The primary goal of the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards (IELDS) is to provide
a comprehensive resource of reasonable expectations for the development of children in the
preschool years (ages 3 to 5) for all teachers across the state of Illinois. All domains or areas of
development are included so the focus is on the whole child.
Throughout the IELDS, terms are used to name the various components of the standards and to
describe the ways that preschool children show what they know and can do related to specific
benchmarks in each domain. It is important that teachers using the IELDS become familiar with this
terminology so they can understand the standards and use them in ways that are best for children.
In this way, no matter in what community or part of the state a teacher is working with young
children, s/he will be looking at the standards with the same understanding and application as
teachers elsewhere. This consistency of understanding makes application of the standards much
more reliable from teacher to teacher.
The following terms describe the major components or are used in the Introduction, Development,
Purposes, and Guiding Principles sections of the IELDS. In addition, action words that are used
throughout the preschool benchmarks (across all domains) are defined.
Major Components of the IELDS
- Common Core State Standards Alignment
In the learning areas/domains of Language Arts and Mathematics, the IELDS Preschool
Benchmarks have been aligned with the kindergarten standards in the Common Core State
Standards (CCSS) Initiative for Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade. These standards were
developed in a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best
Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in partnership with
Achieve (NAEYC, 2012, p. 2). They are referred to as “the Common Core” and have been adopted by
45 states, including Illinois.
- Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)
These are recommended practices adopted by the National Association for the Education of
Young Children for the care and education of young children from birth through age 8 (Copple &
Bredekamp, 2009). Such practices address three key concerns:
When a Learning Standard in the IELDS is determined to be “not applicable,” it is because it does
not match what is known about what’s appropriate for preschool-age children.
- What is known about child development and learning specific to different age groups from birth
through age 8?
- What is known about each child as an individual?
- What is known about the social and cultural contexts in which children live?
Provides an overview of or general statement about learning in the learning area/domain. Many of
the goals in the IELDS are consistent and aligned for all grade levels from preschool through high
school in the state of Illinois, but some goals in the IELDS are only appropriate for the preschool level.
- Learning Areas/Domains
Reflect universal aspects of child development or subject areas for education from preschool
through high school. There are eight learning areas/domains in the IELDS. Most are consistent
and aligned for all grade levels from preschool through high school. In the state of Illinois, these
subject areas are Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Physical Development
and Health, The Arts, English Language Learner Home Language Development, and
- Learning Standard
Defines what students/children should know and be able to do. Like the state goals, many learning
standards in the IELDS are aligned for all grade levels, preschool through high school. However,
not all learning standards are considered developmentally appropriate for the preschool years
and are identified as “Not applicable.” In some instances, the learning standards have been revised
so they are appropriate only for the preschool level.
- Performance Descriptors
Give examples that describe small steps of progress that children may demonstrate as they
work toward preschool benchmarks. They are not intended to replace the IELDS nor are they
all-inclusive. They are a resource for voluntary use at the local level to enable teachers to better
recognize age-appropriate guidelines and expectations for preschool children. There are three
levels of performance descriptors in the IELDS: Exploring (the first level where a child is just
beginning to show some of the aspects of the benchmark), Developing (the second level where
the child is beginning to show more understanding or related skills), and Building (the description
of how a child demonstrates the benchmark as it is written). A child does not have to master
or perform every descriptor to show mastery of the preschool benchmark. And, a child may
demonstrate his or her capabilities related to a specific preschool benchmark in a different way
than described in the performance descriptors.
- Preschool Benchmarks
Provide teachers with specific ways that preschool children demonstrate learning standards. The
benchmarks are unique to preschool children. Learning standards deemed “not applicable” do
not have identified preschool benchmarks.
Terms Used in the Introduction, Development,
Purposes, and Guiding Principles sections of the IELDS
- Adaptation or Accommodation
A change in the implementation of a curricular strategy that best meets the needs of a child.
- Appropriate Curriculum
Curricular practices that match the age group of the children as well as adapt to meet individual
needs and respect cultural differences.
- Assessment Tool
The IELDS is not an assessment tool. There are many commercially developed research-based checklists and locally designed materials that teachers can use in observational assessment
practices to determine how each child is learning and growing across multiple domains. It is
important for teachers to make sure that the assessment tool they are using is aligned with
- Authentic Observational Assessment Procedures
Assessments based on teachers observing children in everyday activities including play, daily
routines, and large- and small-group times. Teachers determine best ways to document their
observations and relate them back to the developmental expectations or the IELDS.
- Challenging Areas
The capabilities or skills that are more difficult for a child or that s/he has to work hard on in order
to accomplish them.
- Challenging Experiences
Experiences that are at the edge of a child’s capabilities but not overly frustrating or overwhelming.
- Checklist for Children’s Development
The IELDS is not a checklist for children’s development. It is a resource for preschool
teachers in the state of Illinois to define reasonable, agreed-upon expectations for preschool
children. Teachers may use research-based checklists that have been aligned to the IELDS for
- Child-Initiated Activities
Activities that a child independently chooses to do and determines how to proceed.
- Child’s Individuality
The unique characteristics about a child, such as personality, learning style, health issues, family
and cultural background, interests, strengths, and challenges.
- Construct Understanding
As children play and explore, they figure out how things work and come to conclusions for
themselves that they continue to test and refine.
“Curriculum is everything that goes on in a program from the moment a child arrives until she
leaves. Teachers plan, implement, observe, reflect, and make adjustments based on individual
children’s needs and the needs of the group. Curriculum is an ongoing process that requires
teachers to think about child development, to observe how the children in their classroom are
learning and growing, and to make hundreds of decisions about the best ways to help them reach
their full potential.” (Gronlund, 2013, p. 31)
- Developmental Delay or Disability
A significant lag in a child’s development identified by specialists through formal
- Dynamic Interaction of Areas of Development
Development in one domain influences development in other domains. As children demonstrate
what they know and can do, they show their skills and capabilities in integrated ways rather than
Educational practices based on research that supports their effectiveness.
- Exhaustive Resource
The IELDS is not an exhaustive resource. The document does not capture every single aspect
of child development in the preschool years. Rather, it identifies the significant benchmarks in
multiple domains that the state of Illinois has deemed appropriate for preschool teachers to
incorporate into the curriculum for young children.
- Growth Patterns
Identified trends in children’s development of skills and capabilities in various domains and in
accomplishment of benchmarks.
- High Expectations
Expectations that are appropriate for leading the development of young children and help
teachers determine goals for planning.
- Individualized Education Program (IEP)
A legal document that identifies the delay or disability that qualifies a child for special education
services, the type of services to be provided, the goals for such services, and any accommodations
needed to assist a child.
- Intentional Practices
Teaching with purpose, with goals in mind for the group of children as well as for each individual
child, and being planful in implementing those goals in a variety of ways in a preschool program.
- Parents or Family Members
The primary caregivers of the child in his or her home setting.
Opportunities for children to explore, investigate, and discover things about their world and
themselves. Play requires an interesting, well-organized environment and ample time for children
to get deeply engaged. Teachers act as facilitators and coaches as children play.
- Play-based Curriculum
Curricular practices that incorporate a significant portion of the day for children to play with
materials and with other children while teachers facilitate and guide the play so it is beneficial
and full of learning opportunities for the children. A planned and organized environment is an
important part of play-based curriculum with interesting and engaging materials and clear
purposes for their use (e.g., dress-up clothes for dramatic play, blocks for building, art materials
A program that serves children in the year before their kindergarten year.
A program that serves children from ages 3 to 5 or in the two years before their kindergarten year.
- Proficiency or Mastery
Being very good at or accomplishing the skills or application of skills identified in a benchmark.
- Programmatic Goals
The overall goals a preschool has for the children who attend (e.g., to love learning, to get along
with others, to gain preschool skills in all domains).
- Range of Skills and Competencies
The levels or strengths and weaknesses of children’s performance in various domains.
- Reasonable Expectations
Expectations that are appropriate for the age of the children. The IELDS standards and
benchmarks were designed and reviewed by nationally recognized content experts.
- Scaolding or Assistance
The help or support a teacher (or a peer) gives to a child as s/he engages in a challenging
experience that is not quite in his or her range of competency.
The capabilities or skills that are easy for a child or that s/he does very well.
- Teacher-initiated Activities
Activities that the teacher has chosen, designed, or invited children’s participation in and/or leads.
- Teachers, Early Childhood Professionals
Any adult who works with preschool children in any type of early childhood program or setting.
- Work Collaboratively with Families
To join in partnership with families determining mutual goals that are in the child’s best interests.
Action Words Used Throughout
the Preschool Benchmarks
- Begin to
To take initial steps or actions or demonstrate something inconsistently.
To examine or consider something (an object, a person, an idea, etc.) for similarities
To show through actions and/or words understanding of a concept or ability to perform a skill.
To tell about something in words (an object, a person, an experience, etc.).
To become more capable at a skill, to add more detail to a verbally expressed idea, to create
something with a beginning point and add to it.
To determine what is not the same through actions and/or words.
To talk with others.
To become involved in or take part in an activity of some sort.
To demonstrate understanding or capability to others through words and/or actions.
- Explore or Experiment With
To interact with a set of materials or items to discover their characteristics and possibilities, to try things out through trial and error, or to test a particular hypothesis.
To communicate with others through facial expressions, gestures, words, and/or actions.
To verbally name, label, or, in some cases, to point to or act upon showing understanding of an
expressed question to distinguish certain items.
To verbally identify or label.
To join others in an activity, conversation, or discussion.
To say something that has a set pattern, such as the alphabet or the counting order of numbers.
To show understanding of distinctive items, such as numerals, letters, or shapes by naming,
identifying, grouping, touching, and/or pointing to them.
To demonstrate understanding of a concept or ability to perform a skill through actions and/
To comprehend the meaning of a concept or term and use words or actions accordingly to
demonstrate such comprehension.