Approaches to Learning Framework icon

This document was developed before the release of the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework 2015 (HSELOF) [PDF, 9.2MB]. While information in this document is still valuable, the Office of Head Start (OHS) is in the process of updating materials to reflect the HSELOF 2015 to ensure they address the current needs of programs and reflect best practices and research. At this time, Getting Started [PDF, 703KB] provides initial guidance to programs in how to use the HSELOF.

Approaches to Learning refers to observable behaviors that indicate ways children become engaged in social interactions and learning experiences. Children's approaches to learning contribute to their success in school and influence their development and learning in all other domains. Children's ability to stay focused, interested, and engaged in activities supports a range of positive outcomes, including cognitive, language, and social and emotional development. It allows children to acquire new knowledge, learn new skills, and set and achieve goals for themselves. Many early learning experts view approaches to learning as one of the most important domains of early childhood development. In the domain of Approaches to Learning, programs need to ensure that children who are dual language learners can demonstrate their abilities, skills and knowledge in any language, including their home language.

Strategies to Encourage Initiative and Curiosity

  • Encourage children's natural inclination to ask questions and to wonder. Help them refine their questions and think of ways they might get answers.
  • Engage children in science and math experiences that start with asking questions, forming hypotheses or making guesses, collecting data, and drawing conclusions.
  • Help children who have difficulty making choices by limiting choices or helping them think through their options.
  • Read or write stories in which children change or make up their own endings.
  • Play games that build on and extend children's curiosity, such as, "I Spy" or "Mystery Bag."
  • Be flexible enough to change plans if children initiate a more interesting idea or experience.

Domain Element: Initiative & Curiosity

Title of Resource Type of Resource Notes
I'm Just Blowing Bubbles [PDF, 69.78KB] Guided Practice Teaching teams can consider how a photograph can capture evidence of many of the child outcomes.
The Joy of Learning: Effective Curriculum & Assessment for Young Children [PDF, 202.34KB] PowerPoint Education managers and T/TA providers can review the importance of promoting children's independent learning and use the information to create professional development experiences for teaching staff.
I'm a Big Kid Now [PDF, 78.17KB] Guided Practice From this description of observations, teaching teams can review evidence of a child's initiative and curiosity and recommendations of what to offer next.
Why Children's Dispositions Should Matter to All Teachers Article Teaching teams can use the examples to help strengthen children's independence, creativity, motivation, and resilience.
Science in the Preschool Classroom: Capitalizing on Children's Fascination with the Everyday World to Foster Language and Literacy Development [PDF, 419.33KB] Article Teaching teams can learn from this article to expect that children come with curiosity and interest in the world around them; and that effective science experiences can respond to this sense of wonder children bring.

Strategies to Promote Persistence and Attentiveness

  • Play games in which children must listen carefully and follow more than one direction, such as "Simon says, stand on one foot and touch your nose."
  • Assign children important, necessary tasks that involve following multiple-step directions: "Take your coat off, hang it in the cubby, and pick out a book to enjoy."
  • When children quit or give up too easily, gently encourage them by saying, "Try one more time" or "Think of something else you could try."
  • Gradually lengthen the time children are expected to remain engaged in activities or experiences; for instance, read longer stories to extend children's attention span.
  • Engage children in prior planning of their own and remind them of their plans as needed: "What was it you planned to do today? Are you finished?"
  • Provide ways for children to revisit and reflect on their experiences and learning.

Domain Element: Persistence & Attentiveness

Title of Resource Type of Resource Notes
Why Children's Dispositions Should Matter to All Teachers Article Teaching teams can learn how classroom practices and environments can support children developing positive dispositions to learning.
All Newts are Good Newts [PDF, 44.92KB] Guided Practice Teaching teams can learn that through observations, they can determine a child's initiative, persistence, and focus on a learning task.
Sharing Stories [PDF, 89.54KB] Guided Practice Teaching teams can learn that careful observation provides opportunities to assess children's persistence and interest in learning experiences.
I'm Just Blowing Bubbles [PDF, 69.78KB] Guided Practice Teaching teams can review photo documentation of a child's experience in blowing bubbles. Interpretation of what this experience might say about a child's persistence and recommendations for next steps are explored.

Strategies to Help Children Develop Cooperation

  • Provide time, materials, and support for children to engage in many kinds of play — including block play, dramatic play, simple games, and rough and tumble play.
  • Take a role in children's play as needed without becoming intrusive or taking over. Observe, provide props or a theme, and play with children who need extra help becoming successful players.
  • Become a patient in the doctor's office or a customer in the store. Withdraw from the play as soon as possible so it becomes the children's own.
  • Model the language of cooperation for children — "I would like to have a turn" or "May I play in your car?"
  • Coach individual children who need help playing cooperatively with others. Give the child specific words to say or strategies for entering a play situation, demonstrating how to share a toy or how to take on a role.
  • Engage children in group discussions and role play how to resolve conflicts or negotiate social problems before they arise.
  • Read books that include conflicts or problems requiring cooperation. Ask children to predict what will happen in advance, or after reading, ask them to provide alternative solutions.
  • Play turn-taking games in small groups, modeling and encouraging cooperation with others.
  • Plan projects or play experiences where two or more children must collaborate together.

Domain Element: Cooperation

Title of Resource Type of Resource Notes
Accommodating All Children in the Early Childhood Classroom Article Teaching teams can explore how different instructional groupings can foster cooperation and inclusion of children with various abilities.
Play [PDF, 459.59KB] Article Teaching teams can explore the importance of play in building social relationships and learning about the world.
News You Can Use: Play Article Teaching teams can review the benefits of play to every aspect of child development and understand that play is foundational to learning and mastering positive interactions, such as cooperation.
Positive Behavioral Support: An Individualized Approach for Addressing Challenging Behavior Article Teaching teams can use this method to design interventions that support children's development of cooperation with adults and peers.

References for Evidence-Based Practice for the Approaches to Learning Domain of the 2010 Early Learning Framework

The body of research that focuses on early education intervention as a key contributor to children's school readiness and successful achievement has grown significantly since the creation of Head Start in 1965. In order to highlight the significance of this research across the outcome domains of the Early Learning Framework, we include a variety of references that describe various levels of evidence in the research base. Specifically we include levels of evidence that support the scientific believability of approaches, strategies, instructional practices, and outcomes. These levels of evidence include results of large scale research studies, documentation of evidence-informed practices, and/or replicable practices that effect children's progress toward outcomes, or may hold merit for future research.

Approaches to Learning

Bowman, B., Donovan, S. & Burns, M.S. (Eds.) (2001).  Eager to learn: Educating our preschoolers. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Kamii, C. How Young Children Learn to Think: Piaget's Theory [Television Broadcast]. Columbia, South Carolina: South Carolina Educational Television.

Katz, L.G., & J.H. Helm. 2001. Young investigators: The project approach in early years. New York: Teachers College Press; and Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Initiative & Curiosity

Lewin-Benham, A. (2006). One Teacher, 20 Preschoolers, and a Goldfish: Environmental Awareness, Emergent Curriculum, and Documentation. Young Children, 61 (2).

Jablon, J.R., & Wilkinson, M. (2006). Using engagement strategies to facilitate children's learning and success. Young Children, 61 (2), 12–16.

National Science Foundation, (2001). Inquiry: Thoughts, views, and strategies for the K–5 classroom, Vol. 2 of Foundations: A Monograph for Professionals in Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education. Washington, DC: National Science Foundation.

Ogu, U. & Schmidt, S.R. (2009). Investigating rocks and sand: addressing multiple learning styles through an inquiry-based approach. Young Children, 64 (2), 1-9.

Seitz, H.J. (2006).The Plan: Building on Children's Interests. Young Children, 61(2), 1-5.

Stuber, G.M. (2007). Of Primary Interest. Centering your classroom: Setting the stage for engaged learners. Young Children, 62 (4), 58–59.

Persistence & Attentiveness

Epstein, A. (2003).  How planning and reflection develop young children's thinking skills. Young Children, 58(5).

Helm, J.H., & Katz, L. (2001). Young investigators: The project approach in the early years. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Katz, L. G. (2011) Why Dispositions Should Matter to all Teachers.


Bodrova, E. & Leong, D.J.(2003). Chopsticks and Counting Sticks: Do Play and Foundational Skills Need to Compete for the Teacher's Attention in an Early Childhood Classroom? Young Children, 58(3).

Cartwright, S. (1995, May). Block play: Experiences in cooperative learning and living. Child Care Information Exchange, 30–41.

Hirsch, E.S. (Ed.) (1996). The block book. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Lau, P. N. (2009). The effects of cooperative learning on preschoolers' mathematics problem solving abilities. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 72(3), 307–324.

Last Reviewed: June 2015

Last Updated: June 19, 2015