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Illinois Early Learning Guidelines

2013 Illinois Early Learning Guidelines
Introductory Material
How to Use the Guidelines

The Guidelines begin with The Newborn Period, which discusses the first four months of children’s lives and the experiences that are unique to this time. The first of the six sections, Self-Regulation: Foundation of Development, focuses on children’s develop­ment of self-regulation, which is essential for overall healthy development and learning. Self-Regulation refers to children’s emerging ability to regulate or control their attention, thoughts, emotions and behaviors.[1] Next, Domains of Development are specific areas of growth and development. The Guidelines consist of four developmental domains: Social and Emotional Development; Physical Development and Health; Language Development, Communication, and Literacy; and Cognitive Development. The final section, Approaches to Learning, focuses on specific methods by which children engage with the world around them in order to make meaning and build understanding of their experiences. These six sections are each structured in the same manner and are further broken down into Sub-Domains/Sub-Sections, Standards, Age Descriptors, Indicators for Children, and Strategies for Interaction.

Figure 1

These six sections include six different components:

  1. Sub-Domains/Sub-Sections are detailed components of each developmental domain or section, such as "Empathy" under Social & Emotional Development (domain 1).
  2. Standards are the general statement of what children should know and be expected to do by the time they reach 36 months of age.
  3. Age Descriptors describe the progression of development for each of four particular age groups across the birth-to-three age range. These four distinct and overlapping groups are: Birth to 9 months, 7 to 18 months, 16 to 24 months, and 21 to 36 months (see Figure 1 above). These age groupings are used in order to reflect chil­dren’s bio-behavioral shifts, which are changes in behavior triggered by biological changes in the brain. These shifts allow children to grow and gain new skills. (Click below for an example.)
    Birth to 9 months

    Children’s biological rhythms are supported and impacted by their caregiver(s) in order to establish their sleep/wake, feeding, and elimination patterns. Children also begin to develop awareness of stimuli in their environment.

    Indicators for children include:

    • Begins to demonstrate a pattern in sleep-wake and feeding cycles
    • Signals for needs, e.g., cries when hungry, arches back in discomfort
    • Disengages when overstimulated, e.g., turns head, glances away, falls asleep, spits up
    • Uses sucking to assist in sleeping

    Strategies for interaction

    • Provide consistent routines in caring for the child
    • Follow the child’s cues and respond thoughtfully
    • Use touch to help the child regulate, e.g., swaddle, hold, cuddle, rock to help soothe the child
    • Minimize stimuli in the child’s environment, e.g., limit colors, sounds, and objects
  4. Indicators for Children are some of the observable skills, behaviors, and knowledge that children demonstrate to “indicate” progress toward achieving the standard.
  5. Strategies for Interaction are specific activities, practices, and interactions in which caregivers can engage with children to support healthy development.
  6. When you mouse over some underlined words, a text box may appear to provide definitions of specific words (example) and complex concepts essential for understanding the progression of development outlined within that sub-domain or sub-section.

Real World Stories are real-life examples that demonstrate the specific concepts of development in action.

Keep in Mind lists behaviors that can be used to identify possible concerns for development and are found at the end of the Self-Regulation section, and the four developmental domains section.

Discover how ...self-regulation Attention Regulationdomain 4: CognitiveSymbolic ThoughtCreative Expression


Since development occurs across multiple, inter-related areas, readers will see a short list of other, closely related sub-domains/sub-sections in every sub-domain/sub-section introduction and in each real world story. While every sub-domain and sub-section can relate to the others, the Guidelines highlight those most relevant to each particular one. At right is an example.


  1. Shonkoff, J. & Phillips, D. (Eds.). (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Online version
Stimuli are sounds, textures, tastes, sights, and temperatures found in children’s environments.
Biological rhythms are patterns that occur within people’s bodies. These include sleeping, waking, eliminating, and maintaining normal body temperature.


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.