Early Childhood

Welcome to the Central Rivers AEA Early Childhood website! Our goal is to partner with educators, communities, and families who impact the lives of young children.

“There are approximately 2,000 days from when a child is born until she or he enters kindergarten. Nearly 90% of brain growth occurs during these 2,000 days, making this time period one of the most critical for learning .” (Brown & Jernigan, 2012)

“When adults, know what young children need to learn during these 2,000 days, they can create appropriate situations, build healthy attachments, and provide experiences to support and nurture the best development by each child.” –Iowa Early Learning Standards, 3rd Ed., p. 8

2023-2024 Course Offerings

Course Offering PDF

Quick Links for Early Childhood Information

Authentic Assessments in Early Childhood

Captures how a child uses his or her skills while engaging with materials, teachers, parents and peers. Authentic assessment involves the teacher as an observer and a researcher – working from a background of solid education and specialized training, collecting data over time, selecting and organizing evidence (the portfolio), preparing a hypothesis that can be tested (the curriculum), sharing conclusions with parents and others to refine what will work best in guiding a child to develop to his or her potential, and developing lesson plans that will help students individually progress toward meeting learning expectations.

Teaching Strategies GOLD

Teaching Strategies GOLD is an authentic, ongoing assessment tool that can be used with any developmentally appropriate early childhood curriculum from birth through kindergarten. It is based on 38 research-based objectives, divided among 4 developmental domains and 6 content areas (including English Language Acquisition). The objectives are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, the Iowa Early Learning Standards, and the Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework. It is not designed to be a screening instrument, rather it provides a broad picture of the development of the whole child. Authentic information is gathered throughout the year from a variety of sources including teachers, family members and specialists who might be working with the child. Both print and online versions of this assessment are available.

The Iowa Department of Education requires that all children served in preschools funded through the State-Wide Voluntary Preschool Program (SWVPP), regardless of age, be assessed using the GOLD Objectives for Development and Learning. Most Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Iowa also utilize GOLD for the assessment of young children. Any preschool or childcare center in Iowa can take advantage of the State of Iowa’s discounted rate for the GOLD online system. Teachers and childcare providers who are interested in using the GOLD online system should begin at the Iowa Department of Education. See an overview of the GOLD system from Teaching Strategies; further information and support in the use of the GOLD online assessment system can be provided by your area Central Rivers AEA Early Childhood Consultant.

Assessment, Evaluation, and Programming System for Infants and Children (AEPS)

The AEPS is a comprehensive system that ties together assessment, goal development, intervention, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation. The results of the evaluation provide educationally relevant, meaningful and functional information that can be used to formulate developmentally appropriate goals/outcomes and objectives/benchmarks for children. It is particularly helpful in the assessment of young children with significant disabilities. The following areas may be assessed (although it is not necessary to assess all areas of development):  fine motor, gross motor, adaptive behaviors, cognitive, social-communication, and social. This is not a norm-referenced or standardized assessment, so IQ or other standardized scores cannot be obtained. Many Central Rivers AEA Early Childhood Collaborators have been trained in the AEPS and can administer the assessment as needed and/or assist in the interpretation of the instrument. An online scoring and interpretation tool, the AEPS, is also available. Further information can be found on the AEPS website. An updated version of the AEPS is set to be released in the Fall of 2020.

Screening Instruments

Screening involves brief assessments that are valid, reliable, and evidence-based. They may screen broadly for developmental concerns in younger children or may screen for more specific areas (such as literacy). Screenings are conducted with all children or targeted groups of children to identify children who may be at risk of developmental delays or future academic challenges. These children are likely to need additional or alternative forms of instruction and/or support to supplement what is typically found in the natural environment or in the conventional general education setting.

Why It Is Important

Screening detects possible developmental delays in children — and celebrates milestones. Screening young children is an effective, efficient way for professionals to gauge developmental progress and determine meaningful next steps—at a time when action can have its greatest impact: during a child’s earliest years of life. In fact, intervention prior to kindergarten has huge academic, social, and economic benefits. Studies have shown that children who receive early intervention for developmental delays are more likely to graduate from high school, hold jobs, and live independently, becoming future-ready. Similarly, the earlier possible academic difficulties are discerned in school-age children, the more positive the outcomes, especially in relation to literacy.

Early Literacy

The development of Early Literacy and Numeracy begins at birth. Families and caregivers start children on the road by interacting with children and talking about the world around them. A rich play environment encourages the development of literacy and numeracy skills. It is important for caregivers and teachers to focus not only on how we talk to children and read to them but also on having in-depth discussions about what is read and the mathematical relationships in the world around them.

Early Literacy

Literacy is comprised of skills in the areas of reading, writing, speaking, and listeningEmergent literacy refers to the set of skills that infants, toddlers and preschoolers should develop so that they may enter kindergarten ready to learn to read. In Iowa, those skills are defined in the Iowa Early Learning Standards (and assessed using Teaching Strategies GOLD). In Iowa, Early Literacy refers to the set of skills that kindergarten through third-grade children must master in order to become proficient readers and communicators by the end of third grade. These skills are defined in the Iowa CORE Standards for Reading Language Arts (RLA). The Iowa Reading Research Center contains information for parents and teachers about best practices in the area of literacy development for young children.

The emergence of literacy begins in infancy when caring adults engage children in verbal interactions and shared book experiences. It continues into toddlerhood when adults and children explore their favorite nursery rhymes and songs and adults talk to children on a daily basis about their play activities and routines. During the preschool years (3 to 5-year-olds), adults continue to support language skills by talking with children about current and past events and helping them to think about favorite stories that are read to them. As adults read to children, the children develop alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness and emergent writing skills.

More Information Typical Emergent Literacy Skills

According to the Iowa Early Learning Standards, typically developing infants and toddlers will:

  • Explore or show interest in books by picking them up, mouthing them, carrying them or flipping through pages.
  • Focus on the book or the reader when hearing stories read to him/her.
  • Gaze at or point to pictures in books.
  • Respond to or engage in songs, rhyming games or fingerplays.

They will also grasp and/or manipulate a variety of objects in his/her environment. In addition, toddlers will:

  • Point to, label, and/or talk about objects, events or people within books.
  • Enjoy and repeat songs, rhymes, or fingerplays.
  • Answer simple questions related to books.

They will also scribble spontaneously, usually using a fist grip. Typically developing Preschoolers (children 3 to 5) will:

  • Express an interest and enjoyment in listening to books and attempt to read familiar books.
  • Display book-handling knowledge.
  • Show an awareness of environmental print such as pointing to familiar words or letters.
  • Identify some alphabet letters by their shapes, especially those in his or her name.
  • Recognize the printed form of his or her name in a variety of contexts.
  • Show increasing comprehension of a story through retelling the story and/or recognizing story elements such as the plot or characters.
  • Demonstrate awareness that language is made up of words, parts of words, and sounds in words.

They will also attempt to communicate with others using scribbles, shapes, pictures, and/or letters in writing; experiment with a variety of writing tools; use expressive language to share the intended meaning of drawings and writings; and start to demonstrate an interest in learning to write letters, especially the letters in his/her name.

This Literacy Milestones chart provides a summary of what your child should be doing in the early years of literacy development. It also provides suggestions for types of books you might have available for your child and what you can do to support early literacy development.

Resources for Families & Caregivers

These easy-to-read articles focus on things that families can do every day to improve emergent literacy skills.

  • Building Literacy Every Day
  • Sometimes it is helpful to have some specific suggestions for books that might interest your child. Reach Out and Read offers suggestions for children birth to age 5.
  • The Center for Early Literacy Learning offers a multitude of suggestions for activities that families can do with their infants, toddlers or preschoolers in order to facilitate literacy development. Each practice includes a modification for children with a variety of disabilities.
  • Prairie Lakes AEA has created “Texting for Tots”. Once you sign up, you will be sent 3 text messages per week with ideas for how you can facilitate your child’s learning. Tips are currently available for children 18 months to 3 years, with messages for 3 to 5-year-olds coming during the summer of 2015. In order to subscribe, parents text: “@textingfo” to 81010 and follow the directions to download the app to their phone or tablet.
  • Understanding Beginning Writing Skills in Preschoolers – Families will find helpful information in regard to beginning writing skills.

Resources for Teachers

Early Literacy builds upon the skills which children bring from their preschool years. Children begin in kindergarten by identifying letters and their sounds and simple words in connected text. They are supported in their efforts to read and write independently, as well as to communicate with their peers. As they progress through the early elementary grades children become more independent as they approach literacy tasks. As fluent readers, they can access knowledge, think deeply about concepts and ideas, record ideas and communicate ideas with others.

  • Laura Justice and Michigan (Essential Learning Practices)
  • Teachers will find this information helpful in planning a literacy-rich curriculum for preschoolers.
  • Teachers may find helpful information in regard to emergent writing skills.
  • The Center for Early Literacy Learning offers ideas for classroom teachers and in-home teachers to improve the literacy environments of the young children for whom they are responsible.

Early Numeracy

Early numeracy represents a collection of skills that begin to develop during the pre-kindergarten years and continue through adulthood. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM, 2000) specifies that these skills include numbers and operations, such as one-to-one correspondence, and operational problem solving; geometry, such as understanding shapes, directions, locations and relations between them; measurement, such as quantity comparison and defining how much of something occurs; patterns and algebra, such as relations between units; and data analysis and classification such as sorting and using information to answer questions. Children must also develop a set of important thinking and reasoning skills. These skills include problem-solving, reasoning, communication, connections and representation. Both these content and process skills are reflected in the Iowa Early Learning Standards, Teaching Strategies GOLD and the Iowa CORE for mathematics.

Data Analysis & Classification

Involves activities such as sorting and graphing and leads to children using the information to answer questions. What can families and caregivers do to develop these skills?

  • Families and caregivers can provide infants and toddlers (who can sort by one characteristic) opportunities to “clean up”, placing all of the cars in one bucket and all of the dinosaurs in another bucket.
  • Preschoolers can be asked to sort toys, clothes or shoes into two groups based on a common attribute; they can organize grocery items into categories (cereal, dairy, meats, etc). Children can be assisted to make simple bar graphs indicating “how many” of a variety of objects they find in the house or on a walk or even while watching a tv program.
  • Families of children in the early elementary years can ask children questions about their graphic representations, including:
    • Which category has the most?
    • Which has the fewest?
    • Are any the same?
    • Is there any other way we can show this?
    • I wonder why it’s like this.

Geometry & Spatial Sense

Includes such skills as understanding shapes, directions, locations and relations between them. What can families and caregivers do to encourage the development of these skills?

  • Families and caregivers of infants and toddlers can help children notice characteristics of objects such as size, shape and color by using descriptive language as they talk and play with the children.
  • Families and caregivers can help by providing opportunities to complete puzzles and block structures, using geometric vocabulary (including two and three-dimensional shapes) when describing the child’s environment,  and giving directions using basic prepositional words (in, on, under, up, down, over, top, bottom, in front of and behind).
  • In the early elementary years, families should continue the above activities (adding prepositional words such as above, below, beside and next to). Using two and three-dimensional materials, encourage children to create unique objects by combining identified shapes and help them to identify shapes in their everyday environment.


Includes such skills as quantity comparison (more and less; -er, -est) and defining how much of something occurs (ways to measure length, weight, capacity, area and time). What can families and caregivers do to develop these skills?

  • Measurement is not a topic that most infants and toddlers are ready to develop.
  • Families and caregivers can help support preschoolers in this area by using measurement vocabulary and talking aloud as they make measurements around the house.  Encourage children to use everyday objects (such as a piece of string or yarn, blocks, coffee cups or nesting blocks, rocks or stones) in order to “measure” length, volume, or weight. Engage children in simple cooking activities, allowing them to help measure. Use time concepts and words in daily life (yesterday, today, tonight.)
  • In order to support children in the early elementary years, families can do all of the above. In addition, families can offer children opportunities to sequence objects according to size (such as lining up plastic cups, spoons, leaves from a nature walk and people in your family), using appropriate vocabulary for comparisons (big, bigger, biggest). Talk with your children about upcoming and past events using time concepts. Help children associate a given time  with an activity or event (“It’s 6:00, it’s time for supper.”)

Number & Operations

Includes skills such as one-to-one correspondence (which means pointing to objects and assigning a number as you count) and operational problem-solving (which means combining and taking away from sets of real objects). What can families and caregivers do to encourage the development of these skills?

  • Count with your infant and toddler throughout the day.  Perfect times for counting include snack and meal time (counting dishes, silverware, food items, napkins, etc); play time (counting toys); diapering and dressing times (counting fingers and toes, singing songs with numbers, counting clothing items in drawers).
  • Preschoolers can benefit from all of the above, plus: families and teachers can read counting books to them, practice counting one-to-one with them (for example, steps to climb, bounces of a ball, any common household items), encourage children to tell stories about “how many”, or to give you one more or take one away from a group of items.
  • In the early elementary years, families can continue to count meaningful items (objects to 100), count coins (nickels and dimes) by their value, and look at and read together price tags from ads and items in stores.  Families can also help children invent “number stories” with a variety of manipulatives (like teddy bears, dinosaurs and small collections) in order to practice joining and separating sets. Finally, as children progress in school, families can allot time each day to practice basic number facts.

Patterns & Algebra

Involves recognizing and understanding patterns in our everyday environment as well as within numbers. What families and caregivers can do to develop these skills?

  • Families and caregivers can help infants and toddlers recognize repeated units in songs (choruses) and predictable books (repeated language patterns). Point out patterns that are visually represented, such as stripes in shirts, colors of cars lined up, blocks, beads, etc.
  • Preschoolers can be helped to develop these skills by identifying patterns in clothing, tiles, books and behaviors. Once they have identified a pattern, ask them: “What comes next?” and “Why did you choose that?” Children are first ready to look at color patterns, then size and shape.
  • In the early elementary years, families can support the development of these skills by helping children learn to count to higher numbers by identifying repeating patterns, for example: “After 20 comes 21, 22, 23, etc up through 29. Then comes 30 and the pattern repeats.”

Early Numeracy Resources

Parent’s Guide to Students’ Success: A brief description of what your child will learn by the end of the school year and what you can do to help further this learning.

Board games:

  • Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, Dominoes, Dice games, Go-Fish, Bingo games, etc.

Computer Games:

  • OSMO is a new interactive play accessory for the iPad that transforms the device into a reader of sorts for physical interactions that occur in front of it. Games involving tangrams, words and Newton, a game of drawing using creative problem solving are part of the package.
  • Math Apps for the iPad – There are several math apps available, we caution you to take time to look through the apps you may download and make sure they are appropriate for the specific math standard you wish for your student to work on. Refer back to the Early Childhood Learning Standards and Iowa Core.
  • Coding games such as Bee-Bot, which you may use as an app or buy a bee-bot robot and use to code are increasingly popular among young learners. There are a variety of apps found on devices that can provide enjoyment for short periods of time for young children. Please use caution when selecting games and the amount of time your child is interacting on a device.

On-Demand Learning

Project-Based Learning in Early Childhood

Teachers will learn more about key project-based learning practices and the 7 project design elements from Buck Institute of Education’s PBL Works. In the end, teachers will learn how to plan and carry out a project for their early childhood classroom.

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Executive Function in Early Childhood: Why It Is Important (Part 1)

This five-minute video from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child gives an overview of the importance of teaching executive function. The executive functions are a set of neurologically-based skills that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. This overview video is the first “Executive Function in Early Childhood” series.

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Important Contacts

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