The period from birth to three years of age is marked by extraordinary growth across all developmental domains. Child development during this period is rapid, dynamic and sensitive to social, physical, biological and environmental inputs. A child’s experiences from birth to three influence how they develop, learn and interact with the world and set the foundation for future learning and development. There are several core principles related to the growth of infants, toddlers and two year olds which are critical to delivering the highest quality services. These principles offer a foundation for the knowledge of birth to three development that is laid out in the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Birth to Three.

  • Early relationships are most important and central to young children’s development.
  • Development occurs across multiple and interdependent domains, in a simultaneous manner.
  • Children develop and learn at their own unique pace and in the context of their family, culture and community.
  • Play is the most meaningful way children from birth to three learn and master new skills. 

The core principles embodied by the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines are reinforced by research gathered in a Zero To Three policy brief on the impact of quality child care on children from birth to three (2009).

  • The quality of the relationship between the child care provider and the child influences every aspect of young children's development. A secure relationship between the infant and the caregiver can complement the relationship between parents and young children and facilitate early learning and social development.
  • Quality child care promotes cognitive, language and social and emotional development. Intensive, high quality, center-based child care interventions that provide learning experiences directly to the young child have a positive effect on early learning, cognitive and language development, and school achievement. For virtually every developmental outcome that has been assessed, quality of care also shows positive associations with early social and emotional development.
  • Higher quality child care is particularly important to low income children. Low-income children often start behind their peers when they enter school. When child care is of very high quality, as is the case with model early childhood programs, the positive effects can endure into the early adult years, particularly for children from the poorest home environments. 


The Award of Excellence for Infant and Toddler Services, part of ExceleRate Illinois, reflects these principles.

Please visit the following links for more information on the Award of Excellence for Infant and Toddler Services. 

Infant and Toddler Services Standards (299 KB)

Infant and Toddler Services Standards and Requirements (146 KB)

Frequently Asked Questions (301 KB)

School-Based Prerequisite Application and Supplement

Licensed Child Care Center Prerequisite Application and Supplement

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Has your program already achieved the Gold Circle of Quality? If so additional technical assistance can be received to work toward this Award of Excellence at www.theounce.org/lead.

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