Section 3: Implementing High-Quality Instruction
Facilitating Children’s Learning: Instructional Strategies


Life in the 21st century is more complex than ever before and that we are living in a world that is increasingly technology oriented. This has implications for how young children today will learn and work in the future as well as how they will raise their families and participate in their communities. As mentioned above, the key skill sets identified by the National Education Association as skills children will need to navigate this 21st century world include critical thinking and problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and creativity, collectively referred to as the “The Four C’s.” These skillsets are fully compatible with Developmentally Appropriate Practice, Universal Design for Learning, RIDE’s focuses on play and equity, and they are integrated with children’s development and learning across the domains of the RIELDS. The intentional organization around the Four C’s:

Allows for direct alignment with the RIELDS domains as well as integration of RIDE’s focuses on play, and equity-based and culturally responsive teaching practices.
Enables us to incorporate examples that cross domains, for example, supporting children’s communication skills during a physical motor activity or supporting problem-solving during an art activity.
Includes teaching strategies that incorporate technology in the service of supporting children’s development and learning across the domains and their simultaneous development of the 4C skillsets. Note: Digital technology, including computers, tablets, smartphones, and other devices should only be used in the early childhood classroom to support planned and intentional goals for children’s development and learning. The emphasis should always be on children’s active use of these tools for a purpose and never involve children as passive consumers.
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Allows for direct alignment with the RIELDS domains as well as integration of RIDE’s focuses on play, and equity-based and culturally responsive teaching practices.
Enables us to incorporate examples that cross domains, for example, supporting children’s communication skills during a physical motor activity or supporting problem-solving during an art activity.
Includes teaching strategies that incorporate technology in the service of supporting children’s development and learning across the domains and their simultaneous development of the 4C skillsets. Note: Digital technology, including computers, tablets, smartphones, and other devices should only be used in the early childhood classroom to support planned and intentional goals for children’s development and learning. The emphasis should always be on children’s active use of these tools for a purpose and never involve children as passive consumers.
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Most importantly, The Four C’s should not be siloed; rather, these skill sets intersect and overlap with one another, and are best taught in an integrated way. As noted above, there are times when you will focus on teaching individual skills through educator-structured activities and games, however, as indicated throughout this document, integrated teaching is emphasized as it is most responsive to how young children learn.

To Learn More
Below are a variety of links to resources to learn more about The Four C’s and RIDE’s design of this section of the Framework aligning with this vision.

  • 21st Century Skills, Early Learning Framework This framework is a collaborative effort by members of Partnership for 21st Century Learning (established by the NEA in 2002) to define and describe 21st century skills and how they might be supported and observed with young children (18 months-6 years) in early learning environments. It incorporates The Four C’s (Critical Thinking and Problem-solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity) as well as a set of skills centered on social-emotional development and technology literacy.
  • Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society This white paper describes The Four C’s, why they are important skillsets for teaching and learning, and presents a discussion of each of the skillsets and how to support them across the curriculum and is applicable for all educators.
  • Daily Routines and Classroom Transitions This landing page provides a variety of resources that support daily routines and transitions in the classroom..
  • The Importance of Building 21st Century Skills in Young Children This tip sheet shares skills and strategies to support children’s growth and development of 21st Century Skills across The Four C’s – Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Communication.
  • Introduction to the 4 C’s This video provides an overview of The Four C’s of 21st learning as described in the NEA’s publication “Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society: An Educator’s Guide to “The Four C’s,’”
  • Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children This book introduces the concept of “The 6 C’s,” mirroring the 4 C’s that are used in K-12 education and presented in this Early Learning Framework, with the addition of “Content” and “Confidence.” For the purposes of this framework, these two additional C’s is integrated within the discussion of standards-based instruction (Content) and initiation during communication and relationship building (Confidence).

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Teach children how to think, not what to think

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. At its core, critical thinking is careful thinking directed to a goal. Critical thinking is a complex system that people of all ages use to make judgments and decisions, resolve problems, analyze new information, and create different solutions. Critical thinking skills also mutually support executive function skills including working memory, impulse control, planning and completing tasks and the ability to look at things from different perspectives – all of which are skills that fall under the social and emotional and cognitive developmental domains. Critical thinking is “the ability to process and evaluate information and is how we determine right from wrong. Whether a child is solving a math equation or acquiring a new language, critical thinking can aide and accelerate the learning process. It is an essential life skill that every child needs to develop as they progress and mature through life.” (Hitchcock, 2022; Little Thinkers Center, 2019).

Instructional strategies for supporting children’s critical thinking skills:

Problem-solving is a process that involves identifying a problem, generating and testing possible solutions, and choosing the one that works best. All kinds of problems arise naturally in the context of children’s play. For example, a child’s block structure keeps falling; they can’t seem to create a color they want at the easel; or two children can’t agree on what roles they will play in a dramatic play scenario.

Instructional strategies for supporting children’s problem-solving skills:

Critical thinking and problem-solving are closely related and mutually reinforcing skillsets. We need to be able think critically to solve problems. That makes problem-solving opportunities a great context for supporting critical thinking. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are used throughout all domains of learning. Children exercise these skills when engaging in Mathematics, Science, and/or Engineering activities because these content areas naturally incorporate processes that involve finding answers to questions and solutions to problems based on evidence and using logic and reasoning. Children use them when engaging in social studies activities because the abilities to make decisions based on evidence and collaboratively solve problems form the underpinnings of an inclusive and democratic community and society. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills can be supported during extended studies of STEM and Social Studies topics, during single content-focused activities, and throughout the day during children’s play and routines.

To Learn More
Below are a variety of links to resources to learn more about Critical Thinking and Problem Solving as part of supporting children’s 21st Century Learning:


A language is not just words. It's a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is. It's all embodied in a language.

Communication is one’s ability to share thoughts, ideas, questions, and solutions.

Communication is a collaborative process that develops from birth. There is no one way that children learn to communicate, but research has shown that it is significantly influenced both by the social and cultural environment surrounding a child and by individual factors such as their interests, dispositions, health and wellbeing. Communication is about more than just spoken or written words, and it encompasses many forms of shared understanding and expression. Communication is crucial to children’s holistic development, and research evidence supports the pivotal role that educators play in facilitating the development of children’s communication skills in educational settings.

All of us, including young children, are living in an increasingly multicultural and “global” community and, due to advances in technology, use a variety of digital tools to communicate with friends and family in distant locations and exchange information with people across the globe. Researchers predict that future jobs and careers will increasingly bring groups of people together who have diverse cultures, languages, life experiences, and perspectives. Supporting children’s communication skills in the 21st century includes a stronger emphasis on supporting their abilities to: use multiple modalities to get their ideas across (e.g. storytelling, pictures, and models); understand that different people have different cultural norms for communicating; listen and respond effectively and respectfully to a range of opinions and ideas; use language for a variety of purposes (e.g. to ask questions, seek out information, describe their ideas and reasoning) and to begin to learn how to use technology as a tool for communication, where appropriate. This section will describe Productive Talk, Language and Literacy, and Communication for Multilingual Learners in the early childhood context and provide implementable instructional strategies that educators may use to support communication in the classroom.

Productive Talk

Conversation, or talk, involves more than the giving and receiving of information. Talk is a dynamic social and educational process that engages participants in thinking and learning together, an important component of early education environments. When educators facilitate academically productive talk with young children, they introduce a topic of mutual interest; encourage children to share their questions, experiences, and ideas and listen to those of others, and support children’s reasoning and their ability to take other perspectives. In the process, they support children’s vocabulary and speaking and listening skills as well as their cognitive and social skills development.

Academic discourse is an effective and purposeful questioning and discussion technique that fosters rich peer-to-peer interaction and the integration of discipline-specific language into all aspects of learning. While the term “academic discourse” is not widely used in the early learning context, the term “productive talk” is and carries the same meaning and implications.

The ability to facilitate productive talk requires a shift in how educators view their role. Educators, with good reason, are apt to view their role as the person who provides information to children. Facilitating productive talk means shifting this view to include drawing on children’s knowledge, experiences, and ideas related to a topic. It also means balancing educator talk and child talk and shifting away from an Initiate/Respond/Evaluate (IRE) model in which the educator asks the questions, children respond, and the educator evaluates their responses as right or wrong. When engaging in productive talk the educator encourages children to build on, add to, or question what other children have said, encouraging peer-to- peer interaction in the process. Research finds that productive classroom talk has a positive impact on children’s oral language abilities which, in turn, impacts later reading comprehension, social acceptance, and self-regulation skills.

To Learn More
Below are a variety of links to resources to learn more about Productive Talk:

Language and Literacy

Language and literacy development is integrated and supports children in comprehensively understanding what communication looks like, sounds like, and means. Research finds that children’s language ability is recognized as central to later literacy proficiency and school readiness. Language and Literacy are two separate and distinct domains of early childhood development as defined by the RIELDS. Language development is a child’s ability to understand increasingly complex language (receptive language), increase in proficiency when expressing ideas (expressive language), and show a growing understanding of and ability to follow appropriate social and conversational rules (pragmatics). Literacy is the process of learning words, sounds and written language.

Vocabulary. Vocabulary development is one of the most impactful skills needed in supporting children’s successful literacy development and school readiness. Exposure to and learning of new vocabulary occurs through these early social interactions. A longitudinal study found that “educator talk” (greater quality (variety, sophistication) of words) within a preschool setting were directly related later language and literacy (Dickinson & Porche, 2011). This study is consistent with and supported by a wealth of other research that has found that children acquire vocabulary from experiences with adults who scaffold their use of rich and varied language (Wasik & Campbell, 2012). For infants and toddlers, desired goals related to vocabulary development will focus heavily on fostering secure relationships with caregivers and family members in ways that are culturally and linguistically responsive. Secure and responsive relationships, interactions, and experiences lay the foundation for vocabulary and concepts that support later academic development across all subject areas (Whittmer & Honig, 2020).

To Learn More
Below are a variety of links to resources to learn more on supporting children’s vocabulary learning:

Early Literacy

Early literacy does not necessarily refer to the formal teaching of “early reading;” rather, it relates to the development of literacy skills that occurs naturally through children’s enjoyment and exposure to books (Zero to Three, 2003). Literacy development begins in infancy and is heavily related to children’s exposure to literacy materials (e.g., books, paper, crayons, signs) and their relationships and interactions with trusted adults. As discussed earlier in this framework, building a positive relationship with caregivers and engaging in powerful conversations primes children with the confidence they need to engage in the learning process. It is through a social, play-based process that children gain significant knowledge of language, reading, and writing.

The development of early literacy skills is critically important for children’s future academic and personal success, yet children enter kindergarten varying considerably in these skills, and it is difficult for a child who starts behind to close the gap once he or she enters school (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). The components of early reading and writing in the RIELDS include phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, print awareness, text comprehension and interest, and emergent writing and the following strategies may be used to support these components.

In July of 2019 and later amended in July of 2022, Rhode Island legislators passed The Rhode Island Right to Read Act, requiring Preschool/Pre-K through educators in Local Education Agencies to develop the knowledge and practices of the Science of Reading and Structured Literacy in response to high rates of children reading below a basic level in the fourth grade. Science of Reading, or scientific reading instruction, is defined as researched-based instruction that is grounded in the study of the relationship between cognitive science and educational outcomes. Structured Literacy is explicit, systematic, diagnostic, cumulative instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, syllable types, morphology, semantics, and syntax. Providing a strong foundation in each of these skills develops the neural routes necessary to become a proficient reader. In the early years, an emphasis should be placed on phonological awareness, phonics, encoding, and practice in decodable texts until children are able to read real and nonsense words of all syllable types. To ensure students can accurately decode and fully comprehend grade-level text by third grade and beyond, it is necessary to enhance educator knowledge in the science and research of how children learn to read and the instructional approaches that align with this research.

To Learn More
Below are a variety of links to resources to learn more about supporting children’s reading and writing skills:

  • Literacy-Rich Environments This article describes the characteristics that constitute a “literacy-rich environment,” why this type of environment is important for children’s development, and the role of the educator in supporting this environment.
  • Dialogic Reading: An Effective Way to Read Aloud with Young Children This article describes the method of reading termed “dialogic reading” and how educators can best support this strategy in their classrooms.
  • Language and Literacy Environments in Preschools This article describes some basic strategies for supporting language and literacy development with preschoolers.
  • Roots of Reading Hosted by Fred Rogers, the Roots of Reading series looks at the earliest stages of literacy in such locations as baby speech lab and a Head start center. The program examines how parents, childcare providers, and kindergarten educators can get children started on the road to literacy.
  • Supporting Language and Literacy Skills:

    These articles are intended to provide families with suggested activities and answers to frequently asked questions to support their child’s language and literacy development from birth through age three.

Communication for Multilingual Learners

Supporting language and literacy development for multilingual learners begins by taking an asset-based approach and recognizing that being multilingual, AND the process of becoming multilingual, confers cognitive, social, and linguistic benefits to children. It also means recognizing that learning multiple languages can be challenging for children, especially when different languages are used in different contexts. Research indicates that multilingual learners benefit when educators provide explicit support for language and literacy learning and create connections between the languages children are learning at home and school.

To Learn More
Below are a variety of links to resources to learn more about supporting communication development in multilingual learners:


Unity is a strength... when there is teamwork and collaboration,
wonderful things can be achieved

As our world gets smaller and the issues we face as a global community get more complex, the need for skilled workers who can collaborate increases. Collaboration goes a step beyond cooperation. It is the ability to work toward a common goal with others, with an emphasis on working in diverse groups or teams. The ability to collaborate draws on a range of cognitive, social, and language skills including viewing things from different perspectives, listening carefully to other people’s ideas and opinions, and sharing one’s own ideas and opinions respectfully and articulately and in different ways. An emphasis on collaboration also supports a positive and inclusive classroom climate. There are many opportunities to support collaboration throughout the day in early learning settings.

To Learn More
Below are a variety of links to resources to learn more about supporting children’s collaboration with others:


Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules making mistakes, and having fun.

Creativity includes and is often associated with the visual and performing arts but it is not limited to artistic and musical expression. It is also essential for science, mathematical, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, naturalist and even social and emotional intelligence. After all, being creative allows children to be more flexible and emerge as better problem solvers, which makes them more capable in terms of adapting to technological advances and make the most of new opportunities. Creativity helps children to cope with their feelings and fears, self-regulate and manage their emotional state, and pursue independent learning and is present in all types of play referenced earlier in this section.

Everyone uses creativity in everything that they do. Children may express creativity through the thoughts and feelings expressed in a drawing, or through the language that they use while engaging in pretend/fantasy play. They may creatively innovate a solution to grab an object that is out-of-reach, or to determine how to stabilize a block structure that continues to fall. Creativity is present in everything that we do and therefore, it is deemed an essential 21st century skill necessary for success.

To Learn More
Below are a variety of links to resources to learn more about supporting children’s creativity in the classroom.

  • What is Creativity. Why is it Important, and How Can you Help Children Develop It? (NAEYC) This webinar provides rich guidance to educators on inspiring creative thinking across all areas of learning in the classroom.
  • Creativity and Play: Fostering Creativity This article defines creativity and the creative process, and how educators can support creativity through play. This is a landing page article on the topic of Creativity and Play; however, readers may also find links to video clips, activities, reading lists, and related websites.
  • Nurturing Creativity This e-newsletter uses examples and quotes from Gowrie Victoria Docklands, Melbourne, where creativity is valued at all levels – in the curriculum for children, in the creativity educators bring to planning and implementing the curriculum, and in the service and leadership – thus treating “creativity” as an overall approach to practice.

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