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Introduction to Planning for Preschoolers

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    Learning Objectives

    By the end of this introduction, you should be able to:

    • Summarize the developmental characteristics of preschoolers
    • Explain what learning foundations are
    • Describe the purpose of the curriculum frameworks
    • Discuss the role of the Desired Results Developmental Profile
    • Identify the domains that we categorize curriculum into for the purpose of learning about planning and implementing it

    What Preschoolers are Like

    In order to plan for children it is vital to begin with one aspect of developmentally appropriate practice, which relates to the developmental characteristics of children based on their age. Here are some representations of what children are like at each age in the preschool years. You can find more developmental milestones in Appendix E.

    A picture of 2 year old Aniyah and 3 year old Tanner with descriptions of their personalities.
    A picture of 4 year old Isabella and 5 year old Mateo with descriptions of their personalities.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): What Preschoolers are Like.

    You will notice that consideration for the other two aspects of developmentally appropriate practice which are also critical to our work, understanding individual children and seeing children in the context of their families and larger culture, are included throughout each domain based chapter.

    Using the California Preschool Learning Foundations, California Preschool Curriculum Framework, and Desired Results Developmental Profile

    The following six chapters on planning curriculum for preschools have been compiled using the California Preschool Learning Foundations and the Preschool Curriculum Frameworks. These well-researched documents published by the California Department of Education can be used along with the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP), to support implementing the curriculum planning process with young children.

    Each of these resources fulfills an important role in the curriculum planning process:

    California Preschool Learning Foundations

    The foundations describe competencies—knowledge and skills—that most children can be expected to exhibit in a high quality program as they complete their first or second year of preschool. In other words, the foundations are destination points of learning that, with appropriate support, children move toward and often reach during the preschool years.

    The foundations are designed to promote understanding of young children’s development of knowledge and skills and to help with considering appropriate ways to support children’s learning. In essence, the foundations serve as a cornerstone for educating practitioners about children’s learning and development. The foundations are designed to be used in combination with other sources of information: formal educational course work on early learning and development, information on individual differences, including those related to disabilities, knowledge about the contribution of cultural and linguistic experiences to early development, and English-language development, insights from children’s families, and the practical experiences of preschool teachers and program directors.

    The support needed to attain the competencies varies from child to child. Many children learn simply by participating in high-quality preschool programs. Such programs offer children environments and experiences that encourage active playful exploration and experimentation. With play as an integral part of the curriculum, high-quality programs include purposeful teaching to help children gain knowledge and skills.

    The foundations are at the heart of the California Department of Education’s (CDE) approach to promoting preschool learning. Teachers use best practices, curricular strategies, and instructional techniques that assist children in learning the knowledge and skills described in the preschool learning foundations. The “how-to’s” of teaching young children include setting up environments, supporting children’s self-initiated play, selecting appropriate materials, and planning and implementing teacher-guided learning activities.

    wooden shelf with natural materials displayed
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): The materials for this shelf were carefully chosen and displayed to invite children to explore. Image by Jennifer Paris is licensed under CC-BY-4.0

    Two major considerations underlie the “how-tos” of teaching. First, teachers can effectively foster early learning by thoughtfully considering the preschool learning foundations as they plan environments and activities. And second, during every step in the planning for young children’s learning, teachers have an opportunity to tap into the prominent role of play. Teachers can best support young children by both encouraging the rich learning that occurs in children’s self-initiated play and by introducing purposeful instructional activities that playfully engage preschoolers in learning.

    Professional development is a key component of early care and education in fostering preschool learning. The foundations can become a unifying element for both preservice and in-service professional development. Preschool program directors and teachers can use the foundations to facilitate curriculum planning and implementation. At the center of the CDE’s evolving system for supporting young children during the preschool years, the foundations are designed to help teachers be intentional and focus their efforts on the knowledge and skills that all young children need to acquire for success in preschool and early elementary school—and throughout life.

    Making Connections

    Here’s an example of a learning foundation from the Music strand of the Visual and Performing Arts Domain.

    At around 48 months children:

    3.3 Improvise vocally and instrumentally

    This foundation will be connected to the CA Preschool Curriculum Framework and the Desired Results Developmental Profile 2015 later in this introduction.

    California Preschool Curriculum Framework

    Young children enter preschool with a sense of wonder and a love of learning. They have an insatiable appetite for knowledge when they have learning experiences that are engaging and enjoyable. Positive experiences in which children can make choices and explore help them feel competent and confident. How can we offer them engaging and enjoyable learning experiences that fuel their intellectual engines and build their confidence? How can we connect children’s fascination with learning in every domain and make the most of their time in preschool? With these questions in mind, the California Department of Education (CDE) developed the curriculum framework for preschool programs, which include any early childhood setting where three- to five-year-old children receive education and care.

    Three children playing in water table
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Some of the most engaging play is sensory-based. What might these children be learning here?

    This curriculum framework provides an overall approach for teachers to support children’s learning through environments and experiences that are:

    The framework presents ways of setting up environments, encouraging and building upon children’s self-initiated play, selecting appropriate materials, and planning and implementing teacher-guided learning activities. As preschool teachers plan learning environments and experiences, the foundations provide the background information to:

    In essence, curriculum planning should offer children learning opportunities that are attuned to their developing abilities and their interests and should be connected with their experiences at home and in their communities.

    In the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s accreditation criteria, it is stated that a curriculum includes the goals for the knowledge and skills to be acquired by children and the plans for learning experiences through which such knowledge and skills will be acquired. A preschool curriculum typically defines a sequence of integrated experiences, interactions, and activities to help young children reach specific learning goals. A curriculum framework provides general guidance on planning learning environments and experiences for young children. Thus, as a curriculum framework, this document provides:

    Male teacher at table with 4 children
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): This teacher is engaging in a planned activity with a small group of children.

    Eight principles have guided the development of this curriculum framework. Grounded in early childhood research and practice, the following eight principles emphasize offering young children individually, culturally, and linguistically responsive learning experiences and environments:

    The concepts and strategies described in the preschool curriculum framework require thoughtful planning and implementation. They are grounded in evidence-based practices that have evolved in the early childhood education field over decades. The ability to apply a broad understanding of early learning and development in the preschool setting takes time and experience. With appropriate professional development, preschool program administrators and teachers can use the curriculum framework to guide their planning and implementation of environments and experiences that allow all young children to prosper during the preschool years.

    Making Connections

    How do teachers use the Curriculum Frameworks to support children’s development of the foundations? Here are some takeaways from the Curriculum Framework in Visual and Performing Arts domain that will support the example foundation “Improvise vocally and instrumentally” mentioned before:

    A guiding principle:

    A basic needs for the environment and materials:

    Teachers can support music foundations by:

    [Providing] music areas where children can experience instruments or musical activities as individuals or in a small group.

    Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP)

    The Desired Results Developmental Profile (2015) is a developmental continuum from early infancy to kindergarten entry. It is a formative assessment instrument developed by the California Department of Education for young children and their families used to inform curricular decisions and program development. It was designed to improve the quality of programs and services provided to young children who are enrolled in child care outside the home.

    Key Features of the DRDP 2015

    two teachers and a group of children sit in a circle
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Teachers can use opportunities like this group time to observe children’s development as part of the assessment process.

    The DRDP will be further explored in Chapter 17 on Documentation and Assessment.

    Making Connections

    And to close the loop on these three resources, here is a measure in the Desired Results Developmental Profile (2015) Visual and Performing Arts domain that assesses where a child is currently at developmentally in relation to the example foundation, “Improvise vocally and instrumentally”:

    VPA 2: Music – Child expresses and creates by making musical sounds, with increasing intentionality and complexity.

    Dividing Development and Curriculum Into Domain

    We know that children certainly do not develop in isolated domains (as the images earlier in this introduction might lead you to assume). Their development is holistic and the domains are interrelated. What happens in one domain or area influences and/or is influenced by what happens in other domains or areas. We also know that learning is integrated and that curriculum should reflect that. Children do not just learn about one curriculum area or domain. A spontaneous or planned experience will touch on numerous curriculum areas.

    A boy is drawn surrounded by the followinng phrases: cognitive development, language development, gross motor development, fine motor development, social development, and emotional development. All these words, and the boy, are connected by arrows to demonstrate how they intersect.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Domains of Development

    But to make these domains easier to explore we study them separately, while keeping in mind that they are interconnected and interrelated.

    The Preschool Learning Foundations and Curriculum Frameworks are divided into nine domains. Our book will feature these as eight separate chapters. This table summarizes how these are related.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Curriculum Domains

    California Resources Domains

    Textbook Chapter

    Social and Emotional Development

    Social and Emotional Development

    Language and Literacy

    Language and Literacy





    Visual and Performing Arts

    Creative Arts

    History-Social Science

    History and Social Science

    Physical Development

    Physical Development


    Health and Safety

    English Language Development

    (not included)

    Introduction to Planning for Preschoolers is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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