Developmentally appropriate practice Article

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Developmentally appropriate practice (or DAP) is a perspective within early childhood education whereby a teacher or child caregiver nurtures a child's social/emotional, physical, and cognitive development by basing all practices and decisions on (1) theories of child development, (2) individually identified strengths and needs of each child uncovered through authentic assessment, and (3) the child's cultural background as defined by his community, family history, and family structure. [1]


Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) is the practice of an excellent educator who knows and changes his/her teaching practices to meet the students where they are developmentally. In order to adjust teaching practices to meet these students' needs, the teacher must research and be educated on child development and a variety of approaches in order to teach the children. Every approach or teaching strategy should be appropriate for the students in the classroom. Teachers can use multiple strategies in one lesson to ensure all children are learning. To ensure each students' needs are being met the educator must know each student and know where he/she is developmentally and what works for him/her. Meeting the students' needs and adjusting the way a skill or concept is being taught does not mean the educator makes the task easier for the student. Instead, the educator challenges the student by setting a goal that is attainable without frustrating the student. Along with adjusting to meet the students where they are developmentally the educator must take into consideration the students' cultural and social contexts. These practices and this knowledge base are a foundation or a starting point for educators as they make decisions in their classrooms.[1]

Position Statement

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) wrote a position statement to outline best practices for teachers and educators of all kinds. The position statement was adopted in 2009 and is written solely based on research about child development, child learning, and effective educational practices. Educators have the responsibility to narrow the achievement gap for students who come from all kinds of backgrounds and give them learning opportunities they may not have the ability to experience outside of the school. Giving the child experiences that are both led by them and led by the teacher are important for the child's development and learning. Child-led experiences can come from play, which is an extremely important way to learn and spend time as a child. Children may not have the opportunity at home to have well developed or engaging play where they will learn social skills, cognitive skills, or emotional skills. These are very important skills for children to develop. Teacher-led experiences should be well developed, well thought out, consist of a variety of approaches and be completely focused on the children. This position statement gives educators and teachers guidance and principles to keep in mind in decision making, classroom community, enhancing planning curriculum for development, assessing child development and building relationships with families.[2]

Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Preschool Years (3-5)

Children ages 3–5 are referred to as preschoolers. The preschool years are a vitally important period of learning and development in all areas of human functioning- physical, social and emotional, cognitive (including perception, reasoning, memory, and other aspects of academic and intellectual development), and language. It is also established that best development and learning during these years is most likely to occur when children establish positive and caring relationships with adults and other children; receive carefully planned, intentional adult guidance and assistance; and explore interesting environments with many things to do and learn.

Early childhood teachers, in collaboration with families, are responsible for ensuring that that program promotes the development and enhances the learning of each individual child served; in other words, professionals must ensure that the program is developmentally appropriate. Ensuring this requires that teachers have a great deal of knowledge, skill, and training. Children entering preschool vary significantly in what they know and can do.

Considerable growth and change occur in children during the preschool years in all areas of development. To function most effectively, preschool teachers need to know about the goals, sequences, and trajectories of development in all of those areas- to avoid a scaled-down version of curriculum intended for older children and to understand the importance of communicating with kindergarten and other teachers and aligning the curriculum accordingly.

Three-year-olds are no longer toddlers, but they behave like toddlers at times, and they are not steady in their gains. Children's social skills are still uncertain, they are still working on how to regulate and appropriately express their emotions, and they are not yet able to communicate their ideas and feelings in skilled, complex ways. They believe in fairies and monsters and have trouble with logical sequences that seem basic to adults- which is why adults tend to underestimate their abilities. Yet at other times, their language ability, motor skills, reasoning abilities, and other behaviors make them seem older than they are.

The challenge for the preschool teacher is to maintain appropriate expectations, providing each child with the right amount of challenge, support, sensitivity, and stimulation that promotes development and learning- all of which can only happen within the context of a close, nurturing teacher-child relationship.

Preschoolers revel in their increasing coordination, using their bodies cheerfully and enthusiastically. They thrive in environments that encourage them to experiment with new materials, roles, and ideas through various projects and especially through play. They have great interest in feelings and are better able to express and label their emotions and identify others' emotions. They make some important gains in cognition, allowing them the pleasure of representing their world in pretend play, symbols, objects, drawings, and words. And, given a rich language environment, they show impressive gains in language skills.

Preschoolers are an enchanting, enthusiastic, curious, and inherently playful and imaginative bunch, providing the adults who work with them entry to a world of great charm and delight!

Copple, C. & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs: Serving children from birth through age 8. 3d ed. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice in the Kindergarten Year (5-6 y/o)

In the Kindergarten Year, children are 5–6 years old, learning through play, community, and social interaction with peers. As a kindergarten teacher it is developmentally appropriate to be modeling positive social interactions in the classroom, fostering positive relationships between students of different cultures and ethnicities, give children leadership roles in the classroom, and teach in whole and small group settings, with peer interaction during instruction. It is important in this year that children spend the majority of the day moving, with little time sitting down and still. They should be working and developing their fine and gross motor skills through this daily movement. Children should also be spending time playing outside everyday, with a regular physical education schedule.

In kindergarten children should be learning body and spatial awareness, as well as key movements like balancing, jumping and catching objects of varied size. Children should have time daily to exercise their fine motor skills, such as through writing with utensils of varied size, using scissors, play dough, puzzles, etc. Along with physical development, kindergarten is a time when students should be developing self-help skills, which should be promoted by teachers through giving students daily activities that teach them to care for themselves. These activities would look like washing their hands, putting on jackets and cleaning up after their own classroom activity.

Teachers should be giving regular time in the classroom for students to be conversing with others, and working in small groups on projects that teach communication, listening and understanding skills. Teachers should provide opportunities for students to verbally respond to questions, describe scenarios, retell stories, and give directions. It is important that English Second Language students are integrated and involved in these discussions and peer work time, in order to develop their listening, speaking and understanding skills.

Academically students should be introducing phonological and phonemic awareness by implementing songs, poems, books, etc. Students should have books read to them on a daily basis. Books should be available in a classroom library at all times and contain a variety of story types. It is appropriate at this age that students be taught the sounds of letters, and writing should be encouraged throughout. Math is taught through manipulatives, block play, games, etc., and at this age it is natural for students to begin to try and make sense of the world through mathematics. Science is based off students natural curiosity and experiences. Science should be a hands on activity.

Technology should be integrated into the classroom through computers, and any other available technology in the classroom, but should foster problem solving and thinking, and by teachers to document children.

Copple, C. & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs: Serving children from birth through age 8. 3d ed. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Primary Grades (6-8)

During the early grades, children gain increasing mastery in every area, both in their development and their learning. The exploring, problem solving, communicating, etc. that children do during this time period enthuses and interests them, which teachers can use at this age to create a lifelong love for learning. In order for primary children to prosper, they need warm and sensitive teaching, integrated learning, authentic assessment, and a mix of child and teacher-guided activities.

During the primary grades, it is essential for children to learn how to read. It, however, is equally important that the children develop the desire to read. This sets the tone for almost everything in the classroom and, most oftentimes, determines what type of student the child will be. Teacher's build such enthusiasm by showing interest in each individual child's needs and show genuine excitement for their learning. Teachers should provide a variety of ways for students to learn being that every individual learns in their own way. This will encourage student effort, despite the type of learner the child is.

Physically, children in the primary grades grow around 2-3 inches in height, with their face maturing a good bit as well. It is during this time that the child's face starts to elongate to accommodate permanent teeth. The child's major gross motor skills have typically developed by this time. As far as fine motor skills, some children have started to develop them by this age, while some are still refining these skills.

Socially, primary aged children need an atmosphere characterized by good conversation, laughter, and excitement over accomplishments. It is important that a teacher creates this type of atmosphere in the classroom in order to promote what is developmentally appropriate for these grade levels.

As far as emotionally, children in the primary grades are largely guided by their emotions and they are the main force guiding behavior as well as learning from infancy through adulthood. The ability to infer other's thoughts, feelings, and intentions is a key component to help kids develop and maintain relationships. It is during the primary grades that students become increasingly able to consider the feelings and emotions of others.

Cognitively, primary aged children are making great strides. A significant, yet gradual, change occurs in most children between the ages of five and seven. This being because they become able to think about things more dimensionally, which allows them to solve a wider range of problems. Due to this cognitive growth, children in the primary grades enjoy challenges that test their growing skills. That is, as long as they are able to experience success following these challenges. This is something that teachers should keep in mind in the primary grades when they are creating material.

As far as language goes, children experience a drastic growth in the primary grades following the already substantial growth that happens in the preschool years. It is during this time period that children start to develop actual writing and reading skills, as opposed to the preschool and kindergarten years where listening, speaking, and reading skills are only just emerging.

Copple, C. & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs: Serving children from birth through age 8. 3d ed. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.


  1. ^ Bredekamp, V.S. & Copple, C. (1997). "Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs". Washington, DC: NAEYC. Archived from the original on 2007-02-28. Retrieved 2007-01-04.