School Readiness

Approaches to Learning

Approaches to Learning

Approaches to Learning focuses on how children learn. It refers to the skills and behaviors that children use to engage in learning.

woman and children playing with clay

The Approaches to Learning domain incorporates emotional, behavioral, and cognitive self-regulation under a single umbrella to guide teaching practices that support the development of these skills. This domain also includes initiative, curiosity, and creativity. Supporting children's skills in this domain helps children acquire knowledge, learn new skills, and set and achieve goals. They learn to successfully navigate learning experiences that are challenging, frustrating, or simply take time to accomplish. How children engage in learning influences development in all domains and directly contributes to success in school.

An important part of becoming a successful learner is developing the ability to self-regulate in a variety of situations. In infancy, self-regulation occurs within the context of consistent, responsive relationships. In the next few years, the child becomes a more active agent, though adults still provide guidance. Children draw on emotional and behavioral self-regulation skills in many ways. They develop different coping strategies to manage feelings when playing with other children and when following classroom rules. This growing ability for children to manage emotions and behavior allows for more positive engagement in learning activities.

Children also develop cognitive self-regulation skills—often referred to as executive functioning. These skills include sustained attention, impulse control, and flexibility in thinking. Another related skill is working memory, the ability to hold information and manipulate it to perform tasks. Executive functioning skills are present in rudimentary form during the infant and toddler years and develop even more in the preschool years. For example, children become increasingly able to rely on their memory to recount past experiences in detail and follow multi-step directions. Whether climbing onto a couch to retrieve a toy, building increasingly elaborate block structures, or deciding on the roles in pretend play, young children draw upon their curiosity, persistence, and creativity to gather information and solve problems.

Many factors influence how children approach learning. Some children seem to be born risk takers who are eager to try something new, while others prefer to observe for a while. As children with disabilities learn how to learn, they may require more individualized instruction and accommodations to aid with sustained attention or regulation of feelings.

Young children who are dual language learners (DLLs) may develop increased flexibility in thinking, working memory, and sustained attention as they learn multiple languages.