Developmentally appropriate practice

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]


DAP is one of a number of practices associated with Outcome-based education and other progressive education reform movements. Some critics have argued that some reforms such as NCTM mathematics and Whole Language which fully support "Developmentally Appropriate Practices" are believed to introduce students to materials and concepts which may be too advanced for young children, or above their reading levels.[2] On the opposite side, some critics claim that DAP approaches use content and concepts considerably below traditional grade levels. Educators in many states implement DAP approaches to meet learning standards that were established by specialized professional associations, including in the content areas of language arts, math, social studies and science. The National Science Education Standards proposes to teach elementary school students how to construct their own experiments, whereas traditionally high school students and even college students were typically taught how to perform pre-designed experiments, but not to construct their own experiments. In the DAP environment, through intentional teaching techniques, as well as by capitalizing on teachable moments, children are engaged in authentic, meaningful learning experiences. Educators do not just teach to the whole group, but use a variety of grouping strategies, including small groups, pairs and 1:1. Individualization becomes a key component in making sure the needs and interests of each child are focused on in a DAP environment. Developmentally appropriate practice is based upon the idea that children learn best from doing. Children learn best when they are actively involved in their environment and build knowledge based on their experiences rather than through passively receiving information. Active learning environments promote hands on learning experiences and allow children to interact with objects in their environment, as well as their peers and teachers.


  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.
  2. AMERICAN INSTITUTES FOR RESEARCH What the United States Can Learn From Singapore’s World-Class Mathematics System February 7, 2005 Page 47: "Because topics are mapped out in such a general way, the NCTM requirements risk exposing students to unrealistically advanced mathematics content in the early grades."

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009) Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Guidelines for developmentally appropriate practice includes five complex principles.

The first is to create a caring community of learners. When creating this community each member must feel valued by others. Each member is given respect and is held accountable for their learning and well being. The teachers set clear and reasonable expectations. Teachers listen to and acknowledge children's feelings and respond in ways children understand to guide and model problem-solving. Teachers design and maintain a physical and psychological environment that is positive and feel safe for all children.

The second principle is teaching to enhance development of learning. Teachers make it a priority to know each child well and also the most significant people in a child's life. Teachers know what desired goals for the program are and how the programs curriculum is intended to achieve those goals. Teachers plan for learning experiences by implementing a comprehensive curriculum so that children can achieve goals in key areas. Teachers know how to scaffold children's learning with just enough assistance for them to master the skill and begin to work on the next skill. Teachers draw on many teaching strategies to foster learning for the group and each child individually. Educators include all children regardless of special needs into all classroom activities with their peers.

The third principal is to plan with state standards and other mandates in place using the curriculum to achieve important goals. Teachers use their extensive child development knowledge to identify and plan goals for the classroom that align with state standards and other mandates. Teachers utilize curriculum framework to ensure proper attention is given to learning goals. While planning teachers integrate experiences across several domains such as physical social emotional cognitive which include language literacy mathematics social studies science art music physical education and health.

The fourth complex principle assessing children's development and learning includes assessing the children's progress and achievements in ongoing strategic purposeful way. Assessment must focus on children's progress towards goals that are developmentally and educationally significant. There must be a system in place to collect analyze and use assessment data.

The fifth principle is establishing reciprocal relationships with families. In relationships between teachers and families there must be a mutual respect. Corporation and shared responsibility including negotiation of conflict toward achievement of shared goals. Teachers work in partnership with families establishing and maintaining two-way communication with families. Teachers and families work as a team to share information about children's goals progress and daily life. Family members are encouraged with multiple opportunities for family participation within the classroom setting.

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