The DLM Early Childhood Express® offers learning experiences and materials to foster children's social and emotional, intellectual, and physical development. The curriculum is organized in eight thematic units. Each unit includes weekly lesson plans and daily planners consisting of teacher-directed lessons, large and small group activities, and learning centers.
Summary of Curriculum Review
- Specifies learning goals throughout all curriculum materials and lesson plans to support children in making progress toward learning goals
- Provides a range of strategies and resources to support parent and family engagement
- Provides specific guidance to scaffold the development and learning of children who are dual language learners (DLLs)
- Offers specific adaptations of learning activities for children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs but lacks guidance on how to ensure the physical environment is accessible
- Promotes individualization based on children's strengths and needs
- Promotes some research-based teaching practices to support children's development and learning in the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF) domains of: Language and Communication, Literacy, and Mathematics
- Promotes few research-based teaching practices in domains of: Approaches to Learning, Social and Emotional Development, Scientific Reasoning, and Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development
- Minimally aligned with the ELOF, as several sub-domains are partially or not addressed in the curriculum
- Lacks a sequence of learning experiences based on children's developmental progressions in some ELOF aspects: Approaches to Learning, Language and Communication, Science, and Physical Development
- Lacks comprehensive guidance on ongoing child assessment
- Lacks standardized training and professional development
- Lacks ample opportunities for child-initiated play, activities based on children's interests, and activities that promote open-ended exploration
- Provides minimal guidance on designing well-organized, engaging indoor environments and no guidance on setting up the outdoor environment
- Lacks comprehensive guidance on culturally responsive interactions, learning experiences, and materials
Cost of Curriculum
DLM Early Childhood Express® is no longer available for purchase.
Cost of Professional Development
DLM VPK Training: Free
The publisher no longer offers additional professional development on the DLM Early Childhood Express®.
Availability in Other Languages
The DLM Early Childhood Express® (Complete Package) includes all materials in English and Spanish.
Center-based preschool programs for children 3–5 years old
Curriculum Materials Reviewed by Raters
All materials from the DLM Early Childhood Express® were purchased and reviewed in 2017. These materials included:
- Eight Teacher's Editions
- DLM Research and Professional Development Guide
- Home Connections Resource Guide
- Flip Charts and Cards
- Big Book and Little Book Packages, including Listening Library CDs
- Manipulatives Kit
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.
At the time of this review, there are two research studies on the DLM Early Childhood Express®, both of which are included as part of the Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research Consortium (PCER, 2008). However, both of these studies evaluated the DLM Early Childhood Express® in combination with another curriculum (Open Court Reading Pre-K and Pre-K Mathematics). Additionally, the study of DLM Math + Pre-K Mathematics only used the DLM Early Childhood Express® Math software, not the entire comprehensive curriculum. Therefore, the results should be interpreted with caution because it is impossible to separate the effects of the DLM comprehensive curriculum from the supplemental curricula included in the evaluation.
Rigorous Research Design: Both research studies used randomized controlled trials. Classrooms were randomly assigned to a treatment (i.e., using the DLM Early Childhood Express® in combination with another curriculum) or control group, which used another curriculum (e.g., The HighScope Preschool Curriculum, The Creative Curriculum® for Preschool).
Sample and Generalizability: Both PCER studies included children from diverse race-ethnic backgrounds. The DLM + Open Court Reading study did not provide a clear indication of the socio-economic status of the study sample, while the DLM Math + Pre-K Mathematics study included children from low-income backgrounds.
Fidelity of Implementation: In the DLM + Open Court Reading study, teachers participated in a four-day workshop training on the curriculum. Teachers implemented the curriculum with a medium to high level of fidelity (2.3), as measured by a global fidelity rating scale ranging from 0 to 3. In the DLM Math + Pre-K Mathematics study, teachers were in their second year of implementation of the curricula and received ongoing on-site training in addition to four-day training during the previous pilot year. In this study, teachers implemented with a medium to high level of fidelity as well (2.65). In both of the PCER studies, specific information related to the implementation of DLM alone was not reported.
Child Outcomes: The DLM + Open Court Reading study highlighted positive outcomes for early reading skills (e.g., letter-word identification, alphabet knowledge, conventions), phonological awareness, and language development. There were no statistically significant findings for mathematics or children's social and learning behaviors. The DLM Math + Pre-K Mathematics study found positive child outcomes in early mathematics skills at the end of the pre-kindergarten year, but these were not maintained in the kindergarten year. There were no statistically significant findings for early reading skills, phonological awareness, language development, or social and learning behaviors.
Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research Consortium. (2008). Effects of preschool curriculum programs on school readiness (NCER 2008–2009). National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
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.
Approaches to Learning: The DLM Early Childhood Express® promotes a few research-based teaching practices to support children's approaches to learning, such as providing guidance on classroom organization (e.g., sample schedules, tips to support children during transitions) and scaffolding children's executive functioning skills (e.g., presenting new information in short segments; using tools to facilitate children's memory and attention, such as a "talking stick"). However, the curriculum lacks opportunities for child-initiated play, activities based on children's interests, and learning centers that promote open-ended exploration, which research shows are important for supporting children's attention, persistence, curiosity, and creativity.
Social and Emotional Development: The DLM Early Childhood Express® promotes a few research-based teaching practices in this domain, such as using language to support children's social and emotional development and providing many informal and formal opportunities for children to practice social interaction and relationship skills. However, there is limited evidence of how the curriculum helps teachers establish an emotionally supportive environment and build secure, trusting relationships with children. Furthermore, the curriculum offers structured activities to help children understand emotions and social problem-solving (e.g., puppet shows or storybooks that focus on feelings or peer conflicts), but it lacks guidance on how to support children as they learn to regulate their emotions and resolve conflicts during daily routines and free play.
Language and Communication: The DLM Early Childhood Express® promotes some research-based teaching practices in this domain, such as supporting children's vocabulary development and phonological awareness. The Teacher's Editions offer suggested vocabulary for each unit as well as guidance on how to introduce new vocabulary to children. Daily "Language Time" includes guidance for phonological awareness activities, and these experiences become more complex over the course of the units. However, the curriculum includes less evidence for other research-based teaching practices, such as planning language experiences based on rich and engaging content or children's existing knowledge, skills, and interests (i.e., most content is pre-determined in thematic units and may or may not be interesting or meaningful to the children).
Literacy: The DLM Early Childhood Express® promotes some research-based teaching practices to support literacy, such as providing varied opportunities for children to discuss, use, and make print materials (e.g., ABC Center and Writer's Center, daily writing activities). Furthermore, daily interactive read-alouds provide opportunities for children to develop concepts about print, comprehend text, and enjoy books, which research shows are critical early literacy skills. However, the curriculum includes less evidence for planning literacy experiences based on rich and engaging content or children's existing knowledge, skills, and interests (i.e., most content is pre-determined in thematic units and may or may not be interesting or meaningful to the children).
Mathematics Development: The curriculum promotes some research-based teaching practices to support children's mathematics development. For example, the math curriculum, Building Blocks, offers intentionally planned mathematical learning experiences. The curriculum provides 15-minute "Math Time" each day in a large group, a variety of related small group math activities as part of the classroom's "Math and Science Center," and online math activities as part of Building Blocks. Learning experiences are sequenced based on children's developmental progressions, provide many opportunities to practice mathematical skills, and introduce children to the language of mathematics. However, the activities are highly structured, teacher-directed, and pre-planned, and offer very few opportunities to apply math purposefully in contexts meaningful for children. There are also very few opportunities for children to engage in problem-solving, inquiry, and creative invention.
Scientific Reasoning: The DLM Early Childhood Express® promotes a few research-based teaching practices in this domain, such as embedding science into daily activities and encouraging children to use language and other forms of communication to describe and document their work. However, the science learning experiences do not build on children's knowledge, skills, and interests, providing little opportunity for children to engage with content that is meaningful to them. Often, the content is not developmentally appropriate (e.g., discussing where rockets go and how they move). Furthermore, the activities and learning centers are pre-planned and teacher directed, which does not allow for children's experiential learning, inquiry, and open-ended investigation.
Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development: The DLM Early Childhood Express® provides a few research-based teaching practices to support children's perceptual, motor, and physical development, such as supporting the development of children's perceptual motor skills (e.g., prompting children to move in different ways, such as galloping and skipping, and asking children to describe their movement) and fine motor skills (e.g., gluing small buttons in an art activity, using stirring sticks to form shapes). While the curriculum provides some physical activities, it lacks ample opportunities for children to practice gross motor skills and self-care skills. Furthermore, the curriculum lacks guidance on how teachers can create a safe indoor and outdoor environment that encourages active physical exploration.
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.
Scope: The DLM Early Childhood Express® clearly identifies nine learning domains: Social and Emotional Development, Language and Communication, Emergent Literacy: Reading and Writing, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Fine Arts, Physical Development, and Technology. The Teacher's Editions for each thematic unit provide weekly and daily lesson plans that identify learning goals and describe activities to support children's development and learning in these domains.
Sequence: In some developmental domains, the DLM Early Childhood Express® provides a sequence of learning experiences that progressively builds children's knowledge and skills as they move through the developmental progressions. For example, in the domains of Mathematics, Social and Emotional Development, and Emergent Literacy: Reading and Writing, the activities described in the Teacher's Editions progressively build children's skills and concepts over time. However, some aspects of Approaches to Learning, Language and Communication, Science, and Physical Development lack a variety of learning experiences that build on each other over time and reflect children's developmental progressions.
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.
Alignment with the ELOF: A thorough review of all of the curriculum materials in relationship to the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF) domains and sub-domains indicates that the DLM Early Childhood Express® is minimally aligned with the ELOF. The learning experiences described in the Teacher's Editions support children's development in all of the ELOF domains, but several sub-domains are partially addressed by the curriculum, such as: Creativity, Relationships with Other Children, Attending and Understanding, Scientific Inquiry, and Gross Motor. Additionally, the following ELOF subdomains were not addressed by the curriculum: Initiative and Curiosity, Reasoning and Problem-Solving.
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 tribal language learners, and children with disabilities or other special needs.
Learning Goals: The DLM Early Childhood Express® specifies learning goals at the beginning of each thematic unit as well as embedding them throughout the lesson plans. The learning goals are measurable, and while many are developmentally appropriate, some goals are too advanced for preschool children (e.g., child recites numbers from one to 30, child produces most common sound for a given letter). Overall, the learning activities in the Teacher's Editions support children in making progress toward these learning goals. The curriculum lacks guidance on how to use the learning goals with diverse children or how to use the learning goals to individualize learning experiences for all children.
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.
Ongoing Observation and Documentation: The appendix of each Teacher's Edition describes how teachers can use observations, portfolios, anecdotal observation records, and checklists to understand children's developmental progress over time. While some of the lesson plans include prompts for teachers to observe for specific skills or behaviors, the curriculum lacks guidance on how to document observations and use them in curriculum planning. The curriculum publisher previously included tools to track children's developmental progress (e.g., "Anecdotal Observation Record," "Weekly Performance Checklist"), but these tools are no longer available.
Standardized and Structured Assessment Instruments: The DLM Early Childhood Express® previously provided structured assessment tools, like the "Performance Assessment Checklists," to assess children's developmental progress three times throughout the year. However, the tools are not standardized assessment instruments and are no longer available. Additionally, the appendix of each Teacher's Edition provides minimal guidance on formal assessment (e.g., diagnostic tests, achievement tests).
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.
Communicating with Families: The Home Connections Resource Guide offers strategies and materials to share information with families (e.g., home visits, parent-teacher conferences, family newsletters in English and Spanish). However, with the exception of a "suggestion box" for families to share suggestions with the program, most of the curriculum materials and strategies communicate information to families in a uni-directional way (from program to family). The curriculum lacks information on how to learn from families about their child's development, cultures, home languages, and backgrounds.
Engaging Families: The Home Connections Resource Guide provides general guidance on how to engage families in children's learning and development. It includes resources to extend children's learning at home, such as take-home storybooks and family newsletters with suggested activities to do at home. The curriculum also invites families to visit the classroom at many of the end-of-unit celebrations. While the curriculum includes some guidance on how to engage families who speak languages other than English, there is limited consideration for how to engage families from diverse cultures or parents with disabilities or other special needs.
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.
Professional Development: The DLM Early Childhood Express® offers one 35-minute online presentation for standardized initial training. The presentation briefly introduces the curriculum materials. Ongoing professional development is no longer offered for this curriculum.
Curriculum Materials to Support Implementation: The DLM Early Childhood Express® provides some materials to support implementation, including a Teacher's Edition for each of the eight themes. The Teacher's Editions include information on daily lesson planning, learning centers, and teaching practices to support child development. However, there are limited resources for getting started with the curriculum. Additionally, the Teacher's Editions lack both sufficient information on the context for activities (e.g., how to set up an activity outside) and adequate support for transitions (e.g., how to start or end an activity).
- Fidelity Tool: The DLM Early Childhood Express® does not offer a fidelity tool for monitoring curriculum implementation.
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.
Active Exploration: While the Teacher's Editions describe how the curriculum "nurtures the natural curiosity" of children and how learning centers "provide the opportunity for children to explore a wide range of curricular areas," the daily lesson plans provide limited opportunities for preschoolers to actively engage in hands-on exploration. All activities, including learning centers, are structured and teacher directed, leaving children little room to create, explore, or otherwise engage with materials in open-ended ways.
Interactions That Extend Children's Learning: Some of the curriculum's activities provide guidance on how teachers engage in interactions that extend children's thinking and communication. For example, many activities encourage children to analyze similarities and differences between objects or pictures. Other activities provide prompts for children to make connections to their own lived experiences (e.g., "How is the community in the storybook like our community?"). However, other suggested teacher prompts are narrowly focused on eliciting specific responses from children.
Individualization: The curriculum provides specific guidance on how to individualize learning experiences for children who are DLLs and children with disabilities or other special needs. Daily lesson plans include specific scaffolding strategies to support children who are DLLs. Similarly, Teacher's Editions offer "Differentiated Instruction" boxes that include recommendations for children with special needs. These scaffolding strategies typically address a specific disability or special need that is likely to interfere with a child's ability to participate in an activity. However, the curriculum lacks guidance on how to authentically incorporate children's cultures throughout learning activities or learning centers.
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.
Environment: The curriculum provides minimal guidance on how to design well-organized, engaging indoor environments. It includes a few principles related to "Center Management," such as separating loud and quiet spaces or providing children with an area for alone time. There is no guidance on how to set up the outdoor learning environment. Furthermore, the curriculum minimally addresses how to include children's cultures or home languages (besides English and Spanish) in the physical environment.
Learning Materials: The DLM Early Childhood Express® provides developmentally appropriate learning materials, such as books, magnets, science tools, and puppets. The Teacher's Editions provide suggestions for learning materials to use in specific activities and learning centers (e.g., manipulatives, scissors, paper, recycled materials). The curriculum provides some guidance for ensuring that the learning materials meet the unique needs of children with disabilities or other special needs, but lacks adequate guidance on how to select learning materials that authentically represent the cultures, ethnicities, and home languages (besides English and Spanish) of all children in the program.
Schedule and Routines: The curriculum includes specific guidance on how to establish the daily schedule, such as sample schedules for half- and full-day programs, and embeds suggested time allotment for lesson plans throughout the Teacher's Editions. However, the curriculum lacks guidance on how to engage in developmentally appropriate routines with preschool children or how to individualize schedules or routines based on individual children's needs and backgrounds.
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.
Interactions: The Home Connections Resource Guide alludes to the importance of incorporating knowledge of the family and home culture into the curriculum, but it lacks guidance on how to engage in culturally responsive interactions with children and families.
Learning Experiences: The Home Connections Resource Guide describes how families' experiences can enrich the classroom (e.g., children asking their parents about parents' names, where they are from, folklore), but the curriculum does not offer any guidance on how to provide learning experiences that build on children's and families' traditions, cultures, values, and beliefs.
Learning Environment: The curriculum includes many materials that depict children and families from diverse cultures and ethnicities (e.g., books, flip charts). However, it provides minimal guidance on how to select learning materials that represent the cultures and ethnicities of children and families in the program. Some suggestions for materials in the learning centers (e.g., books about holidays and celebrations, crayons in flesh and hair tones, dress-up clothes) could represent the cultures of children and families in the program, but the curriculum does not make those explicit connections.
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.
Scaffolding Strategies: The DLM Research and Professional Development Guide and the appendices of all Teacher's Editions provide general guidance on teaching children who are DLLs (e.g., offering visuals to help children access new content, using the primary language for pre-teaching). Furthermore, tips for working with children who are DLLs are shown throughout the lesson plans in the Teacher's Editions.
Home and Tribal Languages: The DLM Early Childhood Express® provides many classroom materials translated into Spanish, such as instructional questions and vocabulary in the activities of the Teacher's Editions. However, the curriculum lacks guidance on how to incorporate all children's home languages into the learning experiences and environment. Tribal languages are not addressed.
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.
Teaching Practices and Interventions: The DLM Research and Professional Development Guide provides a general overview of adaptations for children with disabilities or other special needs (e.g., present new concepts in short segments, allow children to use many senses to explore). The Teacher's Editions provide specific modifications for many of the learning activities, including modifications to support children with delayed motor development, hearing impairment, speech and language delays, or other special needs.
Learning Environment: The curriculum lacks guidance to ensure learning materials and the physical space are accessible for children with disabilities or other special needs. The DLM Research and Professional Development Guide mentions a few specific adaptations (e.g., creating picture cards for children to follow routines, adjusting seating to meet children's needs). Universal design principles are not discussed, and the Teacher's Editions do not provide consistent guidance embedded throughout them on how to ensure that the physical environment and learning materials are accessible.
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.
Individualization Based on Interests: The DLM Research and Professional Development Guide discusses the importance of child-initiated activities, but the curriculum does not offer guidance on how to plan learning experiences that build on individual children's interests. Learning experiences are pre-planned, and there is no guidance on how to modify them based on individual children's interests.
Individualization Based on Strengths and Needs: The curriculum provides a variety of strategies to make learning experiences responsive to individual children's strengths and needs. For example, "Differentiated Instruction" offers suggestions for modifications to activities based on children's strengths and needs (e.g., "Enrichment" for children who have already mastered certain skills and concepts and "Extra Support," "Accommodations for 3's," and "Special Needs" for children who may need further scaffolding throughout the activity).