The Early Learning Matters (ELM) Curriculum is a comprehensive, evidence-informed program to support the optimal learning and development of children from birth to five years of age. The curriculum promotes skills linked to school readiness and life success with developmentally appropriate teaching strategies and a coordinated mix of staff-guided and child-initiated learning experiences.

Intentional, Meaningful, and Plentiful

Experiences that help children move forward in their development and learning do not happen by chance alone. ELM focuses on early childhood skills that matter. Activities for children are intentional in the content, sequence, and approaches to providing a solid foundation for success in school and life.

Each ELM activity includes flexibility for ensuring children engage in meaningful learning that is tailored to their understandings and abilities. ELM views classroom staff as experts in adapting learning experiences to meet individual children's needs and interests. The curriculum offers many resources to help staff emphasize challenging and achievable goals for all children.

The ELM Curriculum is plentiful in the amount and quality of its support for skills that bolster positive outcomes. Activities build on the power of frequent and varied experiences with emerging skills. ELM is also plentiful in the range of practical supports offered to staff, trainers, and program managers.


At the heart of the ELM Curriculum are 50 weeks of activity plans that build on children’s pathways of development in five infant/toddler areas and eight preschool areas. The activity plans promote skills that research shows are the building blocks of positive short- and long-term outcomes.

The comprehensive curriculum includes areas, such as self-regulation, that studies in the past decade show are central to well-being. Activity plans are based on active learning strategies that foster specific skills. For example, activities help children learn ways to calm down after a stimulating experience and to pay attention to details while exploring objects and engaging in actions, such as yoga.

The sequenced activity plans give careful attention to differences in children’s abilities and interests. All infant/toddler activity plans and many preschool-age activities offer different options for meeting children where they are developmentally. Each plan suggests scaffolding tips that staff may use to provide a child with extra support or challenge in engaging in an activity.

ELM also offers a series of guides for observing and assessing children’s progress in different developmental areas. Each guide describes a range of follow-up learning activities for staff to consider in providing individualized support for a child’s continued development and learning.

ELM’s activity plans offer detailed examples of high-quality implementation of an activity. The plans are designed for early childhood staff who are new to the field as well as professionals with many years of experience.

The plans support learning in flexible one-to-one and group configurations. More information about activity plans and ELM’s approach to tailoring children’s learning experiences may be found in the sections for infants/toddlers and preschool-age children.

ELM’s Development

ELM was developed by a team of early childhood experts led by Distinguished Professor Douglas Powell. This work occurred in Purdue University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies for the Department of Defense Child Development Program as part of the DoD-USDA Partnership for Military Families.

ELM is based on results of rigorous research, standards established by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and consultations with nationally recognized early childhood experts. Extensive review of outcome research was conducted to answer two questions: What early childhood skills are linked to later positive outcomes, particularly indicators of school readiness? What early childhood classroom practices significantly support the development of early childhood skills linked to later positive outcomes for children? Experts in the care and education of young children and a range of stakeholders were consulted throughout the development of the curriculum.

Leading early childhood specialists served as content experts in the development of the curriculum. Curriculum specialists developed detailed drafts of learning activity plans that were reviewed by content experts. An extensive pilot testing was conducted in military child development centers and in-depth reviews of curriculum resources were conducted by prominent early childhood experts and program leaders to ensure resources were developmentally appropriate and practical.

The ELM Curriculum is available for use by any program of early care and education. The curriculum is available free of charge at www.virtuallabschool.org/elm-curriculum. Questions about the ELM Curriculum may be sent to: elmcurriculum@purdue.edu