Responsive Relationships and Interactions: The curriculum consistently promotes responsive relationships and interactions, which are foundational to children's social and emotional development and development in all other domains. Tender Care and Early Learning describes how to nurture secure attachment relationships with infants and toddlers, including program policies (e.g., continuity of care, primary caregiving) and specific teaching practices (e.g., sensitivity to non-distress, positive regard, lack of negativity, responsiveness to children's communication). The curriculum emphasizes how to engage in sensitive, responsive caregiving and interactions throughout the day. It suggests observing children, responding supportively to children's needs, following their lead, conversing with children in a give-and-take manner, and commenting on their interests and efforts.
Daily Routines as Opportunities for Learning: The curriculum provides clear guidance on how to use daily caregiving routines as a rich opportunity to support children's development and learning in all domains. Tender Care and Early Learning describes how to establish daily schedules and routines that are predictable as well as flexible and individualized based on children's routines at home, natural biological rhythms, and temperament. In addition, Lesson Plans for a Strong Start provides specific examples of how to support and extend children's learning and development during daily routines of "Bodily Care," "Mealtimes," "Transitions," "Drop-off," and "Pick-up" (e.g., learning about attributes, pattern, change, or sequence; developing self-care skills).
Play and Exploration: The curriculum provides extensive guidance on research-based practices to support toddlers' play and exploration. The curriculum offers specific strategies for teachers to create safe and engaging indoor and outdoor environments that promote children's active play and exploration. The curriculum emphasizes providing ample opportunities for child-initiated play and activities based on children's interests, which research shows relates to children's attention, engagement, initiative, and curiosity. Throughout the curriculum, teachers are repeatedly encouraged to allow children to explore the classroom freely, observe children's interests, engage with children on their level, and plan how to further support their explorations. Finally, the curriculum stresses the importance of providing open-ended learning materials and experiences that promote children's curiosity, exploration, and creativity (e.g., building with different types of blocks, playing with fabric scraps or textured balls, exploring metal things).
Language-Rich Environment and Interactions: The curriculum promotes research-based teaching practices to support infants' and toddlers' language and communication. These practices include using varied types of talk and introducing new and interesting vocabulary words based on children's engagement. For example, Tender Care and Early Learning provides general strategies with vignette examples (e.g., make comments, communicate and converse in a give-and-take manner, sing, read). Lesson Plans for a Strong Start integrates suggestions for varied types of talk and vocabulary within learning experiences (e.g., providing names for objects children are touching and using descriptive words such as hard, rough, or fuzzy). Tender Care and Early Learning describes the importance of reading to children and how to select appropriate books for infants and toddlers. Lesson Plans for a Strong Start includes interaction strategies for reading with infants and toddlers (e.g., keeping story groups small, using props from time to time), as well as examples of how to integrate book reading into "Group Times with Materials," "Outside Time," and "Mealtime."
Promoting Emotional, Behavioral, and Cognitive Self-Regulation: The curriculum includes research-based practices to support infants' and toddlers' emotional, behavioral, and cognitive self-regulation. To promote children's emotional and behavioral self-regulation, Tender Care and Early Learning offers guidance on supporting children during social conflicts, providing a soothing physical environment, acknowledging children's feelings and behaviors, and modeling how to cope with feelings. While some of these strategies are integrated throughout Lesson Plans for a Strong Start, others are not. There was also less evidence for other strategies to support children's behavioral regulation, such as redirection of behaviors or providing clear expectations and simple rules for toddlers. The curriculum's lesson plans for toddlers include ongoing scaffolding strategies to support them in developing their executive functioning skills (e.g., acknowledging children's efforts, narrating children's actions and the outcomes of their actions).
Facilitating Cognitive Development: The curriculum promotes some research-based teaching practices to support children's cognition. For example, the curriculum encourages adults to scaffold infants' and toddlers' problem-solving skills by giving children time to try solving their own problems, narrating their actions, acknowledging children's feelings and struggles, and providing assistance as needed. Lesson Plans for a Strong Start provides scaffolding charts for teachers to extend children's learning during play and exploration, such as describing materials, narrating children's actions and explorations, and using open-ended prompts (e.g., "I wonder ...," "What would happen if ..."). Finally, the Lesson Plans for a Strong Start features some learning experiences that focus on introducing toddlers to math language and concepts (e.g., teaching the sign for "more," counting blocks as children play, narrating the sequence of a diaper change). However, there is much less information and emphasis on emergent mathematical thinking in Tender Care and Early Learning or infant Lesson Plans for a Strong Start.
Supporting Physical Development: The curriculum consistently promotes research-based practices to support children's perceptual, motor, and physical development. Lesson Plans for a Strong Start offers many specific learning experiences and scaffolding strategies to support children's gross and fine motor skills (e.g., squeezing squishy bags, grasping and mouthing a shaker, tossing bean bags). In addition, the curriculum emphasizes providing learning environments and experiences to support perceptual understanding and motor development (e.g., providing rich sensory experiences, including various types of surfaces in the physical environment, labeling children's actions). Lastly, the specific suggestions in Lesson Plans for a Strong Start guide teachers to repeat activities as well as to encourage children to practice new skills in different contexts.