Curriculum

Criteria for Preschool Curricula

Criterion 1

Evidence Base for Child Outcomes

Evidence from research demonstrates that the curriculum has been associated with children's positive learning outcomes. The curriculum has been implemented and directly studied in early childhood programs, and the research showed significant, positive effects on children's developmental outcomes. Evidence of effectiveness has been obtained in rigorous research studies, such as randomized controlled trials or regression discontinuity designs. Research studies on the curriculum have optimally included multiple, diverse groups of children and teachers.

Review Question

  • Child outcomes: Has the implementation of the curriculum been associated with children’s positive learning outcomes?

Other Information Included in the Review Summaries

  • Rigorous design: Has the curriculum been studied using a rigorous research design?
  • Sample and generalizability: Has the curriculum been studied with multiple samples representative of diverse children?
  • Fidelity of implementation: How much training was provided to teachers in the studies before implementing the curriculum? Have studies of the curriculum assessed fidelity of implementation?

Criterion 2

Research-Based Curriculum

The curriculum provides research-based content and teaching practices to support children's development and learning. A research-based curriculum is consistent with research on how children develop and learn. Specifically, it provides rich content, teaching practices, and learning experiences that research has shown to be effective in supporting children's development and learning. A research-based curriculum focuses on domain-specific, developmentally appropriate content and skills that contribute to children's long-range development in each domain.

Review Question

  • Research-based content and teaching practices: Does the curriculum promote teaching practices, learning experiences, and developmentally appropriate content that research has shown to be effective in supporting positive child outcomes in the domains of the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF)?

Criterion 3

Scope and Sequence

The curriculum includes an organized developmental scope and sequence to support children's development and learning. A scope and sequence outlines what the curriculum focuses on and how the plans and materials support children at different levels of development. The scope refers to the areas of development addressed by the curriculum; the sequence includes plans and materials for learning experiences that progressively build from less to more complex, with the goal of supporting children as they move through the developmental progressions. A content-rich curriculum ensures that sequences of learning experiences include multiple, related opportunities for children to explore a concept or skill with increasing depth. Sequences of learning experiences should be flexible to respond to individual children's interests, strengths, and needs.

Review Questions

  • Scope: Does the curriculum include a clearly identifiable scope that addresses essential domains of learning and development for preschool children?
  • Sequence: Does the curriculum include sequences of learning experiences that progressively build from less to more complex to support children as they move through the developmental progressions?
    • Does the curriculum provide multiple, related opportunities to explore concepts or skills with increasing depth?
    • Do the sequences of learning experiences allow for flexibility in moving through them based on the individual interests, strengths, and needs of children?

Criterion 4

Alignment with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF)

The curriculum is aligned with the ELOF. Aligning a curriculum with the ELOF identifies the extent to which ELOF domains and sub-domains are addressed in the curriculum. Curricula that are fully aligned with the ELOF are comprehensive and cover all areas of children's learning and development described in the ELOF.

Review Question

  • Alignment with the ELOF: Does the curriculum provide learning experiences to support children’s development and learning in all of the ELOF preschool domains and sub-domains?

Criterion 5

Learning Goals for Children

The curriculum specifies learning goals for children. The curriculum's learning goals are objectives for children's development and learning across domains. Learning goals should be measurable and developmentally appropriate. Measurable learning goals focus on skills, behaviors, and knowledge that are observable; developmentally appropriate learning goals are consistent with well-established developmental progressions. Teachers should be able to use a curriculum's learning goals to individualize learning experiences for all children, such as children from diverse cultures, children who are dual language learners (DLLs), children who are learning tribal languages, and children with disabilities or other special needs.

Review Questions

  • Learning goals: Does the curriculum specify measurable, developmentally appropriate goals for children’s learning and development?
    • Are the goals supported by the learning experiences described in the curriculum?
    • Does the curriculum provide guidance on how to use the learning goals to individualize learning experiences for all children?

    Criterion 6

    Ongoing Child Assessment

    The curriculum provides guidance on ongoing child assessment. Ongoing child assessment is a process of gathering information to understand and support children's development over time. Information gathered through observation and documentation helps inform curriculum planning, teaching, and individualizing for all children. Ongoing child assessment can also be used to periodically complete standardized and structured assessment instruments to evaluate children's developmental progress. 

    Review Questions

    • Ongoing observation and documentation: Does the curriculum promote ongoing observation and documentation of children’s developmental progress?
    • Standardized and structured assessment instruments: Does the curriculum encourage the use of standardized and structured assessment instruments that are valid, reliable, and individually, culturally, and linguistically appropriate to assess children's developmental progress?

    Criterion 7

    Parent and Family Engagement

    The curriculum promotes parent and family engagement. Parent and family engagement is a collaborative and strengths-based process through which early childhood teachers, families, and children build positive and goal-oriented relationships. It is a shared responsibility of families and staff that is built on mutual respect for the roles and strengths each has to offer. The curriculum provides culturally and linguistically responsive strategies to communicate with families and to engage families in children's learning. 

    Review Questions

    • Communication with families: Does the curriculum offer culturally and linguistically responsive materials and strategies for communicating with parents and families about their children’s development and the curriculum’s learning experiences?
    • Engaging families: Does the curriculum offer suggestions for how to engage diverse parents and families in children’s learning and development?

    Criterion 8

    Professional Development and Materials to Support Implementation

    The curriculum offers professional development and materials to support implementation and continuous improvement. Professional development includes gaining the knowledge and skills required for effective implementation of a curriculum. Standardized training procedures include initial and ongoing training to support education staff as they learn to implement a curriculum with fidelity. Standardized training procedures provide consistent content and delivery methods across training sessions. Curriculum materials to support implementation include resources that come with a curriculum to help education staff understand how to use it. The materials may also include resources to help education managers and coaches support education staff to implement the curriculum effectively.

    Review Questions

    • Professional development: Does the curriculum offer standardized initial training and ongoing professional development opportunities for program leaders and education staff? 
    • Curriculum materials to support implementation: Does the curriculum include resources and tools to support fidelity of implementation and continuous improvement?

    Criterion 9

    Learning Experiences and Interactions

    The curriculum promotes rich learning experiences and interactions to support development across domains. Rich learning experiences support and extend children's knowledge, understanding of concepts, and skills across domains. As children actively explore their learning environment by manipulating objects and investigating concepts, teachers interact with them to extend their exploration, thinking, and communication. The curriculum offers children ample opportunities to engage in hands-on exploration and provides teachers with guidance on how to extend children's exploration, thinking, and communication. Rich learning experiences should be culturally and linguistically responsive and inclusive of children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs.

    Review Questions

    • Active exploration: Does the curriculum encourage ample opportunity for preschool children to actively engage in hands-on exploration?
    • Interactions that extend children’s learning: Does the curriculum provide guidance to teachers on how to engage in interactions that extend children’s exploration, thinking, and communication?
    • Individualization: Does the curriculum provide guidance to teachers on how to individualize learning experiences for all children?

    Criterion 10

    Learning Environments and Routines

    The curriculum provides guidance on how to set up rich learning environments and developmentally appropriate routines. Rich learning environments are nurturing spaces that support the development of all young children. The curriculum provides guidance on how to design developmentally appropriate schedules, routines, and indoor and outdoor opportunities for choice, play, exploration, and experimentation. Learning environments include age-appropriate equipment, materials, and supplies. They also reflect home cultures and are flexible to support the changing ages, interests, and characteristics of a group of children over time. 

    Review Questions

    • Environment: Does the curriculum provide guidance on how to design well-organized, engaging indoor and outdoor environments that promote active exploration and support all children’s development in the ELOF domains?
    • Learning materials: Does the curriculum come with or provide guidance on how to select developmentally appropriate learning materials that foster open-ended exploration and inquiry? 
    • Schedule and routines: Does the curriculum provide guidance on how to establish a daily schedule and developmentally appropriate routines?

    Criterion 11

    Cultural Responsiveness

    The curriculum supports cultural responsiveness. Cultural responsiveness is a strengths-based approach to teaching and caregiving rooted in respect and appreciation for the role of culture in children's learning and development. A culturally responsive curriculum prompts teachers to learn about each child's strengths, abilities, experiences, and interests as developed within the child's family and culture. The curriculum provides guidance on how to modify and enhance curriculum plans and materials to build on these strengths, abilities, experiences, and interests with the goal of incorporating each child's culture into the classroom.

    Review Questions

    • Interactions: Does the curriculum support culturally responsive ways of interacting with diverse children and families?
    • Learning experiences: Does the curriculum encourage learning experiences for children that build on their families’ traditions, culture, values, and beliefs?
    • Learning materials: Does the curriculum suggest how to use learning materials that authentically represent the cultures and ethnicities of children and families?

    Criterion 12

    Linguistic Responsiveness

    The curriculum supports linguistic responsiveness. Linguistic responsiveness refers to teaching practices that support the learning, development, and engagement of children from diverse linguistic backgrounds. It includes supports for continued development of children's home or tribal languages by authentically incorporating children's languages into the learning environment. Furthermore, linguistically responsive practices can facilitate English acquisition. The curriculum provides scaffolding strategies to support children at any level of English knowledge to fully participate in the curriculum's learning experiences. 

    Review Questions

    • Scaffolding strategies: Does the curriculum provide research-based scaffolding strategies to support the development and learning of children who are dual language learners?
    • Home and tribal languages: Does the curriculum provide guidance on how to authentically incorporate children’s home or tribal languages into the learning environment?

    Criterion 13

    Individualization for Children with Disabilities, Suspected Delays, or Other Special Needs

    The curriculum provides guidance on how to individualize for children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs. Individualization for children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs includes providing more specialized supports for children to access and participate in learning, social experiences, and activities. The curriculum's guidance for specialized supports includes specific teaching practices and ways of interacting with children, as well as adaptations to daily schedules, learning activities, and the learning environment. Individualizing for children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs enables all children to access, participate, and thrive in early learning settings.

    Review Questions

    • Teaching practices and interventions: Does the curriculum provide guidance on how to embed research-based teaching practices and other interventions in daily routines and activities to support the development and learning of children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs?
    • Learning environment: Does the curriculum include suggestions to ensure the physical environment and learning materials are accessible to children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs?

    Criterion 14

    Individualization Based on Interests, Strengths, and Needs

    The curriculum offers guidance on how to individualize based on children's interests, strengths, and needs. Individualization is a process of planning and implementing learning experiences that are responsive to each child's interests, strengths, and needs. Teachers reflect on their observations of each child and then plan the most effective ways to support each child's learning and development. When learning experiences are tailored to children's interests, they are more engaging and meaningful to children. Because children may vary in their developmental progressions, it is also important that the curriculum supports teachers in planning learning experiences that are responsive to individual children's strengths and needs. 

    Review Questions

    • Individualization based on interests: Does the curriculum offer guidance on how to plan learning experiences that build on the interests of individual preschool children?
    • Individualization based on strengths and needs: Does the curriculum offer guidance on how to make learning experiences responsive to individual children’s strengths and needs?