Early Learning Frameworks

Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF)

Ages Birth to Five


ELOF Overview

The Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF) is a set of standards centers can use to guide their curriculum planning and teaching.  It is research-based, focused on what young children should know and be able to do during their early years.

The Head Start Program Performance Standards require grantees to implement program and teaching practices that are aligned with the ELOF.  The Head Start ELOF website has family guides and teacher resources to help align programs to the ELOF domains. This includes Practice Guides that provide teaching practice guides for each ELOF developmental domains.

Structure of the ELOF

ELOF structure

The HSELOF presents five broad areas of early learning, referred to as central domains that reflect research-based expectations for learning and development. The HSELOF emphasizes the key skills, behaviors, and knowledge that programs must foster in children ages birth to 5 to help them be successful in school and life.

The domains are:

  1. Approaches to Learning
  2. Social and Emotional Development
  3. Language and Literacy
  4. Cognition
  5. Perceptual, Motor and Physical Development

The role of the HSELOF in program planning and practice is mandated by the Head Start Act and by the Head Start Program Performance Standards. The Performance Standards describe required teaching practices, learning environments, curricula, assessments and professional development.

The HSELOF identifies what young children should know and be able to do.

Fully implementing the Performance Standards and the HSELOF will promote high quality services and practice for teaching and learning so that all children can succeed.

HSELOF Principles

The HSELOF is a guide for programs to plan and implement a comprehensive, yet focused, learning program. It:

  • Supports developmentally appropriate curriculum
  • Informs intentional teaching practices.
  • Acknowledges that each child is unique and can be a successful learner
  • Recognizes differences in learning, cultural backgrounds and language.
  • Encourages support of a child’s home language as well as support for English acquisition

The HSELOF is not a curriculum, but can be used to help plan out a curriculum. Nor is the ELOF an assessment tool, but is aligned to the DRDP and other valid, reliable, and useful assessments.

Using the ELOF in Everyday Practice

Directors and managers can use the ELOF to:

  • Develop lesson plans and curriculum, and to guide teaching and assessment practices.
  • Identify staff training needs.
  • Set program priorities

Teachers can use the ELOF to:

  • Prepare the environment and plan learning experiences
  • Engage consistently with children to support their learning in all the domains
  • Inform intentional, and responsive teaching practices
  • Engage parents and family members in understanding and supporting their child’s learning

Assessment for Head Start

The HSELOF is not an assessment tool. However it is aligned to the DRDP, which a valid and reliable assessment tool, used by many Head Start programs to meet the Head Start Performance Standards. HSELOF to DRDP Alignment here

Educa includes a ratings tool using the DRDP,  which means programs can use learning stories as their primary documentation tool, linking to the DRDP,  then using our proprietary DRDP rating tool to add other evidence to make sure all measures are rated.

While every state has a Trustee that sets state requirements, and most often the accepted Head Start assessment  tools mirror state-funded program requirements.  However, it appears that DRDP-based assessments are accepted in all states.