Learning trajectories help
educators understand the developmental processes that children go through to
master a skill or concept. These trajectories have three components: the goal
(such as mastery of a new concept); the developmental progressions that
children proceed through as they get closer to that goal; and the sequenced
activities that teachers can employ to help students reach the goal.
Sometimes early childhood
professionals get caught up in false dichotomies—seemingly opposing ideas that
can often be either reconciled or used in tandem. Some false dichotomies in the
realm of instruction include student centered vs. teacher directed; conceptual
vs. practice-based; order of skills vs. understanding.
For work with infants and
toddlers, educators can use strategies, such as verbally responding to
children’s communication with talk and encouragement, to foster strong early language
environments and support language development.
Mathematics and science are
generally not taught well to young children and are not typically emphasized in
Research on the impact of
technology and media on young children’s growth and development is still in its
infancy, but most studies point to the positive power of joint
media engagement, which occurs when children and caregivers use media and
technology to learn together.
In order to support the early
learning of dual language learners, it is essential to provide comprehensive
early screening of skills related to literacy development to prevent
vulnerabilities from becoming difficulties.
Assessment can be used in early
education settings to support continuous quality improvement, but educators must
be trained in the different types and proper roles of assessments.
consistently, certain educational practices can best support the learning and
development of young children. In order to foster high-quality learning, B–8 educators
must have knowledge of the subject-matter content, the developmental progress
of how children learn specific topics, and the instructional strategies that
best promote learning. While some early educators are well-versed in teaching
language and literacy, the teaching of science and math is often overlooked in
preparation programs. Teachers of infants and toddlers typically have less
access to research-based curricula and tools to help support the development of
There are a variety
of techniques early educators can use to support language and literacy
development. Giving children opportunities to engage in frequent and elaborated conversation is an important strategy.
See this video clip on how to ensure teacher-child interactions are effective at helping children learn (adapted from video by Teachstone):
and return” interactions during activities such as interactive book reading, parents and educators can help to build vocabulary skills beginning at birth. Interactive readings of a
variety of texts help to spur content-rich classroom discussions that build
reading comprehension and vocabulary skills.
See how a professional learning program in Texas is supporting children's language development:
gaps in math have roots in the earliest years, many early educators are not
trained to provide high-quality mathematics instruction. As a result, little to
no time is dedicated to talk about math in many early education classrooms. When
math instruction does occur, it often only lasts for a short period of time and
focuses on basic concepts such as number and shape identification. This absence
of explicit math instruction might be due to a lack of knowledge and confidence
among early educators in teaching mathematical content. Therefore, increasing
the mathematics knowledge of early educators and their understanding of how to
teach young children early math concepts should be a top priority for teacher
children are naturally curious about the natural world, they arrive in
kindergarten with lower readiness scores in science than in any other subject
area. Many children lack exposure to high-quality science instruction in early
education settings due to a lack of time, materials, and space, and a lack of
content knowledge among some educators. While work still needs to be done to identify
core concepts of early science instruction, the use of research-based curricula
and learning trajectories that emphasize a few core ideas over many
disconnected topics can help educators gain confidence in science instruction.
This video from the University of Northern Iowa offers an example of how science and engineering can be taught in pre-K and the early grades:
New research offers
clues about how children develop cognitive skills through the use of
technology. Much is still unknown about technology use in early childhood,
including whether any positive impact is evident when educational videos are
watched prior to two years of age. Any potential benefits of educational
technology will only be realized if the new technology is well implemented by
parents and educators. Educators should use technology intentionally, and often
need training in how to best integrate it into subject-matter-specific activities
and explorations in the classroom. Early research makes clear that the most
important aspect of a beneficial use of technology is ensuring joint
media engagement: the presence of a knowledgeable adult who is able to
engage with the media content alongside the child.
task of early educators is working to foster the social
and emotional development of young children. Learning environments that are
organized and predictable and which offer warm relationships with educators
help support the development of self-regulatory skills. In settings with very
young children especially, relationships between children and educators can be
strengthened by prioritizing a continuity
of care model in which they are kept together over several years so that a secure
caregiver-child attachment can form. Educators can benefit from consultation with mental health
experts to understand how to work with children who need extra support in
building their social and emotional skills.
There are a number
of techniques early educators can use to help support the learning of young
dual language learners as well as children with disabilities. For dual language
learners, comprehensive early screening of the skills related to literacy
development and follow-up in response to screening results are key to
preventing future difficulties in literacy. For students with special needs, strategies
aimed at individual learning objectives should be embedded into ongoing
classroom activities and routines. Tiered
intervention approaches can help educators identify which children might
benefit from additional instruction and support.
Finally, in order
to understand the progress being made by their students and programs, early
educators and administrators must have a solid grasp of the different types of
assessment and the purpose each assessment serves. When selected appropriately,
assessments can be essential for ensuring continuous improvement in both
individual teaching practices and education systems. As part of their
professional preparation, early educators should be trained not only in how to
conduct assessments but in all aspects of assessment
literacy, including how to interpret assessment results and make
appropriate changes to instruction in light of those results.
“Children learn in a developmental sequence. Well-designed curricula are therefore based on developmentally sequenced activities, and quality instructional practice requires educators who understand those sequences and can assess progress and remediate accordingly.” (pg. 242)
“Given how young children develop, it is unrealistic to expect the effects of early interventions to last indefinitely, without continual, progressive support in later schooling of children’s nascent learning trajectories.” (pg. 250)
Questions for Policymakers, Higher Education, and Workforce
What can states do to encourage
early science instruction and strengthen the quality of preparation that lead
educators and other B–8 professionals receive?
How is the state incorporating
best practices for the use of technology with young children into early
learning guidelines and teacher training?
What can be done at the state
level to better connect the fields of early care and education and child mental
How can teacher
preparation programs effectively increase the math and science knowledge of
early educators so they are more confident when teaching these subjects?
What coursework and field
experiences are provided by teacher
preparation programs to effectively prepare educators for teaching dual
How are teacher
preparation programs training teachers to effectively conduct assessments
and use their results to improve teaching and student learning?
How are you using assessment in
your classroom to inform lessons and improve child learning and development?
How are teachers supported in
figuring out how to adjust instruction in response to assessment results?
This is a multimedia guidebook inspired by and drawn from the Transforming the Workforce for Children From Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation (National Academies Press, 2015). This guidebook adds to that volume with key takeaways, videos, interactive tools, a glossary, and more. We have designed it with three doorways for three different but overlapping audiences: educators who work directly with children, educators in higher education who prepare those educators, and policymakers interested in improving early learning settings for children from B–8.