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Illinois Early Learning Guidelines

2013 Illinois Early Learning Guidelines
Horizontal Alignment

Where do the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines fit into the Fabric of  Birth-to-Three Programs and Service Systems?

Horizontal alignment demonstrates how developmental guidelines are interconnected with the implementation of program components across a multitude of service systems. The Early Learning Guidelines are intended to support and enhance the ability of professionals to implement program curriculum, program standards, and child assessment. This implementation should be appropriate to the given service delivery type, model, or mechanism, through programs such as home visiting, child care, early intervention, and others.

Rather than replace any of the essential components for implementing high-quality programs for infants and toddlers, which include curriculum, program standards, and assessments, the Guidelines fit into a coherent framework and are aligned with these essential components. All the elements are nested in a system of professional development.

These guidelines were designed to support infant-toddler practitioners regardless of program setting. The developmental progression of what children should know and be able to do within stages outlined in this document are the same for all children, taking into consideration individual developmental needs and trajectory, and apply irrespective of the settings in which children are being cared for.

When all practitioners responsible for this care are operating from the same base of knowledge and speaking from the same “play book,” we will be able to create a more unified language amongst those practitioners. This will help practitioners engage with the parents and each other around developmentally appropriate expectations for learning and growth in children. 

How Supports for Quality Programming Fit Together:

  • Early Learning Guidelines describe what children should know and be able to do along a continuum, including indicators to help show how development can be seen in everyday behavior. Guidelines, age descriptors, and indicators are based in the extensive child development research literature. The Illinois Early Learning Guidelines provide practitioners with a “line of sight” for development in the first three years of life, describing how children progress along the developmental trajectory.
  • Curriculum helps outline how practitioners go about teaching young children and supporting their development in their practices. Curriculum is usually designed for the specific setting or program type (e.g., home visiting, center-based early care and education, etc.). Research-based curricula are rooted in the same developmental science underlying the growth and learning expectations described in these guidelines.
  • Child Assessments are a way to measure and understand where children are along a developmental continuum and can help to identify where developmental learning needs to be further supported. Assessments are also rooted in the same science describing what children should know and be able to do that informs this document. Specific assessments tie into some curricula, while other assessments can be used independently across curricula.
  • Program Standards describe required structural elements of specific programs that need to be in place to achieve stated program goals. These are frequently determined by program funders or models, and can include requirements such as specific ratios and/or group sizes, teacher/practitioner qualifications and/or training, and the use of a research-based curriculum.  The Illinois Early Learning Guidelines can be implemented in conjunction with program standards through requirements such as specific trainings on the guidelines.

How Implementation Happens:

Implementation of the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines happens as practitioners become better acquainted with the knowledge of development in the first three years of life, using it as they do the work of program implementation, and ultimately interacting with young children and their families.

To this end, professional preparation and pre- and in-service training and technical assistance systems play a critical role in quality implementation of these Guidelines. Training on the Guidelines must be tailored to professionals based on the context of the setting in which they are delivering services. The Guidelines must also be integrated into ongoing professional development and coaching at all levels, so that program leaders can support staff in embedding developmentally appropriate practices throughout all their work.


IEL Resources

  • List of standards
    IEL has created a convenient HTML list of the standards included in the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines.
    English | Spanish
  • IEL FAQ: What Do Parents Need to Know About the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age 3? About

Guidelines Posters and Brochures

  • Guidelines poster
    IEL has a large poster that lists all of the standards in the Guidelines.
    English | Spanish
  • Guidelines brochure
    This handy pamphlet, which also lists all the standards, can be handed out to parents and others interested in learning more about the Guidelines.
    English | Spanish
  • Order online
    Use our online form and IEL will mail up to 10 posters and 20 brochures free of charge to any address within the state of Illinois.

Additional Resources

Print Version

IEL is providing access to a PDF of the full 170-page printed version of the Guidelines:

Guidelines Webinar

This webinar provides a short overview of the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age Three. It also provides a tour of the resources available on the Illinois Early Learning Project website that can support the use of the guidelines in practice and at home.


Find resources related to the Illinois Early Learning Birth to 3 Guidelines:


The opinions, resources, and referrals provided on the IEL Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.

The content of the IEL Web site does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education; nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education.