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2013 Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards

Illinois Early Learning & Development Standards
Terminology of the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards

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:
    1. What is known about child development and learning specific to different age groups from birth through age 8?
    2. What is known about each child as an individual?
    3. What is known about the social and cultural contexts in which children live?
    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.
  • Goal
    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 Social/Emotional Development.
  • 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 the IELDS.
  • 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 assessment purposes.
  • 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
    “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 assessment procedures.
  • 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 in isolation.
  • Evidence-based
    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.
  • Play
    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 for creating).
  • Prekindergarten
    A program that serves children in the year before their kindergarten year.
  • Preschool
    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.
  • Sca“olding 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.
  • Strengths
    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.
  • Compare
    To examine or consider something (an object, a person, an idea, etc.) for similarities and differences.
  • Demonstrate
    To show through actions and/or words understanding of a concept or ability to perform a skill.
  • Describe
    To tell about something in words (an object, a person, an experience, etc.).
  • Develop
    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.
  • Di“erentiate
    To determine what is not the same through actions and/or words.
  • Discuss
    To talk with others.
  • Engage
    To become involved in or take part in an activity of some sort.
  • Exhibit
    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.
  • Express
    To communicate with others through facial expressions, gestures, words, and/or actions.
  • Identify
    To verbally name, label, or, in some cases, to point to or act upon showing understanding of an expressed question to distinguish certain items.
  • Name
    To verbally identify or label.
  • Participate
    To join others in an activity, conversation, or discussion.
  • Recite
    To say something that has a set pattern, such as the alphabet or the counting order of numbers.
  • Recognize
    To show understanding of distinctive items, such as numerals, letters, or shapes by naming, identifying, grouping, touching, and/or pointing to them.
  • Show
    To demonstrate understanding of a concept or ability to perform a skill through actions and/ or words.
  • Understand
    To comprehend the meaning of a concept or term and use words or actions accordingly to demonstrate such comprehension.

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 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.