To ensure that young children’s experiences are developmentally appropriate, programs are expected to incorporate a comprehensive curriculum and child assessment system that are aligned with the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Birth to Three and Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards for Age Three to Five.” –ExceleRate Illinois

Curriculum—it might not roll off your tongue in the most natural way yet. The thought of using one might sound rigid, too structured, or something that starts in grade school, not your program. It could be too pricey, or seem repetitive to what you currently teach. These are all valid and real reasons to resist implementing a curriculum, however most times these reasons prove inaccurate. In the last three years as a Quality Specialist, I have realized there are many misconceptions about using a curriculum.

Common misconceptions about using a curriculum:

  1. Providers can no longer use materials they had before or that are not part of the curriculum. The truth is that a curriculum is a framework of activities, transitions, routines and daily experiences but it is encouraged that providers make adaptions, add supplements and mold the curriculum to fit their philosophy and group of children and families.
  2. A good provider instinctively knows what children need to learn, so a curriculum is not needed. Although a good provider may have instincts about what children should learn, standards and guidelines help ensure that providers offer a comprehensive program” –Off the Shelf and Into Practice. Using a curriculum based off of Illinois’ Early Learning Guidelines and Development Standards will ensure that what you are teaching is current and beneficial in preparing children for success in Kindergarten and beyond. 
  3. Curriculums do not work in a mixed aged setting.  Based on the layout of your program, research should be done to find a curriculum that is created specifically for mixed ages of family child care. As the provider, you can organize and plan to accommodate to differing abilities and ages within the parameters of the curriculum using supplemental resources and developmentally appropriate materials. Caring for a mixed group of ages should not sway you from aligning to the standards.


A little research never hurt: If you are working towards achieving a circle of quality through ExceleRate, a list of aligned curriculums is where you should start your research.  You can find this list on the ExceleRate website.

This list of curriculums have been deemed “aligned” based solely on whether they align with the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines (IELG) for Birth to Three and the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards (IELDS) for Ages Three to Five.


The curriculum I invested in is not aligned with ExceleRate: If you currently use a curriculum that is not featured on this list/not aligned, you can request that the publisher of the curriculum go through a curriculum crosswalk. The Curriculum Crosswalk is a process through which publishers with curricula in wide use in Illinois can submit for an alignment review with the ExceleRate Illinois criteria. Applications are accepted year-round and are reviewed three times annually. If you have a curriculum that you would like reviewed, please email Gail Nelson at [email protected] for center-based curricula or Kate Ritter at [email protected] for family child care curricula. This information can be found on the OECD Website


What things should I consider when researching which curriculum would fit best for me?


Cost and sustainability of using the curriculums

  • Is there a start-up fee in addition to a monthly, quarterly or yearly cost?
  • Is there required technology or software needed?
  • How often is the curriculum updated and would you need to purchase updated materials to stay current and aligned?
  • Is there training available close by or online and at a cost you can afford so that you can implement it with fidelity?


Aligning with your program’s philosophy

  • Are you Project Based?
  • Montessori Based?
  • Do you identify more with the Reggio Emilia approach?
  • What are your goals and passions as a provider and early childhood educator?


Flexibility vs. Structure

  • How much do you want to supplement vs have laid out for you?
  • What resources does the curriculum give me for implantation of supplements?