Big Tech and Small Children

Most young children interact with some form of technology in our modern lives. This tool kit gives parents and educators recommendations for technology use, how to get involved in technology, what to look for when selecting technology, and how to place limits on technology use.

Meetups for Preschoolers: Have a Great Playdate!

My children grew up on a block full of kids. Occasionally, they had playdates with school friends, but usually they could step outdoors and find age-mates who were ready to play. Many parents now tell me it’s gotten much harder to get their preschoolers together with friends outside of school. That’s why playdates have become essential to social life for many young children.

Too Much Tech: Screen Time and Families

This podcast features Dr. Emma Mercier, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Mercier shares guidance and tips for families of young children in using technology at home.

Child Development

Child development is how a child learns, grows, and develops as they get older. This toolkit gives parents and teachers information about child development milestones, parent monitoring, concerns about development, and next steps to take if there is a concern.

The Squirrel Project  

The Squirrel Project took place in an early childhood center that serves students ages 3–5 through morning and afternoon sessions. Program funding is provided by the local school district, statewide Preschool for All, and tuition. Of the 26 students who participated, six had Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and five were dual language learners.

What Is Autism?

trum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges. This “Questions and Answers” will answer some common questions about autism in young children.

Teaching Your Child to Problem Solve

Families juggle so many tasks every day. Often one of these tasks is supervising young children as they play and solve problems that come up when they try to play alone (e.g., “she’s not sharing” or “he hit me”). In fact, doing this can often prolong or make completing other tasks, such as laundry and making dinner, seem impossible.

Voting Project

The Voting Project took place during October and November 2020 as many of the children’s family members were engaged in discussions about the upcoming election. Twenty-five second graders and their teacher were engaged in this three-week investigation of the meaning and procedures for voting. The project took place despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, guest experts were not allowed in the classroom, and students were not allowed to work with partners or small groups for any significant length of time.  

Special Education Assessment for Preschool-Aged Children: Reviewing Results and Next Steps

When a child is assessed for special education services, first the assessment is conducted and then a meeting is held to review the assessment report results. There are typically two possible conclusions. One is that your child qualifies for special education services and an IEP (Individualized Education Program) is created. The other is that your child does not qualify for special education services. In this case, your LEA may suggest other ways to support your child.

What Is an IEP?

An IEP is an Individualized Education Program for a child age 3 through 21 who has been diagnosed with disabilities or developmental delays. IEPs provide a roadmap for special education services. This is especially important for preschoolers, who may be receiving special education services in a variety of settings, such as public preschool classrooms, Head Start programs, or private childcare centers. 

What Is Assessment?

Families may wonder about assessment for young children. It is common for a child’s caregiver, teacher, pediatrician, or other involved adult to use assessments. Assessment is one way to learn more about a child and their development. Assessment gives families, caregivers, and teachers helpful information about a child.

Supporting Young Children’s Friendships

This toolkit includes information on the development of skills needed to develop friendships, strategies adults can use to support young children at home and in the classroom, and tips to help children reconnect after a long separation.

Helping Young Children Get Ready to Read

Even very young children are learning to listen to words in order to gain speech and language skills. While this is happening, they are exploring print in books and throughout their environment in order to make connections between print and spoken words. This tool kit will provide information on print awareness, oral language, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and beginning writing and how all of these pieces fit together to help children master the skill of reading.

Helping Children with Big Feelings

Big feelings such as frustration or being upset can lead to strong reactions in adults and children. For children who have little control over their environment, these feelings can occur for reasons adults see as inconsequential or silly. Regardless of what causes a meltdown, teaching, modeling, and supporting them to calm down in that big feelings moment will help them learn a valuable life skill. Children will be faced with things that make them feel upset or mad many times in their lives. Teaching these skills early promotes resilience in the face of difficult situations.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice 101

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) was developed in the 1980s to give early childhood educators a framework of high-quality and appropriate teaching practices for young children. DAP are learning experiences that promote the development (social, emotional, physical, health, cognitive) and general learning of each child served. NAEYC’s 2020 Developmentally Appropriate Practice Position Statement gives educators guidelines and recommendations for implementing DAP with children ages birth through age 8. This Q&A is intended for early childhood educators just learning about DAP who are thinking about how to use DAP in their classrooms.

Positive Descriptive Feedback for the Win!

As a parent and a teacher, I frequently ask myself, “How can I get my children to repeat the good things I have taught them to do? I know they can do it!” We see this all the time. We teach them what to do and when to do it. But when it comes down to the moment of truth, they don’t perform. It can be so frustrating for parents and teachers.

Carson’s Fishing Project

Carson’s interest in fishing began during previous trips to his grandparents’ farm in southern Missouri, where opportunities to fish in rivers and lakes are readily available. His first-hand experiences using worms and minnows for bait, and the excitement of catching a fish with his grandfather and then frying it for dinner, provided a tangible basis for understanding the basics of fishing. His interest in fishing was revived over the summer while spending days at home during the COVID-19 quarantine. He also had moved to a new home where he had access to a neighborhood lake, had spent time helping his grandpa stock his newly constructed pond, and had fished on Stockton Lake from a pontoon boat.

Creative Arts for Young Children

Creative arts are activities that actively engage children’s imagination through movement and dance, drama and storytelling, music, and visual arts. Creative arts engage children across all domains—cognitive, language, social, emotional, and physical. This toolkit will describe four different types of creative arts and will provide ideas for encouraging and supporting young children in creative arts activities at home and in the classroom.

Inclusive Practices and Remote Learning

During the Covid-19 pandemic, some early childhood professionals have transitioned to remote learning. This has been a new way of teaching young children for many early childhood educators. While learning remotely, children with disabilities continue to require the accommodations, modifications, and support noted in their IFSP/IEPs. This toolkit will support teachers with ideas for anytime inclusive practices, ways to become an effective remote teacher, tips for both synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning, and stories from the field with a focus on inclusive preschools.

Families, Social-Emotional Learning, and the Pandemic

In this podcast, we speak with Kelly Russell, the program director of CU Early, which serves infants, toddlers, and expectant parents in Champaign, Urbana, and Mahomet. We explore how the pandemic has changed service delivery for home visits, developmental screenings, and support groups. We also delve into the changing social and emotional needs of families of young children.


There are many pieces to the play puzzle for young children. This toolkit will define play, describe the types and benefits of play, and provide ideas and examples of play at home and in school & child care.

Nature Play: Loose Parts Are the Best Parts

As parents, we tend to focus on how many extracurricular activities our child is doing, thinkingthat the more they do the better their development will be. When chatting with friends, we tend to compare lists of activities as a sign of progress or accomplishment, such as “my child is doing piano lessons, tumbling, and ice skating.”

Parenting During a Pandemic

On this podcast, we are joined by Christy Lee, mother to four children, two with Down syndrome. Christy shares with us some tips for parenting during the pandemic on topics such as schooling, shopping, and home life.

Uncertain Times

During uncertain times, such as during a pandemic, parents, teachers, and young children can, at times, feel uncertain and even worried. In this toolkit, we have gathered some helpful resources on topics that may pertain to you during COVID-19.

Childcare During COVID-19: Two Parents’ Perspectives

On this podcast, we talk with Haley and Bob about the impact of COVID-19 on childcare and their family. These parents have three young children who attend the Child Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This podcast is the third in a three-part series on childcare during COVID-19. Part 1 focuses on a director’s perspective, and Part 2 focuses on a teacher’s perspective.

Childcare During COVID-19: A Teacher’s Perspective

On this podcast, we talk with Kathryn Pannbacker about the impact of COVID-19 on childcare and her work as an early childhood educator. Pannbacker is a preschool head teacher at the Child Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Childcare During COVID-19: A Director’s Perspective

On this podcast, we talk with Dr. Brent McBride about the impact of COVID-19 on childcare from a director’s perspective. Dr. McBride is the director of the Child Development Laboratory and a professor of human development at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Food Allergy Awareness

Children can be allergic to any food, but the most common food allergens in young children are milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, eggs, fish, shellfish, and sesame.

Getting Your Child Ready to Return to Childcare

Along with most states in the country, Illinois experienced a shelter-in-place order for several weeks and then started a phased reopening. For many families, this meant their young children did not attend childcare or preschool programs for an extended period of time. If they did keep attending childcare, practices at their childcare centers likely changed.

COVID-19 Parenting Pep Talk: Make Time for Connection

Before the COVID-19 situation, many of us, myself included, were used to taking our young children to childcare or preschool on working days. Now, we may be working from home or different hours, and we may have lost many of our predictable daily routines. In addition, many family, friends, and coworkers are no longer part of our routines. This can leave us feeling grief and sadness about the missed connections.

Early Intervention

This list provides resources and information about the early intervention system in Illinois. Please visit the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Learning at Home During Trying Times

Many families with young children are seeking resources about learning at home with young children as the COVID 19 situation evolves in our communities. This resource list provides information from the Illinois Early Learning Project and other reliable sources to help during this time.

The Blue Bowl

In this video, we see a large blue mixing bowl spark children’s interest and lead to this type of complex play. The children work together in a group to reach a common goal of making “soup” in a bowl. They explore the outdoors and find several materials to put in the blue bowl for their “soup.”

Are You Being a Monkey?

In this video, we see the beginning stages of a friendship connection as we watch 3-year-old Aaron try to engage his peer, John, age 5. Children begin by observing each other and playing side by side. In time, friendships become more complex. Younger children are often very interested in the activities of older children.

‘Look at Your Lines!’

Teachers help children develop their science skills by creating engaging activities that activate children’s curiosity and desire to discover the properties of materials. A visual art activity, such as the finger painting activity we see in this video, can be an opportunity to explore science concepts.

You’ve Got Blue Hands

Visual arts provide opportunities for children to use their fine motor skills to express their creativity. Children are active investigators as they explore color mixing and texture. Visual arts activities spark conversations where children can appreciate the expressions of others.

Looks Swampy

In this video, we watch several students conduct an experiment with glue, food coloring, and water. The teacher encourages the children to actively explore the materials, think about what is happening, and describe the experience.

Look What This Can Do!

In this video, we see Mario and his mother, Norma, as they play in a playroom at a local community center. Norma shows Mario different ways to use the toys. When Mario bangs the toys together, Norma encourages his inventiveness by commenting on the creative ways Mario uses the toys to make noise.

Drumming in the Kitchen

Infants depend on caregivers’ responses that encourage them to explore the world. In this video, we see 9-month-old Amy explore the sounds that she can make when she is banging pots with a large spoon.


Peekaboo is a game that many caregivers, infants, and toddlers play together. In this video, we see 10-month-old Mario and his mother, Norma, as she encourages him to explore toys in the playroom of a community center.

Rounding Up the Cows

Young children develop skills across domains as they grow. Sometimes, a new skill in one area allows them to make gains in another area. In this video, we see Aaron as he stumbles from the bench to the ottoman to transfer his toys from one area to another.

Who Is in the Mirror?

As infants grow, they notice more and more about the world around them. Here, we see 3-month-old Yana looking at her reflection in the mirror while exploring the infant area at a children’s museum.

Kindergarten Tool Kit

This tool kit is a resource for helping prekindergarten teachers partner with families as their child transitions to kindergarten. These suggestions for supporting kindergarten transition are organized by the seasons (fall, winter, spring, and summer).

Sing Pío, Pío, Pío

A strong foundation for early literacy learning is created when caregivers and children read together, starting in infancy. Every time a caregiver reads, sings, and talks with a young child, they are building the child’s vocabulary and language skills.

Challenge Young Artists to Create in Three Dimensions

When young children create visual art, they explore and experiment with the properties of materials. Some classic examples of developmentally appropriate art opportunities for children include drawing with crayons, painting at an easel, or creating a paper collage. These types of art experiences allow children the opportunity to explore in two dimensions of space.

What Can You Tell Me Baby?

Language development begins very early as children listen to the voices of their caregivers and the sounds and rhythms of the language being spoken around them. Very young infants even try to participate in communication by looking at their caregivers and making sounds.

Toot, Honk, Splish

Reading books is an important way a caregiver can support the development of a young child’s language and literacy during the infant-toddler years. As children grow, they become more attentive and able to participate in book sharing.

How Teachers Can Help When a Child Says, “Mommy, I Don’t Want to Go to Preschool!”

While there are many reasons a child may not want to come to school, there are a few things teachers can do to support children during this difficult time. Things that help build a sense of belonging may increase the child’s willingness to come to school. These include providing positive interactions, creating equal opportunities to participate in events, and maintaining attitudes of acceptance.

Physical Development and Health

This section of guidelines describes how infants and toddlers learn to move their bodies, take in their world through their senses, and carry out self-care routines. This section also explains how physical skills progress through development as young children’s bodies grow stronger and more able to move purposefully and with ease during everyday play and routines.

Retelling “Caps for Sale”

Children gain great comprehension and communication skills when they have the opportunity for rich discussion during read-aloud times. Stories read aloud also can provide opportunities for children to use their memory skills and retell stories with their peers and teachers.

Mathematize! (audio)

This podcast, based on a blog written by Dr. Rebecca Swartz, provides ideas for helping young children use mathematical thinking

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.


One, two, three! Hearing young children begin to count is exciting! As families and caregivers listen to a child’s little voice say number words in order, they feel pride and joy in the child’s learning.

You Made It

This video takes place in the gross motor room of a university laboratory child care and preschool. This room is used for gross-motor activities by all classrooms in the center during inclement weather. Max (21 months) is trying to get up the climber, and the teacher helps him get to the top.

Two Trains

Sadie (26 months) pulls two trains across the carpet and sits down on the teacher’s lap. Sadie and the teacher are talking about the two trains while Daniel watches. Daniel reaches down to take the handle of one of the trains, to which Sadie objects. The teacher then asks Sadie to give one of her two trains to Daniel.

Tea Party

Through a progression of short clips taken over a span of 30 minutes, this video focuses on Hudson (at 30 months, the oldest in the class) gathering items, stuffed animals, and dolls; arranging them on a couch; and (briefly) enjoying his tea party with his stuffed animals.

Press Here

Jayden (20 months), Mason (21 months), Spencer (20 months), and the teacher, Sui Ping, are sitting on the floor engaged with an activity box. Sui Ping is demonstrating for Mason how to make the small bear “jump” off the toy by pushing a button. The other two boys are also trying to play with the toy, but the teacher and Mason remain focused on getting the bear to “jump.” Although the teacher could have asked Jayden to wait his turn when Jayden pulled on the toy, simply saying “please” worked and gave Mason an opportunity to make the bear “jump.”

Pea Pod Rockers

Max (21 months) and Kenyon (27 months) are near the pea pod rockers, attempting to climb onto them. The teacher steps in to assist Max in climbing onto the rocker. She offers guidance to him and is close to him as he tries to climb onto the rocker.

Let’s Get Up

Micah (30 months) is lying on the ground next to the slide. The teacher leans down and teasingly touches both of his hands before lifting him up to his feet. Micah walks over to the corner, picks up a ball, and throws it off-camera to the teacher, who tosses it back. Micah had shown very little interest in activities that morning, but the teacher was able to engage him briefly in a game of catch.

I Don’t Like That

This video takes place in a toddler room of a university laboratory child care and preschool. Jordan (29 months) has put on sunglasses, and Sadie (25 months) walks up and stands very close to him. He tells her “I don’t like that,” but she stays close to him. The nearby teacher steps in and tells Sadie that Jordan “does not like that. Please stop.” She then attempts to turn Sadie in another direction. Her interaction with Jordan and Sadie was brief but effective in eliminating a potential conflict.

Filling the Trains

This video takes place in a toddler room of a university laboratory child care and preschool. Daniel (25 months) and Sadie (26 months) are playing with trains and putting people back into their trains. The teacher is nearby talking with them, narrates their activities, and helps Sadie to see that she needs to put the people into another train because she is out of room in hers.

Down There

The video takes place in a toddler room of a university laboratory child care and preschool. Max (19 months) and Levi (27 months) are in the glider chair looking at a nursery rhyme book together. They are engaged in the books for a short while and then begin to rock the chair together. The nearby teachers did not intervene in the interaction after setting the stage for them.

All Done

This video takes place in a toddler room of a university laboratory child care and preschool. Daniel (25 months) and Mia (23 months) are standing at the Lego table. A teacher is helping Mia ask Daniel to share the blanket he is using when he is done. The teacher provides her with words to use, expands on what they are saying, and asks them both questions.

A Big Tower

The video takes place in a toddler room of a university laboratory child care and preschool. Anna (28 months) is building a tower alone with large interlocking blocks. Kenyon (26 months) runs in and knocks over her new tower. Anna takes it in stride, and Kenyon helps her rebuild. He promptly knocks over their new tower. Although the teacher is off-camera interacting with other children, she comments on Anna’s work and is aware of what was happening.

Roll, Evie, Roll!

Rolling from back to tummy is an important milestone for a baby. Being able to complete a roll is a challenge for a little one. It takes muscle coordination and perseverance. A baby who can roll over without help has gained a new skill—and greater independence.

Pretend Play with Big Boxes

Pretend play is also called “make-believe,” “dramatic play,” or “symbolic play.” Pretend play contributes to young children’s development and well-being in a variety of ways. This video shows two examples of children’s pretend play.

Mix and Count

This video shows 22-month-old Waylon helping his grandmother mix pancake batter for breakfast. His 6-year-old brother, Luke, and his father talk off camera. In the video, we see adults using strategies for interaction that help Waylon learn about the world.

Making Pizza Together

Preparing meals is part of the “real work” of family life. Preschoolers can help their parents fix simple foods. The whole family can benefit when parents involve preschoolers in cooking activities. Doing this kind of “real work” together gives family members something meaningful to talk about. It also gives children a chance to learn life skills by watching and listening to real “experts” on family life—their parents. Working together also helps members of a family to feel connected to each other.

Let Baby Play

Babies can learn a lot from interacting with their parents and other family members, but they also need time to explore freely with an adult supervising.

Going Camping

Three-year-old Ellie and her mother are playing with familiar toy family figures, a dollhouse, furniture, and a camper. By listening carefully to what Ellie says as they play, her mother discovers things that she can help Ellie understand in areas such as counting, good manners, and nutrition.

The Doggie and the Shark

In this clip, 3-year-old Ellie and her mother engage in pretend play with small figures and boats. Joining Ellie in pretend play allows her mother to model play skills, extend pretend play, help build vocabulary, and promote problem solving skills.

Building with Boxes

For families, flexible play materials have the advantage of usually being inexpensive compared with many other toys. They can be especially appropriate for mixed-age groups of children. Children can use them in ways that suit their interests and abilities.

The Baby and the Trike

Family time at home can be an occasion for a baby to learn about things and people in the world around him. When parents make playthings available in a “child-safe” space and provide unhurried time for exploring, babies can use trial and error to solve problems and find out more about what they can do with their toys.

Straw Painting

Lucille, the young girl in this video clip, is painting outdoors on a sheet of white paper on a table. Instead of using a brush to move the paint and mix the colors, she aims a drinking straw at tiny puddles of the wet paint and blows through the straw to move the paint.

Sara Measures

The teacher placed several car parts in the sensory table for the children to explore. Paper, pencils, tape measures, and screwdrivers were provided as tools that the children could choose to use in their explorations.

Bethany Draws a Wheel

The community college child care center in this video was near the automotive lab, where auto mechanics were trained. The families of the children were students, faculty, and members of the local community. Many of the families qualified for subsidized child care because of their income. Children had many different attendance patterns, due to their parents’ class or work schedules.

Super Story Time

“Tell me a story!” or “Read it again!” You have probably heard those words spoken by a child you know. Go ahead and answer, “Yes!” Cuddling up with a good book is a great way for children and adults to spend time together.