In 2019, the New York State Early Childhood Advisory Council in collaboration with New York Works for Children released the Revised New York State Early Learning Guidelines: A Child Development Resource for Educators of Children Ages Birth Through Eight. This resource was developed in collaboration with partners and advisors from NY Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, Agribusiness Child Development Head Start, Brooklyn College, the Capital District Childcare Council, the Brooklyn New School, the Neighborhood School, the NYS Education Department, the NYS Office of Children and Family Services, QUALITYstarsNY, Bank Street College of Education, the Early Care and Learning Council, Network for Youth Success, the NYC Department of Education Office of Early Learning, and the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. At the start of the revision process, early childhood leaders from these organizations came together to ask: What are the Early Learning Guidelines for?
In many states, the Early Learning Guidelines are standards for birth through five-year-old children. Standards are student learning expectations: concepts children should understand and tasks children should be able to do as a result of skilled instruction. The New York State Education Department sets grade level standards for children from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The NYS Office of Early Learning recently revised the early learning standards to describe developmentally appropriate expectations within a context that embraces children’s multiple identities and differing abilities. The Office of Head Start provides a set of standards for children from birth through age five called the Early Learning Outcomes Framework. All NYC Division of Early Childhood Education sites, as well as Head Start grantees throughout the state, are committed to using the Early Learning Outcomes Framework as their standards for the youngest learners.
So what separate and useful purpose could the Revised NYS Early Learning Guidelines play? The group decided to use a protective factors lens to focus on understanding child development as the purpose of the Revised Guidelines. Through the various initiatives of the Council on Children and Families, our work as a state is increasingly focused on strengthening the protective factors which mitigate the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Protective factors are conditions that improve the health and well-being of children and families and minimize harmful experiences.
The Revised NYS Early Learning Guidelines addresses each of the 5 main protective factors:
- Knowledge of Child Development Providing accurate information about child development is the primary purpose of the Revised NYS Early Learning Guidelines. When educators understand child development, they are able to anticipate developmental changes, have reasonable expectations of children’s behavior, act with empathy, and provide support. They respond more intentionally and feel confident of their ability to meet children’s needs. The Revised Guidelines support educators in their acquisition of a culturally-informed understanding of child development.
- Trusting Relationships Between Children and Adults The Revised ELG provides suggested supports designed to strengthen trusting relationships between children, educators and families. The suggested supports include ideas that educators can use to support children’s development through self-reflection, culturally and linguistically responsive family engagement, interactions, environmental design, activities, and books.
- Social Connections Early childhood programs are an essential source of social connections for families of young children. The Revised Guidelines include expanded suggested supports for culturally and linguistically responsive family engagement and community building.
- Social and Emotional Competence of Children A child’s sense of belonging, sense of self, empathy, ability to cooperate and negotiate, emotional self-regulation, and knowledge of rhythms, rules and routines all have a positive impact on their relationships. The revised ELGs incorporate the Pyramid Inventory of Practices in order to build the social/ emotional competence of children.
- Concrete Support in Times of Need The final protective factor is meeting basic economic needs like food, shelter, clothing and health care which are essential for families to thrive. While the Revised Guidelines can not provide concrete support for families of young children, we acknowledge educators’ role as advocates.
The Revised NYS Early Learning Guidelines describe how children develop — what educators might observe children doing at each age level. For example, in social and emotional development, the Early Learning Guidelines state that three-year-old children may express strong feelings physically by kicking, hitting, or throwing items. It is not a standard or learning goal that three-year-old children express their feelings physically. In this example, educators might use the Revised Early Learning Guidelines to understand the developmental continuum of emotional self-regulation and find ways to connect with young children and support their growth. The Revised Guidelines also include subdomains for Healthy Sexuality, which describes the development of children’s healthy relationship to their body, pleasure, and others, and Understanding Stability and Change, which describes children’s emerging sense of object permanence and death, as these are developmental topics that educators often have questions about.
As educators use the Early Learning Guidelines, it is important to remember that young children’s development is widely variable. It is to be expected that children of the same age will develop abilities at different rates and at different times. In fact, children often make significant gains in one area while other areas lag behind temporarily. The broad range of individual differences among young children often makes it difficult to differentiate between normal variations in development and disabilities. Differences in child-rearing practices among families result in different expectations for the ages at which children will achieve developmental milestones. The abilities of emergent multilingual learners may not be immediately observable in an English-language learning environment. For all of these reasons, educators should use the age bands in the Early Learning Guidelines flexibly with the intention of respecting family knowledge and building on children’s strengths.
Children re-entering early care and education settings this summer may have experienced a number of challenging experiences during the shut-down. We hope that the Revised Early Learning Guidelines may be part of a trauma-informed approach to responding to children’s needs with care.