Early Learning Standards

4Nearly every state has established standards for what must be taught and assessed in young children birth to 5 years of age. State ECE agencies or state departments of education typically oversee curricula and educational programs provided to ECE facilities, especially state-administered ECE programs, to prepare young children for entry to school.


As state agencies create new or revise existing early learning standards, explore opportunities to include early learning standards that explicitly support healthy nutrition and physical activity.



  1. Include specific nutrition and physical activity standards in state early learning standards.
  2. Use guidance materials to show ECE providers how a variety of state early learning standards can be met using activities focused on nutrition and physical activity topics.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), early learning standards should:1

  • Emphasize developmentally appropriate content and outcomes;
  • Be developed and reviewed through an informed and inclusive process;
  • Consider effectiveness and assessment practices to evaluate support for children’s development in ethical, appropriate ways; and
  • Provide support for early childhood programs, professionals, and families.

As state agencies create new or revise existing early learning standards, opportunities exist to emphasize nutrition, breastfeeding, physical activity, and screen time.

State Example: Delaware

Delaware’s (DE) early learning standards, referred to as foundations, integrate nutrition and physical activity requirements into their infant/toddler and preschool standards. The early learning foundations (ELFs) are the guidelines for curriculum and activities that must be followed by all licensed early childhood programs including state-funded pre-kindergarten and federally funded Head Start programs. In the section for physical development and health, each set of standards emphasizes:

  • Gross motor activity to increase strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, stamina, and control;
  • Reduced screen time;
  • Healthy lifestyle practices; and
  • Knowledge and respect for their bodies.

How It Came About

Revisions to the ELFs were one piece of a multicomponent approach for obesity prevention in ECE that was pursued by the DE Office of Child Care Licensing and the DE CACFP, with the support of Nemours Health and Prevention Services. Given that improved licensing and CACFP regulations were already being implemented, the ELFs team found little resistance to adding consistent wording to the early learning standards.


Focus groups were held with family ECE providers to review the revised ELFs before distributing them. A statewide training was developed and the obesity prevention content was integrated into the overall training. During the rollout of the new early learning standards, family ECE providers participated in the ELF training events. More than 87 trainings were offered throughout the state to administrators and providers. For more information on the standards, see here.

Lessons Learned

  • It is important to embed information about early learning standards as often as possible into general trainings for ECE staff to ensure that the message is heard often and consistently.
  • The ELFs team suggests connecting the early learning standards to the overall K–12 education system so there is consistency from birth to 18 years of age. It was critical to train all trainers of the early learning standards on the nutrition, physical activity and screen time material so they could also embed the message and information into other types of trainings. An alignment analysis was completed to ensure that there was a close and effective link between the preschool ELFs, the kindergarten grade level expectations, and the National Common Core State Standards for K-12 education.



  1. National Association for the Education of Young Children; National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. Early Learning Standards: Creating Conditions for Success. (Nov 2002). Available from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/position_statement.pdf.