Home Visitor's Online Handbook

Early Child Development

Child development is a complex set of processes that include physical, social, psychological, and cognitive growth and learning. These skills occur in the domains of Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development, Approaches to Learning, Social and Emotional Development, Cognition, and Language and Literacy.

The Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF) describes the skills, behaviors, and knowledge that programs must foster in all children. It also provides a guide for the areas home visitors need to be very familiar with in order to do the job well. The ELOF is grounded in a comprehensive body of research about what young children should know and be able to do to succeed in school. It describes how children progress across key areas of learning and development and specifies learning outcomes in these areas. This information will help adults better understand what they should be doing to provide effective learning experiences that support important early learning outcomes.

The foundations for all of the domains are constructed prenatally and in the first five years of life. These early accomplishments are vital for success in school and in life. Your knowledge of child development will help you to observe the learning in a child's actions and interests. You can help parents appreciate the lifelong impact of the moments they are seeing in the first five years.

How To 

You support parents' understanding of early childhood development by knowing the domains and sub-domains of the ELOF and the child development activities in your program's home-based curriculum. You can also:

  • Catch the moments when a young infant is quiet and alert or when an older child is actively engaged in an experience and point out how well the child is able to pay attention and how basic a skill that is for school success
  • Describe what you see the parents do that supports the child engaging and maintaining interest, or coach them in what they could do
  • Point out when you see a child is using memory, when it is clear they remember how to do something from an earlier visit, where something is kept in the home, or how a skill learned earlier is applied to a new experience
  • Describe how memory allows us to build our knowledge so we aren't repeatedly discovering the same thing and how schools are organized on the assumption that children will remember earlier lessons and apply them to new material
  • Explain how each new motor skill is actually learned and practiced (e.g., walking requires a completely different set of skills than crawling)
    • Each new posture, use of the arms and hands, and method of locomotion gives the child a whole new way of understanding the world
    • By the time the child enters kindergarten, she will have enough control of her body to:
      • Participate in games
      • Use pencils, markers, paint brushes, and manipulative toys
      • Sit and listen for reasonable periods of time
  • Comment on the steady progression of language development, from responding to the earliest cries to encouraging the child to "tell me more about that dog"
  • Model and acknowledge the parents' use of descriptive and elaborative language
  • Encourage reading from the newborn period and model the skills to make reading a dialogue
    • Parents in Head Start and Early Head Start can provide the rich language and literacy experiences that are necessary for school success throughout the day in their home
  • Help the parents to recognize the abundance of opportunities for learning about the world and explain what the child is using from the materials in the home
  • Admire the parents' contributions when they help the child engage in using a toy, looking at a book, or participating in a household routine
  • Describe the learning you see taking place and how important it is for the child to be exposed to so many interesting experiences because children build a huge storehouse of knowledge about how people and things work in the world, which they bring to the kindergarten experience
  • Always express your respect for the importance of the parent-child relationship
    • Whenever possible, point out that this relationship helps the child:
      • Focus his attention
      • Feel safe to explore
      • Learn how to be with other people
      • Feel encouraged to try new motor skills
      • Find value in language and literacy
      • Learn about the people and things in the world
    • With this parent-child relationship firmly established by preschool, parents can encourage their children to be increasingly independent as they move toward school entry
  • Express respect for bilingualism and the parent and child's preference for English or their home language

Learn More 

Check out the following News You Can Use e-newsletters for more information:

Developmentally Appropriate Practice
Discover the meaning behind "developmentally appropriate practice (DAP)," a term often used when talking about working with infants and toddlers. Head Start, Early Head Start, and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs will find the real-life scenarios informative and enjoy a closer look at the foundational role relationships play in DAP.

Early Experiences Build the Brain
When brain architecture has a strong foundation in the early years, infants and toddlers are more likely to be robust learners throughout their lives. As part of the foundations of school readiness, we explore how the connections within the brain are created and made strong. Review 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.

Music in Child Development
Not only is music enjoyable for infants and toddlers, but it can also provide a connection to home, opportunities to learn, and a way to connect with caring adults. Find information that may be useful to teachers, home visitors, and parents about how music supports development across domains.

Outdoor Spaces
This News You Can Use is full of ideas about how to create outdoor spaces that are engaging for infants, toddlers, and their families. Early Head Start teachers and home visitors may use this resource to set up spaces for families using community resources such as parks, gardens, and nearby schools.

Supporting Early Math Learning for Infants and Toddlers
Infants and toddlers develop and refine math concepts and skills through everyday routines, experiences, and most important, caring interactions with trusted adults. Teachers, home visitors, family child care providers, and families all have an important role to play. Explore ways adults can be more intentional in how they support young children's math learning and school readiness.

Take It Inside
Going outside is one of the best ways to connect children with nature. However, sometimes bringing nature inside offers exciting experiences for infants and toddlers. Use this News You Can Use to spark creative ideas for natural items that can be used inside with young children.

Take It Outside
Teachers, home visitors, and parents will find supports for providing quality care for infants and toddlers. Learn about planning for time spent outside with infants and toddlers in your program.

Discover offers ideas for supporting the many kinds of transitions children and adults experience in Early Head Start.