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2013 Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards

Illinois Early Learning & Development Standards

The Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards (IELDS) provide reasonable expectations for children’s growth, development, and learning in the preschool years. When used as part of the curriculum, the IELDS provide guidance to teachers in early childhood programs to create and sustain developmentally appropriate experiences for young children that will strengthen their intellectual dispositions and support their continuing success as learners and students. The age-appropriate benchmarks in the IELDS enable educators to reflect upon and evaluate the experiences they provide for all preschool children.

There are cautions to consider when implementing the IELDS. They are meant to be used to enhance planning for preschool children, to enrich play-based curricular practices, and to support the growth of each child to his or her fullest potential. They are not meant to push down curriculum and expectations from higher grades. The IELDS are research-based, so they identify expectations that are just right for preschool children.

As teachers in early childhood programs implement the IELDS, they can be guided by Dr. Lilian Katz, internationally known early childhood leader, expert, and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her reminder to expand our thinking beyond just the IELDS themselves and also consider “standards of experiences” is an important message for all.

Dr. Katz writes:

As we think about standards, I suggest we ask ourselves: “What are the standards of experience that we want all of our children to have?” Below is a very preliminary list of some important “standards of experiences” that should be provided for all young children in all programs.

Young children should frequently have the following experiences:

  • Being intellectually engaged, absorbed, challenged.
  • Having confidence in their own intellectual powers and their own questions.
  • Being engaged in extended interactions (e.g., conversations, discussions, exchanges of views, arguments, planning).
  • Being involved in sustained investigations of aspects of their own environment worthy of their interest, knowledge, understanding.
  • Taking initiative in a range of activities and accepting responsibility for what is accomplished.
  • Knowing the satisfaction that can come from overcoming obstacles and setbacks and solving problems.
  • Helping others to find out things and to understand them better.
  • Making suggestions to others and expressing appreciation of others’ eff†orts and accomplishments.
  • Applying their developing basic literacy and numeracy skills in purposeful ways.
  • Feelings of belonging to a group of their peers.

The list is derived from general consideration of the kinds of experiences that all children should have much of the time in our educational settings. It is based on philosophical commitments as well as the best available empirical evidence about young children’s learning and development.

If the focus of program evaluation and assessment is on “outcomes” such as those indicated by test scores, then evaluators and assessors would very likely emphasize the “drill and practice” of phonemics, or rhyming, or various kinds of counting, or introductory arithmetic. While in and of themselves such experiences are not necessarily harmful to young children, they overlook the kinds of experiences that are most likely to strengthen and support young children’s intellectual dispositions and their innate thirst for better, fuller, and deeper understanding of their own experiences. A curriculum or teaching method focused on academic goals emphasizes the acquisition of bits of knowledge and overlooks the centrality of understanding as an educational goal. After all, literacy and numeracy skills are not ends in themselves but basic tools that can and should be applied in the quest for understanding. In other words, children should be helped to acquire academic skills in the service of their intellectual dispositions and not at their expense.

Dr. Lilian Katz, professor emeritus
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
November 2012

Additional Resources

Visit the Additional Resources page for IELDS Resources.

Tools for Teachers

Links to resources for the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards created by the Early Childhood Center of Professional Development in Arlington Heights.

IELDS Webinar

This webinar provides a short overview of the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards. It also provides a tour of the resources available on the Illinois Early Learning Project website that can support the use of the early learning standards in practice and at home.

Print Version

llinois Early Learning and Development Standards for Preschool (ages 3 to kindergarten enrollment age)


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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.