can affect how they take in information and how they express what they learn. Dual Language Learners may learn new concepts and demonstrate what they know best in their home language.

Teachers and caregivers can promote children’s cognitive development by providing interesting materials and experiences, and encouraging children to explore and try using materials in different ways. Whether it is using toys that require children to figure out how they work, creating with art materials, exploring nature, or building with blocks they put together in different shapes, almost any experience can be used to support children’s understanding of the concepts included in the Cognitive Development domain. 

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