Learning Environments and Curriculum

Breadcrumb trail:

About this Competency

This competency area focuses on the design of the early education learning environment in centers and family child care homes. It also covers the interactions and experiences that are intended to facilitate learning and development for all children. Support for children’s learning builds on their strengths, incorporates multiple approaches to learning, and reflects their cultural and linguistic experiences. In early education settings, the social–emotional climate is a critical aspect of the learning environment for children, and curriculum includes personal-care routines, consistent schedules, transitions between the home and program or from one activity to another, and the transition from infant/toddler programs to prekindergarten to kindergarten. These components do more than provide a predictable backdrop against which learning takes place; the ways in which adults structure these events and interact with children form the content of learning. Therefore, this competency area is closely linked with the Relationships, Interactions, and Guidance and the Observation, Screening, Assessment, and Documentation competency areas.

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Watch the Video Overview for this Competency

California Early Childhood Educator Competencies

California Early Childhood Educator Competencies Wheel

Framing Questions

Framing questions identify some of the major themes in this competency. They provide you with a starting point. As you explore this competency, add your own framing questions for issues you want to further examine.

  • How do you discover what children have to teach you about curriculum?
  • How do you make curriculum meaningful and culturally relevant?
  • How can you redefine "school readiness" to mean full engagement and learning about learning?
  • What is the role of the physical and social-emotional environments in facilitating complex play, engaged learning, discovery, and deepening relationships?


Keep these dispositions in mind as you explore the Framing Questions. If you mindfully adopt these dispositions, you will realize the Desired Outcomes for Practitioners and for Children.

  • Values each child's and family's contribution to the learning environment.
  • Respects every child as an individual.
  • Values play as fundamental for positive interactions, learning, and development in all domains.
  • Values social and emotional experiences as components of learning.
  • Values the importance of using knowledge of child development and learning when creating, planning, and implementing appropriate learning experiences.
  • Recognizes the value of unexpected learning opportunities as teachable moments.
  • Values learning through exposure to nature.

Desired Outcomes for practitioners

If I have these dispositions, then I will…

  • see myself as deserving time in the workday to reflect and plan.
  • redefine "school readiness" to mean learning about learning rather than a set of discrete tasks.
  • create environments full of opportunities for discovery and engagement.
  • realize that when the environment is my ally, I have time for observation.
  • experience wonder, joy, and discovery in my daily practice.
  • use curriculum and environment to support children's cultural competence.

Desired Outcomes for Children

If teachers and caregivers have these dispositions, then children will…

  • enjoy learning and be eager to participate.
  • feel like they belong and are important to others (including their languages and cultures).
  • have enough room, enough time, and interesting stuff to play with.
  • be eager to help others learn.
  • be brave and able to try new things.

Keys to Reflection and Inquiry

The CompSAT Keys to Reflection and Inquiry offer you a protocol to use in whatever setting you work as an early childhood educator. Learn how you can integrate the six Keys into your work. Select one of the Keys below to practice reflecting with questions related to the competency area of Learning Environments and Curriculum.


Choose from one of the Keys below to view additional information related to this Competency!

Build Your Portfolio

Document your story through photos.

Portfolio screenshot

In this portfolio segment, a teacher documents, through photos and a brief anecdote, how some of the children in her preschool group used a simple, everyday object — plastic Red Cups — as the building material to create complex mazes and structures. Often times, this type of readily available and inexpensive item can be overlooked in favor of pricey items from a catalog. What's in your environment?

View the Portfolio Sample

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