Domains of Learning and Development (CT ELDS)

The CT ELDS cover 8 domains of growth and development:

  1. Cognition
  2. Social and emotional development
  3. Physical development and health
  4. Language and literacy
  5. Creative arts
  6. Mathematics
  7. Science
  8. Social studies


Cognition is the process of learning and understanding new things. Children’s thinking and learning skills build throughout childhood and include: 

  • Memory
  • Reasoning
  • Problem-solving
  • Symbolic representation

Young children need active exploration to develop strong cognitive skills. Play, physical activity, and inquiry can make learning come alive, helping children absorb new information and gain new skills. 

Some active learning experiences include: 

  • Exploring objects through touch and play
  • Acting out new roles
  • Building structures to learn about geometric shapes or the properties of the building materials
  • Spending time outdoors to learn about specific science concepts
  • Actively solving problems 

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Social and emotional development

Learning to identify, express, and manage emotions helps children to develop healthy relationships. Early learning experiences should support children to: 

  • Develop trusting, healthy attachments and relationships with primary caregivers and peers
  • Build their self-regulation, improving skills like focus and patience
  • Learn methods to express, recognize, and respond to emotions
  • Develop self-awareness
  • Foster healthy social relationships

Children who are surrounded by calm, consistent, and caring adults feel more secure. And a child who feels safe is able to focus on learning because they trust that their needs will be met.

Adults can actively encourage social and emotional development of young children by:

  • Responding to an infant’s coos or cries, 
  • Cuddling, singing, feeding, or helping a child go to sleep
  • Showing interest in what children have to say or share with them
  • Responding with patience and kindness
  • Encouraging children to ask for help when they need it
  • Setting clear expectations that match a child’s abilities
  • Comforting a crying child with calm, positive tones and patience
  • Making eye contact and talking to children throughout the day

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Physical development and health 

Keeping young children active and healthy builds a strong foundation for learning and helps build healthy habits for life. There are many opportunities for adults to support physical health and development throughout the day. Areas of development include:

  • Self-care, like brushing teeth and washing hands
  • Using small and large muscles 
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Active play and exercise
  • Healthy sleep habits

Adults can help build healthy behaviors by having healthy behaviors themselves and by talking with children about taking care of their body. Active learning experiences include:

  • Dancing and moving to music
  • Allowing young children to feed themselves, with fingers or with a utensil
  • Playing follow-the-leader or other active games with a preschooler 
  • Following the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics for screen time 
  • Finding safe and interesting places to walk and talk 
  • Trying new and healthy foods with children
  • Building healthy routines such as brushing teeth every morning and night and washing hands before eating

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Language and literacy

Infants communicate with facial expressions, cooing, and crying. As children grow, they begin to understand and use language to communicate. Eventually, they begin to understand that pictures and words convey meaning. Key areas of development include:

  • Understanding language
  • Using language to communicate
  • Appreciating books
  • Drawing and beginning to write

Children learn to communicate and begin to develop early literacy skills when adults talk and read with them often. Adults can actively encourage this type of learning by:

  • Responding right away when an infant communicates by crying
  • Responding to babbling by using real words
  • Talking about what they’re doing and using new words
  • Reading out signs to a toddler or preschooler to show them that pictures and words having meaning 
  • Making a shopping list or using a recipe to cook to make writing come alive
  • Singing songs and reading books to children of all ages
  • Sharing books about things children are interested in

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Creative arts

Giving children a chance to create is a great way for them to express themselves, explore, and learn to problem-solve.

Creative Arts include both creating and responding to art such as music, visual arts (painting, sculpture), drama, and dance. 

The creative arts also support other areas of development including:

  • Social and emotional development – Children can relax, focus, feel successful, and express their feelings.
  • Language and literacy – The creative arts offer an active way of communicating. Children can also discuss their art and add words to it (on their own or by talking to an adult).
  • Cognitive – Children compare, predict, plan, and problem-solve when creating and responding to art.
  • Physical – Children use small motor skills to paint, write, glue, use clay, and make collages. They use large motor skills to create large sculptures or dance. 

Children benefit from exposure and practice in all types of art, including music, visual art (drawing, painting, sculpting), roleplay and open-ended play, dance, poetry, and more. Adults can actively encourage this type of learning by:

  • Listening to music, singing songs, and repeating rhymes 
  • Providing open-ended activities — like toy kitchens or blocks — to encourage pretend play
  • Looking at and talking about art with children — use descriptive words, talk about how the art makes you feel and what it makes you think of
  • Working with clay or play dough to help children strengthen their hands and express themselves through sculpture at the same time
  • Dancing to different types of music and moving your body fast or slow to draw attention to rhythm and tone
  • Reading wordless books with children and talking through the story together

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Children begin using early math skills at a young age. These skills can be supported throughout their daily routines and activities. The earliest signs that a child is beginning to understand numbers or quantity may be when they begin requesting “more” of something or share one item with a caregiver.

Here are some examples of math words to use with young children:

  • Number words — number words and word to compare such as more or fewer
  • Names of shapes — like square, circle, and cube
  • Position words — like next to, on, and under
  • Size words — like big, small, short, and tall

There are many opportunities for children to hear and practice new math words and begin to understand math concepts. The more adults talk about math, the more children learn about numbers, shapes, and sizes. Adults can actively encourage this type of learning by:

  • Talking about numbers: “I see you have 4 crackers for snack today” or “2 friends can use the blocks together.”
  • Playing games that involve finding different sized items: “Find me the long pencil” or “Which rug is smaller?” 
  • Trying games that involve different shapes and positions like “under” and “over”
  • Giving children words to describe shape, and as children get older, introducing words for 3-dimensional shapes, such as cube or sphere
  • Counting out servings of snacks or measuring ingredients for a recipe

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Children are born scientists. They begin to understand the world, other people, and themselves through active exploration and experimenting. To help children experience the wonder and joy of discovery, adults can show excitement and ask questions along with them. Effective teaching strategies include:

  • Encouraging hands-on exploration
  • Showing children how to observe and listen
  • Asking questions
  • Introducing words to describe or compare things
  • Talking about the process of exploring or experimenting
  • Talking about living things, motion, and the physical properties of items
  • Encouraging children to work together

When children are very young, their introduction to science is understanding what their body can do. As they get older, their interests expand to include the world around them. Adults can actively encourage this type of learning by:

  • Playing with clay, play dough, sand, and other materials so young children can experience different temperatures and texture. Use words to describe textures (rough, smooth, hard, soft, slippery, etc.) 
  • When a child asks a question, try asking them, “Why do you think that might be?” Encouraging curiosity and trying to come up with a hypothesis is an exercise for creative thinking. If you don’t know the answer, say so: “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
  • Model observing and wondering with children of all ages: “There’s a robin outside the window. I wonder if it’s looking for worms. What do you think the robin is doing when it hops on the ground?”

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Social studies

The focus of social studies is learning a sense of self and the surrounding world. Through social studies, children begin to understand their community and their place within it. Like science, social studies is taught by adults who encourage children to:

  • Notice, wonder, explore
  • Ask questions and make a plan to answer them
  • Collect information
  • Look for patterns and relationships

Adults can support children’s learning about themeselves and their community through books, stories, dramatic play, maps, and anything else that inspires questions and discussion. Adults can actively encourage this type of learning by:

  • Creating self-portraits or an “All About Me” poster
  • Reading books that reflect a variety of family structures, cultures, languages, and abilities
  • Treating the classroom as a community and creating a job chart so children take turns caring for the environment
  • Discussing how communities work together
  • Creating maps of the classroom, the neighborhood, etc.
  • Inviting children’s family members into the classroom to share about their jobs, language, or culture 
  • Visiting important community locations, like the library, grocery store, or a museum

Related resources:

Last updated March 22, 2021