Thoughtful Parenting: Guidelines for early learning and development

In the first few years of life, more than a million new neural connections form every second. These connections build the architecture of a child’s brain and lay the foundation for future learning, behavior, health, and success. While genetics create the brain’s blueprint, the neural connections are strengthened by use or severed by neglect. Without responsive or appropriate caregiving, the brain’s architecture doesn’t form as anticipated.

The State of Colorado has created an online video series based on Early Learning and Development Guidelines. The guidelines provide practical tips and points of reference to help parents and caregivers navigate children’s early years. They describe the trajectory of development during a child’s first eight years, rendering descriptions for what children are typically capable of knowing and doing.

The Colorado Early Learning and Developmental Guidelines are based on the following principles:

  • Nature and nurture affect development.
  • Culture influences every aspect of development.
  • Self-regulation is a cornerstone of early childhood development that crosses all behavioral domains.
  • Children are active participants in their own development, reflecting the intrinsic drive to explore and master one’s environment.
  • Human relationships are the building blocks of healthy development.
  • The range of differences among children makes it difficult to distinguish between normal variations, maturational delays, transient disorders and persistent impairments.
  • Development is characterized by continuities, discontinuities and transitions.
  • Development is shaped by the ongoing interplay of vulnerability and resilience.
  • Timing of early experiences matters; children are vulnerable to risks and open to protective influences.
  • Development can be altered by effective interventions that change the balance between risk and protection.

For kids up to age 3, the guidelines align with the Colorado Academic Standards for preschool and are separated into four age groups: birth to 4 months; 4 to 8 months; 9 to 18 months; and 19 to 36 months. The domains are: physical development and health; social development; emotional development; language and literacy development; cognitive development; and approaches to learning.

For kids age 3 to 5, content is categorized to help caregivers understand relevant topics and areas of ability, but knowledge and skills apply to a variety of domains and pertain to more than one area of learning. The domains shift to mirror the content areas of the Colorado Academic Standards for Kindergarten, reflecting heightened emphasis on academics while maintaining the importance of social, emotional, and cognitive development of the whole child.

The domains are: physical development and health; social and emotional development; English language development; language development; literacy knowledge and skills; logic and reasoning; mathematics knowledge and skills; science knowledge and skills; social studies knowledge and skills; creative arts expression; and approaches to learning.

For kids age 5 to 8, the guidelines help caregivers understand how children’s foundational skills and knowledge develop the capacity to meet more specific learning expectations in grade school. Colorado Academic Standards content areas for this level include: comprehensive health and physical education; world languages; reading; writing and communicating; mathematics; science; social studies; music; dance; visual arts; and drama.

Self-direction, information literacy, critical thinking and reasoning, invention, and collaboration are individual dispositions are habits also addressed at the grade K-3 level.

For more information and to download the guidelines, go to The website is also available in Spanish.

Deirdre Pepin is the resource development and public relations coordinator at Horizons Specialized Services. If you have questions about your child’s development, contact Lindsey Garey, Horizons’ early intervention coordinator, at 970-871-8558.



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