Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)
Some developmental theorists view development as a discontinuous process. They believe development involves distinct and separate stages with different kinds of behavior occurring in each stage. Others support a continuous view of development and suggest that development involves gradual and ongoing changes throughout the life span, with behavior in the earlier stages of development providing the basis of skills and abilities required for the next stages.
One outcome of developmental theories is developmentally appropriate practice (DAP), where the focus is on a child’s learning and development as an individual, as opposed to the focus on acquiring specific knowledge. Working from this perspective, an educator makes judgments relating to an individual child’s development, often measured against developmental ‘norms’. Goals are then planned to best meet that child’s developmental needs. This planning is also often compartmentalized into specific developmental domains such as physical, social, cognitive, emotional and language.
Developmentally appropriate practice (or DAP) is a way of teaching that meets young children where they are — which means that teachers must get to know them well — and enables them to reach goals that are both challenging and achievable.
- All teaching practices should be appropriate to children’s age and developmental status, attuned to them as unique individuals, and responsive to the social and cultural contexts in which they live.
- DAP does not mean making things easier for children. Rather, it means ensuring that goals and experiences are suited to their learning and development and challenging enough to promote their progress and interest.
- DAP is based on knowledge — not on assumptions — of how children learn and develop.
Developmentally appropriate practice is a comprehensive educational perspective that supports optimal healthy development for every child. Developmentally appropriate practice embraces both continuity and change; continuity because it guides a tradition of quality early learning and change as it incorporates new research, knowledge, and science in regard to children’s development and learning.
As children grow, they master different developmental stages. Each stage provides building blocks for intelligence, morality, emotional health, and academic skills. At each stage, certain experiences are necessary. To learn to relate to others with compassion requires teachers who provide nurturing, empathetic interactions. Learning to read social cues requires that teachers join in interactive play and negotiations. Creative and logical thinking requires that teachers become partners in pretend play, opinion-oriented discussions, and debates. Children master these developmental tasks at very different paces. Hurrying the child through any stage can actually slow him down.
12 Principles of Child Development and Learning
- All areas of development and learning are important.
- Learning and development follow sequences.
- Development and learning proceed at varying rates.
- Development and learning result from an interaction of maturation and experience.
- Early experiences have profound effects on development and learning.
- Development proceeds toward greater complexity, self-regulation, and symbolic or representational capacities.
- Children develop best when they have secure relationships.
- Development and learning occur in and are influenced by multiple social and cultural contexts.
- Children learn in a variety of ways.
- Play is an important vehicle for developing self-regulation and promoting language, cognition, and social competence.
- Development and learning advance when children are challenged.
- Children’s experiences shape their motivation and approaches to learning
Developmental theories in practice
If you incorporate a developmental perspective in your work with young children you would:
- Believe that young children need time to mature and develop knowledge of themselves in their worlds before starting formal education and that much damage can be done by ‘hurrying’ children into formal instruction
- Support children’s interests and personal styles of learning, patiently letting them develop naturally and biologically
- Adopt a hands-off approach to children’s growth and development, letting this naturally unfold focus on understanding where children are at developmentally, and plan goals that relate to the child’s development
- Provide a developmentally appropriate, child-centered curriculum
- Plan in response to children’s interests
- Ensure that many opportunities and activities are provided for both indoor and outdoor discovery learning
- Emphasize discovery learning and direct contact with the environment rather than adult directed teaching