Early Childhood Guiding Practices

Early Childhood Education

If optimal learning is desirable what are quality practices and how should those environments or opportunities for children look like? Research suggests that children learn in places where:


  • Learning is a cooperative journey shared by many, not a competitive race between individuals.
  • Knowledge is defined as mental constructs that are drawn out rather than information that is handed out.
  • Diversity is celebrated and the talents and strengths of each child are recognized and nourished.
  • Concrete materials, quality literature, technology, and a variety of resource materials are used.
  • An array of learning opportunities are provided from which a child and family can choose.
  • Instruction is integrated which requires problem-solving and decision-making.

A variety of practices currently guide quality early childhood programs. Brief summaries follow, and you can get additional information by going to the various websites provided.

New! Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards (WMELS)

These standards have been developed by the Wisconsin state departments of Public Instruction, Children and Families, and Health Services. These standards reflect the shared values and commitments of the citizens of Wisconsin to prepare young children for success in school. The Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards specify expectations for children birth to first grade. The standards contain developmental domains, sub-domains, developmental expectations, performance standards and program standards.

The developmental continuum provides a predictable but not rigid sequence of accomplishments which describe the progressive levels of performance in the order in which they emerge in most children, based on current research. The developmental continuum begins at an early developmental level and continues through developmental levels that would be typical of children entering first grade in each developmental domain.

Sample behaviors of children have been provided in each domain to provide "samples" of what children might do as they demonstrate accomplishments at each level. Sample strategies for adults have been provided in each domain to provide "examples" of what adults might do to assist the child to gain knowledge or learn skills at each level of the developmental continuum. The appendix has been expanded to provide additional resources for parents, providers, teachers, principals and directors of early care and education collaborative programming.

In the fall of 2011, the WMELS Early Literacy section was reviewed to assure that it was in line with current best practices. We worked with Alan Coulter, Ph.D., Office for the Jamie S. Settlement Agreement LSU Health Sciences Center, to identify a national reading expert, Stephanie Al Otaiba, who assisted in this review and update. Concurrently the adoption of the Common Core State Standards has provided an opportunity to further align early childhood and academic standards.

This publication is available as a PDF, or it may be ordered by phone at 1-800-362-7353 or 608-224-5388; by fax at 608-224-6178; or by email at ccic@dpi.wi.gov

Connection of WMELS and the Wisconsin Common Core State Standards

The WMELS address expectations for young children between birth and first grade. The Wisconsin Common Core State Standards address what students should know and be able to do from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Since the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards and the Wisconsin Common Core State Standards both address the kindergarten level, it is suggested that local school districts use both documents to guide curriculum, instruction and assessment decisions. The Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards publication and a letter on the DPI website provide more details on this alignment. For more information on WMELS, you can visit http://www.collaboratingpartners.com/. This partner site has information on training, curriculum alignment, and a Q & A. The Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards publication and a letter on the DPI website provide more details on this alignment.


For more information on WMELS, you can visit http://www.collaboratingpartners.com/. This partner site has information on training, curriculum alignment, and a Q & A.

Kindergarten Subjects: State statutes (121.02(1)) set kindergarten subjects as reading and language arts, math, social studies, science, health, physical education, art, music, environmental education, and computer literacy. Best practices would utilize an integrated and developmentally appropriate curriculum that would incorporate the concepts from the required subject areas.

Developmentally Appropriate Practices: The concept of developmental appropriateness has three dimensions: age appropriateness, individual appropriateness and cultural appropriateness. Age appropriateness is based on research which indicates that there are universal, predictable sequences of growth and change that occur in children during the first nine years of life. Individually appropriate recognizes that each child is a unique person with an individual pattern and timing of growth, as will as an individual personality, learning style, and family background. Cultural appropriateness recognizes the importance of the knowledge of the social and cultural contexts in which children live to ensure that learning experiences are meaningful, relevant, and respectful for the children and their families. Both the curriculum and the adult's interaction with the child should be responsive to individual difference.

Boyer Declares Carnegie Units Obsolete: Many school curriculums are based on the Carnegie Units which were developed by the Carnegie Foundation over 100 years ago. In 1993, Ernest L. Boyer, President of the Carnegie Foundation stated, "I'm convinced the time has come once and for all to bury the old Carnegie unity". Dr. Boyer suggest eight thematic units: the life cycle, use of symbols, aesthetics, time & space, social web, nature of work, natural world, and values & beliefs.

Nongraded and Mixed Age Groupings: Interest in the potential benefits of mixed-age grouping in preschools and the early primary grades has increased steadily in recent years. Reasons behind the trend are widespread concern about the high proportion of young children who are retained in the early grades, increasing recognition that grade repetition does not help children overcome difficulties in grade expectations and growing awareness of the benefits of cross age interaction to intellectual and social development.

Kindergarten Entry and Placement: Over the past several years there has become increasing concern at attitudes and practices which erode children's legal rights to enter public school and participate in a beneficial educational program. These unacceptable trends in kindergarten entry and placement have resulted from increased demands on young children; including:

  1. Inappropriate use of screening and readiness testing
  2. Denial or discouragement of entrance for eligible children
  3. The development of segregated transitional classes for children deemed unready for the next traditional level of school
  4. An increasing use of retention

The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) has developed principles for kindergarten entry and placement including: enrolled in kindergarten based on their legal right to enter, retention is rejected as a viable option for young children, tests used at kindergarten entrance are not used to create barriers to school entry or to sort children into homogeneous groups, and children are welcomed, as they are, into kindergarten settings.

Early Learning Centers: With the current fragmentation of early childhood programs It is not uncommon for one child to move from child care, to school programs or Head Start, to specialized services, and back to child care all in one day. Transportation, dealing with various providers and different system expectations can have has a detrimental impact on children and their families. More and more communities and their early childhood programs are bringing the different programs into one building and children into the same classrooms.

For questions about this information, contact Jill Haglund (608) 267-9625