Using the Early Childhood Standards to Promote Equity for All Children
The Early Childhood Standards are a guide to use with all children, no matter what language they speak, what disabilities they may have, or what family circumstances they are growing up in. All children should have opportunities to learn the skills described in the Early Childhood Standards. There can, however, be differences in how children demonstrate the skills described in the Early Childhood Standards. A child’s individual temperament, socio-economic status, relationships with family members, and the community/culture in which they live shape their growth and learning. Therefore, educators should expect to see differences in how children make progress on the skills described in the Early Childhood Standards.
Because educators typically work with children from different backgrounds and with different abilities, they must intentionally take steps to make sure they are using the Early Childhood Standards to promote equity for all children—that they are using the Early Childhood Standards as a guide for learning experiences and to promote progress for each child in a way that best suits each individual child. Educators must check themselves for biases that may get in the way of using the Early Childhood Standards equitably. A bias is an attitude or a view that can lead an educator to consciously or unconsciously favor certain children or have different expectations for one child compared with other children. These biases might lead an educator to have lower or higher expectations for the progress a child might make on the Early Childhood Standards just based on their characteristics rather than their developmental level, or to inadvertently over- or under-emphasize one domain of learning. Educators must intentionally check themselves to look for their biases and make sure they are not letting stereotypes about children shape how they are using the Early Childhood Standards rather than their own experiences with individual children.
A bias is an attitude or a view that can lead an educator to consciously or unconsciously favor certain children or have different expectations for one child compared with other children. Educators must consistently check their attitudes, judgements, and interactions to make sure that they are using the Early Childhood Standards equitably with all children.
Considering biases and working to individualize when using the Early Childhood Standards is important for all children, but the process is particularly important when working with children with disabilities and children from cultural and language backgrounds that are different from an educator’s own background. The following guidance provides advice for working with these specific groups of children.
How can the Early Childhood Standards be used with Children with Disabilities?
Although the Early Childhood Standards are the same for all children, it is important to remember that children with disabilities may demonstrate their skills and learning in different ways from typically developing children. Educators may need to make accommodations that help children with disabilities demonstrate what they know and are able to do. For example, children with limited verbal skills may demonstrate their knowledge and skills using gestures, pictures, or sign language. Modifications to materials may be needed as well. Children who have delays in motor development may need tabs added to the pages of book or grips added to markers or spoons to demonstrate their capabilities.
Children with disabilities may also make progress at different rates from other children. They may be slower to demonstrate progress in some domains rather than others, and may have very strong skills in one domain but need additional support to make progress in another domain. It may be helpful to look at the Standards, Benchmarks and Developmental Continuum for a younger age level when working with a child with disabilities, as it may be better suited to the child’s developmental level. Educators may also need to observe children with disabilities more closely to notice their progress and may need to use different strategies to help them demonstrate their capabilities.
How can the Early Childhood Standards be used with Children from Diverse Language and Cultural Backgrounds?
Kentucky is home to an increasingly ethnically diverse group of children and the number of children and families who speak a language other than English has also increased. Therefore, educators may have increasing opportunities to work with children and families who have a different cultural background and speak a language that is different from their own. This document refers to these children as “Dual Language Learners” because they are learning their native language and also learning to understand and speak English. Educators should use the Early Childhood Standards as a guide for what Dual Language Learners should know and be able to do, just like children whose home language is English. However, the educator may need to be more intentional when planning learning experiences to address the standards and benchmarks. It may also be necessary to be more observant when gauging if a child has mastered a skill or benchmark described in the Early Childhood Standards, in order to make sure the child understands the concept addressed and has the maximum opportunity to demonstrate the skills. For instance, when supporting a Dual Language Learner to make progress on the Health/Mental Wellness Benchmark that addresses children’s ability to participate successfully in groups, the educator may want to intentionally group children who speak the same home language together to observe the extent to which the children are able to play together and to make friends. Grouping children who speak the same language together gives more opportunity for the children to demonstrate the skills described in the Early Childhood Standards.
In addition, educators should keep in mind that Dual Language Learners demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways, remembering that children can demonstrate their capabilities on many of the Developmental Continuum items in their home language or in English, and through other means such as gestures, pictures and/or using objects to show what they have learned.
Finally, families and communities have different expectations for what children are expected to learn and how they demonstrate their knowledge. For example, children from some communities are most comfortable watching what the teacher and other children are doing, while other children jump into activities and are eager to show adults what they have learned. These differences can be based on the child’s experiences in their home and community, and do not necessarily mean that one child has learned more than another. Cultural differences such as these are important to keep in mind when considering how individual children are making progress on the Early Childhood Standards because children demonstrate what they have learned in different ways. Observing carefully and talking with family members can help educators understand children's unique characteristics and plan appropriate learning experiences, as well as monitor progress on the Early Childhood Standards Developmental Continuum, while respecting and building on the children’s cultural and individual differences.
The DLL Appendix provides more in-depth information about the process of learning multiple languages and how educators can use the Early Childhood Standards with Dual Language Learners.
Using the Standards with Curricula and Assessments
Planning and Instruction Cycle
Educators may wonder whether they need to use the Early Childhood Standards if they are already using early childhood curricula and assessments. The answer is, “yes!” the Early Childhood Standards are a useful resource in addition to curricula and assessments. In fact, all three of these resources—Early Childhood Standards, curricula and assessments—are needed to effectively prepare children for success in school. Here’s how they are related and how they are used together:
- Early Childhood Standards define what we expect children to learn at each of the age levels;
- A curriculum provides educators with guidance on how to teach the skills and concepts that are included in the Early Childhood Standards;
- The assessment process helps educators gauge if children have learned what is expected.
So, all three are necessary components of the teaching process. Educators should begin by looking at the Early Childhood Standards to see what children should be learning at a particular age, and then use the curriculum for guidance on how to teach the concepts. After implementing learning experiences based on the curriculum, an educator uses an assessment process to help them understand what children know and if they have learned what is expected. Comparing assessment results with the Developmental Continuum in the Early Childhood Standards can be helpful to see if the child has demonstrated the intended skills and knowledge. If so, the Early Childhood Standards can provide insights into what skills to target next. If the child has not demonstrated the target Developmental Continuum item(s), the curriculum can help with planning additional learning experiences to address the same skill. The Early Childhood Standards, a curriculum and assessments are used in a cycle that is shown in the graphic below.
Educators use all three components in this cycle to support children in learning the skills and knowledge needed for success in kindergarten. For the cycle to work well, however, all three components must be aligned, or address children’s learning and development consistently. This means that educators need to use curricula and assessments that are aligned with the Early Childhood Standards. The Early Childhood Standards do not, however, tell you which curriculum, activities, or materials to select; they do help with decisions about curricula and assessments. Once you have a good understanding of the skills and knowledge from the Early Childhood Standards that are important for the age you teach, you can look for a curriculum and assessments that will help you help children develop the skills described in the Developmental Continuum.
Using the Early Childhood Standards with Families
Families are children’s first and most important teachers, and it is very important that they are included in supporting their child’s development and learning. Although the Early Childhood Standards are designed for educators, it may be helpful to share portions of the Early Childhood Standards with families, or to provide them with resources that are consistent with the Early Childhood Standards. Educators can use the document to help families understand how children develop and what skills and knowledge they are working on with a specific child. The Early Childhood Standards can also be used generally to give parents an idea of age-appropriate expectations for children’s learning and development as they seek to also support their child’s readiness for success in school.
Organization of Document
Kentucky’s Early Childhood Standards is organized into several sections, each of which is described here. The standards cover developmental domains for children birth to three-years of age and three-and four-year olds. The domains for each age group are listed in the text box below. Each of the domains is an important area of children’s development and contributes to children’s readiness for success in school. Although important aspects of children’s learning are described separately in the domains, they are really integrated together in a child’s development. A child’s progress in one domain will be closely related to their progress in another domain. For instance, a child’s development of communication skills impacts what they learn and how they demonstrate their skills in all of the other domains. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that learning experiences and assessments of children’s development should address multiple areas of learning together, not as separate, discrete skills.
Domains for Birth to Three Years
- Approaches to Learning
- Creative Expression
- Motor Development
- Social Emotional Development
Domains for Three- and Four-Year-Olds
- Approaches to Learning
- Creative Arts
- Health/Mental Wellness
- Language and Early Literacy
- Physical Education
- Social Studies
Each domain is then organized into Standards, Benchmarks, and a Developmental Continuum, with Example Behaviors to illustrate each Developmental Continuum item. Each of these components of the Early Childhood Standards is described below.
Standard: A general statement that represents the information, skills, and/or characteristics that a child should demonstrate at the end of the age span covered.
Benchmark: A concept or skill that is a subset of what is addressed within the standard. Put another way, Benchmarks collectively describe the specific skills, knowledge or characteristics included within a standard. Benchmarks are not listed in any specific order, either in importance or in a developmental order.
Developmental Continuum: A predictable but not rigid sequence of accomplishments which describe the progressive levels of performance in the order in which they emerge in most children, based on current research. Developmental Continuum items describe how skills related to a Benchmark typically emerge or progress.
Example Behaviors: Observable “samples” of what children might do as they demonstrate accomplishments at each level of the Developmental Continuum, but not a definitive list of how a child might demonstrate a specific accomplishment or an exhaustive inventory.
The Developmental Continuum and Example Behaviors help educators identify skills most likely to occur next in the continuum and provide examples of what skills or knowledge a child might demonstrate at specific ages. These illustrations are useful to adults as they seek to understand and plan learning experiences to facilitate children’s development.
The following graphic illustrates what is included and where the different components of the Early Childhood Standards are located within the Standards sections.
Kentucky’s Early Childhood Standards are designed to be a resource for educators in many different settings and roles. They outline the skills and knowledge Kentucky feels are important for children to learn prior to kindergarten and, when used in conjunction with curricula and assessments, can guide educators on how to support children’s readiness for success in school. What follows are the Standards, Benchmarks, Developmental Continua, and Examples for the Birth to Three-Year Olds. After this section, the Standards, Benchmarks, Developmental Continua and Examples for Three- and Four-Year-Olds are provided.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2019). Advancing equity in early childhood education. NAEYC. Available at
Reid, J., Scott-Little, C., & Kagan, L. (2019). Diverse children, uniform standards: Using Early Learning and Development Standards in multicultural classrooms. Young Children, 74(5).
Reid, J.L., Kagan, S.L., & Scott-Little, C. (2017). New understandings of cultural diversity and the implications for early childhood policy, pedagogy, and practice. Early Child Development and Care. DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2017.1359582