Child development

Child development is the process by which children become able to handle more complex levels of moving, thinking, feeling, and relating to others. It is the cornerstone of our program.

At First Circle, we take care of children’s physical needs (food, bathroom, rest, and safety), while supporting each child’s development and learning. Understanding child development is an important part of teaching young children.

developmentally appropriate practice

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is a child-centered approach to teaching and learning that incorporates children’s developmental needs, interests, and abilities. As educators, we use DAP to support children’s holistic development and help them achieve their full potential. To implement DAP in the classroom, we:


Think about children as individuals and how they progress and grow at their own pace.


Allow children to construct their own knowledge and develop critical thinking skills. Active learning can include hands-on experiences, problem-solving activities, and open-ended questioning.


Acknowledge the unique abilities and strengths of each child, which can build self-esteem and confidence. Children who are confident are more likely to participate in learning activities and take risks in their learning.


Facilitate play activities that encourage children to work together and practice communication and problem-solving skills. Young children are developing their social skills and need opportunities to interact with their peers. Practice through play can lead to better social skills, improved emotional regulation, and increased empathy and understanding of others.


Take time to get to know and understand the children you work with through their culture, community, and family. This promotes inclusivity and equity by creating a classroom environment that values and respects all children and their backgrounds.


Provide open-ended activities that allow children to express themselves through art, music, and movement. Young children are naturally curious and creative.


Each child is born with a biologically based temperament. Their individual temperament guides their approach to people, experiences, objects, and events. It remains fairly constant over time (although the intensity of traits can be affected by experience).

By understanding children’s temperament, caregivers can help them express their preferences, desires, and feelings appropriately.

When we consider a child’s temperament, we look at where they stand on the continuum of 9 separate areas.

activity level

quiet ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ active

How much does the child need to move around? Can they sit still without wiggling?


biological rhythms

predictable ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ irregular

How regular are the child’s eating times, sleeping times, and bowel movements?



adapts quickly ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ adapts slowly

How quickly does the child adapt to changes in schedule, routine, new foods, new places?


approach withdrawal

approach ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ withdraw

How does the child usually respond to new people, new foods, new toys, new activities?


physical sensitivity

not sensitive ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ very sensitive

How sensitive is the child to noise or light level, temperature, touch, or movement?


intensity of reaction

mild reaction ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ intense reaction

How intense are the child’s reactions, positive or negative?



not distractible ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ very distractible

Is the child easily distracted, or is there intensity of focus that prevents them from being able to switch gears?



positive mood ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ negative mood

How much of the time does the child have a positive mood versus negative mood?



long attention ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ short attention

How long will the child persist with a difficult activity?


In general, a child will show certain behaviors for each trait. For example, one infant may be extremely active and have a need to move continually, while another may be happy to move slowly around the environment watching things. One toddler may try something over and over until they experience success, while another may try something once and give up if it does not work.

These 9 temperamental traits often appear grouped in 3 temperament types:

Some children have characteristics of more than one temperamental type. Understanding how an individual child expresses or experiences the 9 temperament traits will give you a deeper understanding of their unique needs and behavior than a specific style might.

classroom placement

age range

We partner with families to make the right classroom placement. Upon enrollment, infants and toddlers are placed based on their age and their developmental readiness. We discuss the child’s emotional, cognitive, and physical development with the family, make observations while the child is visiting for the first time, and gather information to determine if there are any additional needs or concerns that would influence classroom placement.

In Lexington and Framingham, children are enrolled in the preschool and pre-kindergarten classrooms according to kindergarten cut-off dates used by the local school systems in the area. In Stoughton, with 2 preschool classrooms instead of 3, we split the ages down the middle. Each educator should know the established age range for their classroom:


Per EEC regulations, children may be assigned to age groups outside their own based on a review of the child’s most recent progress report or a narrative from the child’s parent addressing their abilities in the areas of mobility, fine and gross motor control, communication, social interactions, and cognition. First Circle makes these decisions on a case-by-case basis, after considering the needs of the child and the classroom.

developmental goal

To enable children to derive maximum benefit from their time at First Circle, our curriculum is based on 52 developmentally appropriate learning objectives that include predictors of school success and are based on school readiness standards. The objectives align with state early learning guidelines. The full list of learning objectives with examples can be found in Learning Objectives with Examples, in the curriculum binder.

transition between classrooms

We have transition windows for infants and toddlers every other month. We transition children based on developmental criteria, age considerations, and family preferences, in that order. The transition process is routine to ensure the children are treated equally, but individualized and flexible to accommodate each child’s needs.

transition windows

We evaluate children throughout the year to assess their readiness for transition. We strive to transition children with their peers but are conscious that children develop at different rates. Every other month we evaluate children approaching the chronological age of the next classroom for developmental readiness [see Transition Process below].


For infants and toddlers, educators should use the readiness milestones to guide their decisions about transition into the next classroom. Those who are developmentally ready transition in small groups.


Children in the 3 preschool classrooms (except Stoughton) transition annually as a group in September and spend a full year in the Pre-K classroom, preparing them for the elementary school structure.


Entering kindergarten is one of the biggest transitions in a young child’s life. During the year in pre-kindergarten, teachers prepare children for this transition through the curriculum, social interactions, and daily routines. The pre-kindergarten curriculum is based on the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks to help every child achieve kindergarten readiness.

Some school systems send parents forms for their child’s pre-k teachers to complete. In addition to providing a reflection of the child’s readiness skills, they also give an opportunity to share information about personality, learning style, social development, individual personality, and temperament.

transition process

Assessing Children’s Readiness

About 6 weeks before the official transition date, each classroom receives a “Transition Notification Form” checklist with the names and birthdates of children old enough to transition. The transition decision is based on whether:


Upon receipt of the recommendation form, you should:

Partnering with Families

Transition can be a sensitive issue for parents. Communication with each family is key to success. Those moving to a new classroom are unsure of what they will find there, and those not transitioning sometimes feel their child has been “left out.”  Learn about families’ excitement or concerns ahead of time. Teaching teams in both classrooms are responsible for making families feel like partners in the process.

In preparing for transitions:


To assist families who do not want their child to transition from your room, be a good listener and hear their concerns. Focus your discussions on developmental cues and attempt to compromise with the family if necessary. Assure them we will assess their child’s adaptation and involve them in each step. Facilitate opportunities for the family to see their child in action in the classroom. Introduce the family to the teachers in the next classroom and encourage them to observe that group.

When a child transitions, both the new and old classroom teachers should reassure parents they’ll be watching the transition process carefully and supporting their child.

Collaboration among educators

Once we decide a child is ready to transition, we give parents a transition packet outlining the process with important dates and steps. They will be asked to authorize the exchange of information between educators in the 2 classrooms. After authorization, the 2 classrooms should meet to discuss all the transitioning children. This meeting should include:

Transition visits

We send parents of transitioning children information that outlines the process about a month before the scheduled transition date.

Children will visit the new classroom in increasing amounts over the 2 weeks before the transition. Some children may need more visits. Families may have scheduled absences during the visitation weeks, so please plan accordingly. Remember that available space in a classroom on any given day may depend upon the enrollment and staffing in several other classrooms.

Classroom teams are responsible for collaborating on how visits should happen. We will try to schedule extra staff during these times, if possible, but please be flexible and confirm with your coworkers that the plan for the day works for all. Sign the children in and out of your classroom’s attendance sheet for each visit. Write the name in if necessary. Whatever a child’s transition schedule, educators should inform parents daily about how the visits are going and answer any questions they have.

transition open houses

Classrooms should plan a Transition Open House for transitioning families before the first week of classroom visits. At the Open House, parents can meet the teachers and assistants in the next classroom, learn about the curriculum and activities there, and receive materials to assist them and their child during the process. This also offers a chance to reflect on the visits that have happened so far, discuss strategies, and get a sense of how families are feeling.

Staff attendance at the Transition Open House is crucial to the transition’s success. Here are guidelines for materials and information you should provide to parents at the Open House:


Assessment is the process of observing and documenting children’s development and learning over time. We know each child is an individual, with specific interests, skills, strengths, and their own developmental timetable. To measure and report children’s progress, we assess them to find out what they know and can do at any given point.

Educators evaluate each child’s strengths and needs to help them be successful. We do not test children. We observe what children do and say as they participate in activities in the classroom, and document those observations.

Assessment is closely linked to our learning objectives and curriculum. When assessing children, observe and nurture the skills and knowledge we want them to acquire in our program. Adjust the curriculum and instruction to meet each child’s learning needs.

progress reports

Throughout the year, parents receive regular feedback about their children’s learning and developmental progress. We are required by EEC to evaluate each toddler and preschool child every 6 months. For infants and diverse learners, we evaluate every 3 months. As part of the evaluation process, parents are invited to schedule a parent-teacher conference if they wish.

The daily sheets, conversations, and progress reports we use to communicate with families are records of their child’s growth and development. Often a child has issues that need to be addressed. More often, we are reporting progress.

Progress reports should not be used to vent or complain about a child’s annoying habits, but as a chance to outline the ways you support the child to learn appropriate interactions.

Communicate in a supportive manner to families. The following guidelines can help you decide the right words to use.

Sometimes you have already addressed an issue with a parent. Instead of rehashing, say, “Let’s meet again to discuss the progress Jose is making with his biting.”

  • demonstrates strong verbal skills
  • gets along well with others
  • likes to learn
  • enjoys new experiences
  • follows the rules
  • expresses his/her feelings
  • likes to take the lead
  • finds new ways to solve problems
  • contributes to discussions
  • helps
  • is outgoing
  • is creative
  • is blossoming
  • is enjoying…
  • will ask for help
  • has strong motor skills
  • is developing…skills
  • has adjusted well to
  • likes to be busy with….
  • perfect
  • cute
  • well-behaved
  • obedient
  • adorable
  • mild-mannered
  • smart
  • intelligent
  • good
  • delightful
  • active
  • can be sad when…
  • sometimes resists help with…
  • can find it difficult to…
  • has been working on/is still working on…
  • is still adjusting to…
  • needs encouragement to…
  • we encourage him/her to…
  • we remind her/him to…
  • sometimes struggles to…
  • moody
  • destructive
  • bad
  • aggressive
  • lazy
  • rude
  • disruptive
  • manipulative
  • pushy
  • never…
  • does not…well
  • can’t
  • won’t
  • bothers
  • antagonizes
  • headstrong
  • whiny
  • stubborn
  • possessive
  • fresh
  • nosy


Upon enrollment at First Circle, the assigned primary caregiver should start a journal for each infant and toddler, and a portfolio for each preschooler.

The primary caregiver contributes to each child’s journal or portfolio on a regular basis (at least monthly). Include information such as photos, anecdotes, and samples of children’s work. Please encourage infant and toddler families to bring the journal home and share information with us about their child’s home life. The information they provide can be used to have an ongoing conversation about the child’s learning experience. Although portfolios for preschool children do not go back and forth between home and school, you should plan and implement opportunities for parents to view and comment.

Each journal follows the child through the program from classroom to classroom until they reach preschool when it goes home for good. Portfolios are created in each Preschool classroom and go home at year end or when the child leaves the program. Children should have opportunities to contribute to their portfolio.


Parent-teacher conferences are scheduled as needed for infants and toddlers. Each preschool classroom chooses a specific date to offer short, 10-minute conferences that parents can sign up for. If requested or deemed necessary, the director may be included.

Parent/teacher meeting request forms are always available on our website. If a family indicates interest in meeting, please meet with the director beforehand to discuss the content of the meeting and determine whether Administration should be present. The director should schedule the conference so that it is convenient to everyone’s schedule.

diverse learners

Diverse Learners are children who, because of gender, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, differing ability levels, learning styles or disabilities, may have needs that require varied instructional strategies to help them learn.


The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University. The theory suggests that traditional ways of understanding intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, are too limited. Dr. Gardner said our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, but there are 6 other types of intelligences that get less attention in society but are equally important. The 8 types of intelligences are:

Our culture places a high value on people with strong language and logic skills. However, the theory of multiple intelligences helps us develop children who show gifts in the other intelligences: the future artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, mechanics, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live.

Being aware of multiple intelligences helps teachers present information multiple ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more. It helps all learners succeed.


Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers develop at different rates and patterns. Most children acquire skills during predictable time periods called developmental milestones. When children have not reached milestones by the expected time period, it can be due to a developmental delay or a developmental difference. Developmental delays and differences can occur in any of 5 areas (cognitive, social, emotional, speech and language, fine and gross motor).


Types of developmental delays/differences include:

Early identification/treatment

Early identification seeks to determine which children have developmental issues that may delay learning or place them at risk.

For some children, developmental differences and delays are temporary; for others, they may persist, making the child’s referral for evaluation important for their success in school. Currently, there are no clear ways to predict whether developmental delays or differences that appear in the early years may persist.

Research has shown earlier assistance to address a developmental delay or difference helps the child progress faster, and face fewer challenges to learning. Therefore, when a toddler or preschooler demonstrates early developmental difficulties, we don’t know if they may at risk for a learning disability or other developmental issue at an older age, but adopting a wait-and-see approach or hoping that the child will grow out of their problems is not in the child’s best interest.

Signs of developmental delays/differences [see Appendix]

When to intervene

Educators’ jobs are not to diagnose, but it is important that teachers be aware and act on signs of developmental delays/differences. You should take action if:

Getting a child help

The journey from identifying a child with developmental/behavioral concerns to implementing a treatment plan has multiple steps:

Step 1: Implement principles of universal design. [see Learning Environment section]

Step 2: Implement individualized accommodations and keep notes.

Step 3: Meet with family. Refer child for assessment if appropriate.

Step 4: Create a plan for support with family.

Steps occur as needed.

Steps 1 and 2: Universal Design and Individualized Interventions

All classrooms have principles of universal design and accommodations built into the classroom. Step 1 is in place.

If the teaching team has concerns about a child’s development, or if the child is experiencing social, physical, or behavioral difficulties in the classroom or in informal interactions with peers, the teaching team should:


Try This…
  • Paying attention
  • Give explanations in small, distinct steps
  • Provide visual backup to oral instructions (schedules)
  • Have child repeat directions
  • Look directly at child
  • Place hand on child’s shoulder
  • Ask for eye contact before giving instructions
  • Following directions
  • Use fewer words
  • Provide examples
  • Repeat
  • Have child repeat
  • Provide checklist in pictures
  • Use auditory and visual direction
  • Expressing themselves
  • Ask questions requiring short answers
  • Provide prompts/cues
  • Learning by listening
  • Provide visuals
  • Give explanations in small, distinct steps
  • Remove extra words
  • Provide schedules/routines in pictures
Step 3: Meet with family. Refer the child for assessment if appropriate

If individualized interventions and strategies fail, and the child continues to show delays and/or differences, the teaching team and director should meet with the parents to recommend further evaluation or special services and develop a referral plan. In the meeting, the parents should receive a written summary of the reason for referral, a summary of First Circle’s observations related to the referral, and any efforts the school has made to accommodate the child’s needs.

Communicating with Parents

Many families are open to seeking assessment and services by qualified professionals if warranted. However, some families may have difficulty hearing the information. They may deny a problem exists because they fear or feel threatened by its possibilities and consequences.

Family cooperation is crucial to helping a child address a developmental issue. Teachers must recognize and be sensitive to family responses, including cultural differences in viewing and addressing a disability, and provide appropriate support.