Planning Quality Early Learning Programs

infant smiling

Child Development

As a caregiver, you see not only the physical changes of children as they grow but the changes in how they think and feel. Researchers have seen these changes too, and their search for the "why" to explain such changes led to a variety of developmental theories.

Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson are two important theorists that help to explain and track human development. Piaget's research helps to explain children's cognitive development, or how they think, while Erikson's theory emphasizes the role of social interactions in child development.

toddler taking first steps outdoors

Developmental Domains and Milestones
Knowing what to expect from different age groups will help you plan the best care for young children. Developmental domains are broad categories that describe the ways that children grow.

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) uses developmental domains to describe the growth that children experience from birth until the age of three:
      • personal and social development
      • language development
      • cognitive development
      • physical development
Developmental milestones, or "ages and stages," are progress points within each domain. As a young child meets each milestone, she is on her way to mastering skills within a developmental domain.

Preschooler examining flowers with a magnifying glass


Following a developmentally appropriate curriculum helps to ensure that children will be prepared when they arrive in kindergarten and that they are on track to become lifelong learners. A curriculum is a detailed outline of all the specific content and topics that the children will learn and should address each major developmental domain. For example, a preschool curriculum might focus on monthly, seasonal or geographical themes.

parents helping toddler write

Communicating with Parents

Children benefit when parents and caregivers communicate regularly about a child's development. Ideally, both parties are observing a child's development (both formally and informally) and sharing those observations with each other periodically. Talking to parents about challenges and issues related to their children's development is easier if you have already established clear and open lines of communication. Caregivers can help establish partnerships with parents by making communication an integral part of the program.

preschool children eating a healthy snack

Health and Safety

Promoting healthy routines, providing a safe environment, and encouraging proper nutrition are the cornerstones of a high-quality early learning program. By understanding certain health and nutrition guidelines, along with recognizing potential safety hazards, caregivers can create an environment that nurtures alert and attentive children engaged in positive learning experiences.

diverse group of five women

Community Resources

Caregivers can turn to a variety of national and community organizations to find the support and resources necessary for running a successful early learning program, as well as be aware of services and resources that benefit children and families. With a little bit of time and research, you can determine which national, state or local programs and resources are most appropriate for your specific needs to help you stay connected to the latest research in the field and advance your professional knowledge.