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Indiana Academic Standards
Indiana Department of Education

INTRODUCTION: Preschool Foundations [TOP]

Children come into this world eager to learn.
The first five years of life
are a time of enormous growth of linguistic,
conceptual, social, emotional,
and motor competence.

(Eager to Learn, 2000, p.1)

What do we know about young learners, ages 3 to 5 years old?  [ Back to Top of Page ]

Young learners create understanding and knowledge actively, combining new concepts and ideas into what they already know. Research on brain development and how young children learn has demonstrated the phenomenal pace at which learning takes place from the moment of birth.

Adults have an opportunity and an obligation to assist children in becoming active participants in the learning process throughout their lives. To grow and learn, young children need early childhood settings that support the development of the full range of capacities that will serve as a foundation for future school learning.

It is vitally important that all children have learning experiences that are:

Only after addressing these three essential areas of information and knowledge, can individuals working with young children make decisions concerning appropriate learning experiences.

Developmentally appropriate practice can be defined as a product of the adult making decisions
based on at least three important kinds of knowledge and information:

What is developmentally appropriate learning for young children?   [ Back to Top of Page ]

The concept of developmentally appropriate has two dimensions: age appropriateness and individual appropriateness. Age appropriateness refers to the universal, predictable sequences of growth and change that occur in children during the first nine years of life. Knowledge of typical development of children within the age span served by any program/home provides a framework from which the adult can prepare the learning environment and plan appropriate experiences. Both the curriculum and adults’ interactions with children should be responsive to individual differences. Each child must be viewed as a unique person with an individual pattern and timing for growth. Learning for young children is the result of interaction between the child’s thoughts and experiences with materials, ideas, and people. This child development knowledge should be used to identify the range of appropriate behaviors, activities, and materials for a specific age group and used in conjunction with understanding about individual children’s growth patterns, strengths, interests, and experiences to design the most appropriate learning environment. Different levels of ability, development, and learning styles are expected, accepted, and used to design appropriate experiences. For the content and the teaching strategies to be developmentally appropriate, they must be age appropriate and individually appropriate.

What does research say about appropriate learning environments for young children?  [ Back to Top of Page ]

Early childhood experts, along with the National Research Council’s Report and Review Committee, have provided an independent review of quality experiences for young learners. The summary of findings from this study was published in a book entitled, Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers (2002). From the Executive Summary of this study some characteristics of quality experiences for young learners are listed below:

The committee supports the notion that it is the whole child that must be developed. Early childhood experiences should focus on all domains or aspects of development:

Effective, quality programs for young children:

  • Acknowledge and encourage each child’s efforts.
  • Model and demonstrate.
  • Create challenges and support children in extending their capabilities.
  • Provide specific directions and instruction.
  • Organize the environment in ways to pursue educational goals for all children.

All of these strategies need to be used in the context of play and adult-directed activities
in which children are actively engaged and responsive. Recognition must also be given to the fact that children learn from each other and from interactions with the physical environment.

Why have these foundations been written?   [ Back to Top of Page ]

From kindergarten through twelfth grade, academic standards have been established to promote excellence and equity in education. Excellence is important in education today for future success. Equity is important so that all children have the same opportunities for success. Standards are a framework instead of a complete curriculum. In other words, standards represent the essential content every student needs in order to have a basis for understanding a subject area. The actual classroom curriculum is generally much richer with broader and deeper understandings than those in the standards. The framework does, however, help to identify any gaps or points not being presented as essentials in the curriculum. At the heart of the effort to promote quality early childhood experiences for all, foundations to the standards have been developed to support all adults that work with three to five year olds.

These foundations have been developed by individuals with expertise in each specialized area and have been based on the latest national research and findings for each content area. By outlining specific skills and concepts and giving examples of instructional strategies, these foundations will support teachers, parents, and caregivers as they develop appropriate experiences for young children.

The primary position of the development of foundations to standards was that a program designed for young children be based on what is known about young children. These foundations are designed to assist all who work with young children in approaching the various domains from a developmentally appropriate perspective.

How to Use the Foundations for Young Children   [ Back to Top of Page ]

The Indiana Foundations for Young Children address all the content areas: English/language arts, social studies, mathematics, science, physical education, health, and the arts. Each content section begins with an introduction, the guiding principles behind the foundations, and the foundation for each of the Indiana Academic Standards for kindergarten. The foundations reflect the types of experiences and interactions early learners need to develop the foundation.

The term young children refers to any child, ages 3 – 5, regardless of whether the child is in an early childhood setting or at home. The term adult refers to any adult who has interactions with the child whether the person is a teacher, caregiver, friend, or family member. The term environment refers to anywhere young children might be.

Each individual foundation is divided into sections.

This section gives a description of what adults may see children begin to do at this age. These describe skills appropriate for young learners.

This next section gives examples of many activities adults can do with children to support growth and learning in each area. Statements of the adult’s role as a facilitator/teacher of learning for young children are included. Many of these contain suggestions for materials to include in the environment.

A variety of scenarios are given as examples of experiences children and adults may be doing that would address each foundation. Some scenarios are written in the classroom environment, some in the home environment, and some are outdoors. All activities planned by the child and the adult should reflect the needs and interest of the young learners involved.

The foundations and experiences are NOT inclusive but rather a guide that will assist the young learner in preparing for success. These descriptions are not written in any particular order and, because children grow and learn at different rates and in different ways, should NOT be used as a checklist.

Adaptations for Exceptional Learners   [ Back to Top of Page ]

We know that children learn at different rates and have varying abilities. Children bring different backgrounds and experiences into the learning environment but when exceptional learners are in the early childhood environment, the range of differences in those learning rates and varying abilities increases. Exceptional learners are limited in their ability to progress without adaptations in their early childhood programs.

Who are Exceptional learners?   [ Back to Top of Page ]
• Children with disabilities, developmental delays, or special needs.
• Children with specific intellectual, academic, or creative strengths.

What are Adaptations?   
[ Back to Top of Page ]

Adaptations are techniques and strategies designed to respond to a child’s needs. Adults who recognize and appreciate the differences in children readily adapt instruction. Adapting instruction for exceptional learners is similar but more extensive and crucial for satisfactory progress to be made. Other terms for adaptations include modifications, accommodations, or differentiation.

Some children with mental or physical disabilities may need structured, teacher-assisted activities. Yet, children who are developmentally advanced need activities that encourage curiosity and independence. Rather than over-protecting or stifling exceptional learners, realize they are capable of taking an active part in activities and play. The role of the adult is to help the child learn acceptable ways to grow socially and academically.

The following teaching strategies and techniques are designed to help adults adapt activities or schedules for learners with varying needs.

Who Decides which Adaptations to Use?  [ Back to Top of Page ]

Collaborative planning is very important when planning appropriate adaptations for children. Sometimes enrollment in the early childhood program is part of a special educational program designed specifically for a child with a disability. This type of program has learning goals for the child created by the special education teachers, the parents, and hopefully, the early childhood staff. These goals are stated in the child’s Individualized Educational Program (called an IEP), and a member of the special education staff should share these objectives with the early childhood teacher.

To successfully meet the needs of exceptional learners, early childhood teachers, specialized professionals, and parents must plan the child’s program together. At times, the special education teacher may work directly with the child, may co-teach in the classroom, or provide consultation to the early childhood teacher. Forming a collaborative relationship is essential for creating a successful learning environment. Such relationships require time for meetings, respect for others educational philosophies, and support from the early childhood program’s administration.

What are Some Effective Adaptation Strategies and Techniques?

Sequence and Pace   [ Back to What Are Adaptations? ]  [ Back to Top of Page ]

The adult may change the order in which activities occur, the amount of time allotted for the child to complete an activity, or the preparation for transition across activities.

Child Preferences and Interests [ Back to What Are Adaptations? ]  [ Back to Top of Page ]

The adult may use materials, toys, or a person for which a child has shown a special interest or preference to support active participation in activities or routines.

Special Equipment   [ Back to What Are Adaptations? ]    [ Back to Top of Page ]

The adult may use adaptive devices or equipment for individual children.

Peer Support    [ Back to What Are Adaptations? ]   [ Back to Top of Page ]

The adult may involve peers in encouraging children’s active and appropriate participation in class activities.

Environmental Supports    [ Back to What Are Adaptations? ]    [ Back to Top of Page ]

The adult may adapt the flow of the room, activity areas, seating and position options in ways that promote active participation.

Materials    [ Back to What Are Adaptations? ]      [ Back to Top of Page ]

The adult may modify materials and information so that the child can participate as independently as possible.

Modify Activities  [ Back to What Are Adaptations? ]     [ Back to Top of Page ]

The adult may break a complex task into smaller parts, reduce the number of steps, adapt the skill level, or modify the rules of how the child approaches the activity. The adult may complicate a task by adding more parts or steps.

Direct Adult Support    [ Back to What Are Adaptations? ]     [ Back to Top of Page ]

Adults may provide assistance in an activity or routine to support the child’s participation and learning. The amount of personal assistance provided will vary from child to child. Adults may model another way to play or expand on the child’s play or behavior.

Alternative Goals  [ Back to What Are Adaptations? ]    [ Back to Top of Page ]

Adults may adapt how the child can respond, including how much you expect the child to accomplish. Different goals and outcomes for children within the same learning activity can be identified.

Recommended Practices for Young Children Who Are English Language Learners (ELLs)  [ Back to Top of Page ]

Young children come to us with varying experiences, backgrounds, and languages. Children whose home language is not English face the challenge of adapting to an early childhood setting that may not be consistent with their home culture and language. It is important for caregivers to assist young children in this transition through a respect for and acknowledgment of the language skills, knowledge, and culture that they bring with them to the early childhood setting.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) states that caregivers can best meet the needs of children whose home language is not English by “preserving and respecting the diversity of the home language and culture that each child brings to the early learning setting” (NAEYC, 1995, p. 7). Most of the recommended practices for working with children who are English language learners are very similar to strategies encouraged in early childhood education, special education, and are simply techniques of good teaching.

It takes a long time to become fluent in any language, and children acquire English as a second language in different ways and at different rates. The difficulties in learning a second language should not be confused with a learning disability. Some children go through a “silent period,” for up to as long as six months, in which they do not speak, but are learning to understand English. Other children quickly attempt to communicate in English and may mix or combine English with their home language (for example, “Quiero juice.”). Some children may already be using simple phrases and appear fairly fluent. It is important to know that, even though a child is able to easily communicate with friends, research shows that it may take four or more years to become fluent in the cognitive language skills that are needed for academic learning (Cummins, 1981; Collier, 1989).

The following levels of English proficiency may help in setting appropriate expectations for individual children who are acquiring English as a second language. These levels should be used as a guide in understanding the language acquisition process.

Level 1:  Pre-production: This is often referred to as the “silent period.” Children are learning to understand the language and may not speak at all.
Level 2: Early Production: Children use single words or simple phrases to answer questions.
Level 3: Speech Emergence: Children start to use simple sentences and correct grammar to verbalize information.
Level 4: Intermediate Fluency: Children start to use more complex speech production and appear to be fluent. However, they may not have the vocabulary and grammar necessary to adequately express the concepts being learned.
Level 5: Fluent English Proficient: Children are on par with their native English-speaking peers.

While young children are in the process of learning English, it is important for adults to encourage the development of the child’s home (native) language. Families transmit values, beliefs, and a sense of belonging to their children through their home language. Children also learn basic concepts necessary for later learning through everyday conversation and interactions when families continue to use the home language. Native language development will accelerate the acquisition of English. Encouraging families to speak to children in English at home, when family members may not be fluent English speakers themselves, can result in limited verbal interactions and modeling of incorrect language use. Families should be encouraged to speak and read to their children in the home language; children will learn English quickly from others in early childhood settings.

There are strategies that caregivers can use to help young children who are learning English feel comfortable in early childhood settings. Many of the following strategies are good techniques for use with all young children, particularly as they enter early childhood programs.

These techniques will make learning more meaningful and comprehensible to second language learners. Above all, it is important to be creative, open minded, sensitive, and familiar with the language acquisition process.

All children have different needs. As young children learn English, some will find it easier than others. Most teaching strategies that are encouraged in early childhood are already appropriate for young children learning a second language. It is not necessary to change the early childhood curriculum for children whose home language is not English, but it is important to support them in their efforts to communicate. Working closely with families, caregivers can create an environment for young children that respects their culture, encourages the development of their home language, and supports their English language learning.

Please contact the Division of Language Minority and Migrant Programs, Indiana Department of Education, at 800-382-9962 or 317-232-0555 for more information on working with English language learners.

Common Terms
ELL: English language learner: This term is used to identify a student who is learning English as a new or second language.
LEP: Limited English Proficient: This term identifies a student who is learning English as a new or second language.
ESL: English as a Second Language: This term is used to identify a course or type of service provided to ELL/LEP students.
ENL: English as a New Language: This term means the same thing as ESL.
FEP: Fluent English Proficient: This term identifies a student whose native language is other than English but is now fluent in English (level 5).
Bilingual Education: A program in which two languages are used in content area instruction.
Home language: The dominant language spoken in the home.
Native language: The first language of the student.
Dominant language: The language(s) in which the individual is most fluent.
Sheltered instruction: Teaching techniques and strategies that make the lesson more comprehensible for English language learners.


Britt, J. (1997). Hola! Communicating with Spanish-speaking parents. Torrance, California: Good Apple.

Collier, V. (1989). How long: A synthesis of research on academic achievement in second language. TESOL Quarterly, 23, 509-31.

Cummins, J. (1981). The role of primary language development in promoting educational success for language minority students. In Ortiz, M., Parker, D., & National Association for the Education of Young Children (1995). Responding to linguistic and cultural diversity: Recommendations for effective early childhood education. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

O’Malley, J. M. and Pierce, L. V. (1996). Authentic assessment for English language learners: Practical approaches for teachers. Addison Wesley Publishing Company.

Ortiz, M., Parker, D., & National Association for the Education of Young Children (1995). Responding to linguistic and cultural diversity: Recommendations for effective early childhood education. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Smallwood, B. A. (Ed.) (2000). Integrating the ESL standards into classroom practice, grades pre-K-2. Alexandria, Virginia: TESOL, Inc.

Tempes, F. (Eds.) Schooling and language minority students: A theoretical framework. Los Angeles, CA: Office of Bilingual Bicultural Education, California State Department of Education.

TESOL (1997). ESL standards for pre-K-12 students. Alexandria, Virginia: Author.


Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Inc.:

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):

National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE):


Access to and the use of information are important skills necessary for the future. To be successful in the future, young children will need to be knowledgeable, productive, independent, creative thinkers in a technology-based society. All adults working with children share the responsibility for providing programs that appropriately support each child’s technological learning and development.

Appropriate technology tools are integrated into the environment and used to enhance learning for all children. For example, a child who cannot hold or manipulate a writing tool may be able to design drawings with elements in specific software programs.

The child’s own interests and abilities should drive the decisions concerning the type of technology tools that are appropriate for the child. These tools should help children construct their own knowledge through open-ended, discovery-based activities. It is important to remember that the computer is only one of the many technology tools available. Young children can use cameras and scanners, measuring devices, and audio and video equipment to explore their worlds.

The following links are two of the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) Early Years are Learning Years information sheets for adults who work with young children. Information on a variety of topics of interest to parents and educators is available on the NAEYC website: