Home Visitor's Handbook

Approaches to Learning

Teacher showing a child how to cut play dohApproaches to Learning presents a way of thinking about learning. It is different from the other essential domains in that it doesn't focus on what skills, concepts, or behaviors children acquire, but on how children acquire them. Although there are many characteristics that could be included in Approaches to Learning, here are six basic dispositions:

  • Self-regulation/Attention
  • Curiosity
  • Information-gathering
  • Memory
  • Problem-solving
  • Persistence through small frustrations

The ELOF provides a detailed progression of the knowledge and skills a child achieves in these sub-domains. These processes create the foundation for all learning.

How To

Self-Regulation/Attention
The ability to manage—or regulate—your reactions to internal or external events. When a child is not easily distracted, he or she is able to focus, become engaged, and pay attention to exploration and interactions. You support parents in nurturing self-regulation and attention by:

  • Helping them maintain a calm attitude and presence when their child is upset
    • Children are "tuned in" to adults' emotions
    • Expressing calmness can help children manage strong emotions
  • Acknowledging and commenting when parents identify self-soothing behaviors; for example, asking, "What does Odele do to comfort herself? Does she suck her thumb?"
  • Suggesting ways to give toddlers and preschoolers simple choices, such as, "You may have apple slices or orange slices."
  • Showing parents ways to help their child stay engaged and attentive, perhaps by commenting on what the child is doing or introducing a new aspect to the child's play or interaction
    • For example, saying to the parent, "You might ask Joie how she's going to put her baby to sleep now."
  • Creating an environment that allows safe exploration
  • Learning routines such as washing hands before meals, applying sunscreen before going outside, and holding Mom's hand while crossing the street
  • Assisting parents to teach children to recognize and name their feelings
  • Modeling ways in which toddlers and preschoolers can express their emotions effectively and appropriately (e.g., "You can say, ‘I'm mad' or ‘I don't like that,' " or "You can scribble on paper when you are angry.")

Toddler boy and girl playing with blocksCuriosity
A strong desire to explore and learn. Young children are constantly learning about themselves, others, and the world. You support parents in nurturing curiosity by:

  • Joining them in observing what children are doing
    • Explain to parents that observing is a process.
    • When observing, parents should watch and listen for cues (e.g., body movements, facial expressions, vocalizations, children approaching or withdrawing) and offer comments or questions that reflect what children might be wondering, thinking, or trying to discover. For example, "Megan, it looks like you're trying to climb up on the sofa. You want to get up there."
  • Allowing children to explore open-ended materials; for example, toys that young children can use in many ways, like blocks, scarves, or boxes
    • Remember, there is a lot to learn about shapes, objects in space, balance, and gravity from stacking boxes or blocks
  • Creating safe environments and providing active supervision of children at all times

Toddler boy readingInformation-gathering
Learning through watching, listening, moving, smelling, tasting, and touching. You support parents in nurturing information gathering by:

  • Encouraging parents to give children information about things that interest their child. Use words to describe the objects, people, actions, and feelings in the child's world. Expand on their interests. For example:
    • Watching the child together with the parents and exchanging ideas about what the child is interested in (e.g., "I think he's listening to the paper crackle, trying to figure out what makes it crackle sometimes and be quiet at other times. He's looking for what causes the crackling.")

Memory 
Remembering what is seen and heard. Memory is involved in object permanence, knowing that objects and people exist even when you can't see them. Working memory lets the child combine stored information with new information. Long-term memory is used as a child anticipates the routines of bedtime or where certain toys are put away. You support parents in nurturing memory by:

  • Encouraging parents to play peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek (without being completely hidden) with their children
  • Suggesting they talk about events that happened earlier in the day, the day before, or even "a long time ago"
    • Young children may not have a concrete sense of time but are often surprisingly good at remembering what happened before
  • Using photos of children, their families, and familiar objects to talk about children's past experiences and help them create and keep memories. 
  • Reading books or talking about activities before they happen, and later reminding the child how you discussed or talked about it before

Problem-solving
Figuring out how things work. Young children's curiosity and motivation to figure out how things work often lead them to discover or create their own "problems" to solve, such as, "How do I get my ball out from under the sofa?" or "How can I get these blocks to stay up?" 

You support parents in nurturing problem-solving by:

  • Assuring parents that young children get real satisfaction from solving problems by themselves if they can and with "just enough" help if they can't
    • You might say, "Let's watch for a minute. She's really working on it and doesn't seem frustrated."
  • Suggesting parents ask their toddler, "What else might work?" and offering an idea, if the child needs it

Persistence
The young child's ability to keep trying to do something even when she fails. You support parents in nurturing persistence by:

  • Helping them think of things to say to offer emotional support. For example, parents could use simple statements such as, "I can see how frustrating that is for you. You are really working hard to figure that out." Even very young children can understand and benefit from knowing that someone recognizes they are trying. Children who are trying are still learning something—even if they don't reach their goal!
  • Assisting parents to recognize their child's tolerance for frustration. Some children are frustrated with one failed attempt, while others seem able to persist no matter what. Sometimes it is harder for the adults to watch the child try and try and not succeed, reminding parents that we all learn from failures—even young children!

Experience It

Thumbnail of a video clipApproaches to Learning Video Clip 1
A child is playing in an unstructured experience with blocks. Although you don't see her, her mother is nearby observing but not actively engaged with the child. Notice how the home visitor in this group socialization enriches the child's play by following her lead while adding a social element. Listen carefully for the song near the end.

Reflections

What do you observe?

Answers may include:

  • Two children playing with blocks, side by side
  • Children do not look at each other
  • A child running her hands through the blocks and making something happen repeatedly
  • Momentary stacking, then dumping
  • The home visitor moves next to the child and begins to imitate her actions

How does the home visitor follow the baby's cues and then carry the learning a step further?

Answers may include:

  • Rather than starting something new, such as asking the child to stack blocks or put them away, the home visitor follows what child is doing and pushes blocks
  • Extends it to a back-and-forth social game; the home visitor takes a turn, then the child takes a turn
  • Continues until the child changes the activity and puts the blocks in the box; the home visitor follows, talks about "in"
    • Extends it further by naming colors, turning it into a song

What skills and behaviors in each developmental domain do you observe?

Answers may include:

  • Approaches to Learning
    • Curiosity and Information-gathering
      • Home visitor and child find many ways to explore the properties of the blocks
    • Imitation
      • By both the home visitor and the child when sweeping the blocks and putting them in the bin
    • Repetition
      • Both the home visitor and the child repeatedly sweep the blocks and then put them in the bin, with the home visitor chanting, "In the bucket"
    • Attention
      • The child watches the home visitor after a few seconds of the home visitor's imitating her
    • Persistence
      • The child stays with the blocks activity through several changes of focus, from dumping and sweeping to placing the blocks in the bin
  • Cognition 
    • The child is experimenting with cause and effect, moving the blocks in the bin and sweeping them
    • The home visitor names the colors and makes up a song about it; child briefly puts like colors in the bin
    • The home visitor calls attention to the concept of "in" the bucket
    • The child follows the lead of the home visitor in the game and takes the lead at other times
  • Social and Emotional Development
    • The child experiences an enjoyable interaction and relationship with the adult
    • The two engage in a back-and-forth game
    • The child is reading adult cues
  • Language and Literacy
    • The home visitor talks with child throughout the video clip
    • She provides words and repetition for experiences, such as the colors of what they are playing with and the concept of "in" the bucket
    • The home visitor makes a song out of the experience and the concepts in which they are engaged 
  • Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development 
    • Pushing
    • Dumping
    • Picking up
    • Dropping
    • Moving from hands and knees to sitting

Thumbnail of a video clipApproaches to Learning Video Clip 2
This video shows a toddler demonstrating several aspects of the Approaches to Learning developmental domain.

Reflections

What do you observe?

Answers may include:

  • The toddler puts her knee up on the sofa several times
  • She reaches to the back of the sofa, pulls first one pillow, then the other off of the sofa
  • She reaches to the back of the sofa and then grasps the remote control

What Approaches to Learning skills do you notice that you would want parents to join you in observing?

Answers may include:

  • Persistence
    • The toddler appears to have some goal in mind
    • She continues to try different methods until she is able to reach the remote control
  • Memory
    • The toddler locates the hidden remote control that she remembers was behind the pillows
  • Problem-solving
    • The toddler tries to climb on the sofa at first to reach the remote, then figures out that if she removes the pillows she can reach it

In what other developmental domains do you see the infant engaging?

Answers may include:

  • Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development
    • Pulling herself up to put one foot up on the sofa
    • Grasping objects with her hands (e.g., pillows, remote)
    • Lifting heavy objects and pillows
    • Visual tracking
    • Catching her balance when she begins to fall over
  • Cognition
    • Memory
      • Object permanence with regard to the remote
    • Exploring
      • Trying various methods to get the remote
  • Social and Emotional Development
    • The toddler shows confidence in pursuing her goal

What could you do to encourage parents to allow their child to explore so he or she develops approaches to learning?

Answers may include:

  • Compliment parents on their patience in allowing the child to explore and point out how this will help the child throughout life
  • Credit the parent for the child's persistence, curiosity, self-regulation, etc.
  • Encourage the parents to engage the child in everyday experiences that require her to challenge herself slightly
  • Help the parents child-proof the house so the child can explore freely and safely

Thumbnail of a video clipApproaches to Learning Video Clip 3
This video demonstrates Approaches to Learning for infants. See a 7-month-old just learning to crawl.

Reflections

What do you observe?

Answers may include:

  • The baby:
    • Pushes up on her hands and knees briefly several times, then goes back to her stomach
    • Looks up at the bottom of the chair, then reaches up and touches it
    • Vocalizes briefly on several occasions
    • Grasps the ring and briefly rubs it on the floor
    • Scoots backwards a short way

What Approaches to Learning skills do you notice that you would want parents to join you in observing?

Answers may include:

  • Persistence
    • The baby appears to be learning to crawl and is persistent in trying to move around under the chair for a long period of time
  • Curiosity
    • The baby examines the underside of the chair and the ring, both visually and with her hands
  • Problem-solving
    • She appears to be stuck under the chair and looks for various ways to get out; first by moving around, then by vocalizing, and finally by beginning to fuss

In what other developmental domains do you see the infant engaging?

Answers may include:

  • Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development
    • Pushing up on hands and knees
    • Grasping objects with her hands
    • Visual tracking
  • Language and Literacy
    • Vocalizing
  • Social and Emotional Development
    • Smiling
  • Cognition
    • Scraping ring on the floor
    • Exploring the bottom of the chair

What could you do to encourage parents to allow their child to explore so he or she further develops approaches to learning?

Answers may include:

  • Compliment parents on their patience in allowing the child to explore, and point out how this will help the child throughout life
  • Credit the parent for the child's persistence, curiosity, self-regulation, etc.
  • Encourage the parents to engage the child in everyday experiences that require her to challenge herself slightly

Learn More

Early Learning and School Readiness: Approaches to Learning Tip Sheet
Discover ideas providers can use to support families in building their child's curiosity, persistence, and problem-solving skills. These attributes all strongly influence children's development and learning.

News You Can Use: Early Experiences Build the Brain
We now know that when brain architecture has a strong foundation in the early years, infants and toddlers are more likely to be robust learners throughout their lives. Explore how the connections within the brain are created and made strong, the negative impact of chronic stress at an early age, and how caring adults can help even in difficult situations. This information may be useful to parents, families, teachers, home visitors, policy makers, and anyone who works with or for infants and toddlers.

Last Updated: June 11, 2019