There are so many wonderful resources out there on Developmentally Appropriate Practice and we reference it a lot in previous postings.  We take for granted that it seems self explanatory.  It’s really something that deserves a thorough explanation because it really is vital to best serve children on all fronts: cognitive, social/emotional, creative and physical.

I most associate Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).  NAEYC definitely prioritizes DAP in every context and perhaps everyone working in early childhood education (birth to age 8) should as well.

This is a great explanation of DAP from Not Just Cute with Amanda Morgan.

She discusses DAP as it relates to reading.  This is something discussed in early blog posts here on our site–specifically about how schools in our area are advertising that they are teaching the 3-year-olds at their school to read.  I wanted to call out a couple of paragraphs that speaks to this same issue in Amanda’s blog post:

One specific example that comes to mind is a school in my area which boasts “kids reading at 3″. That may be the case very naturally for some kids, but it could be very detrimental to others who are being held to a standard that their individual development cannot support.  A child reading at 3 is not necessarily inappropriate — guaranteeing all 3 year-olds will be readers is.

I certainly wouldn’t rein in an enthusiastic reader just because he/she was on the young side, but the practices used in that encouragement need to be appropriate to their age and development, and also need to incorporate the foundational skills critical to reading. (See Why Don’t You Teach Reading?  A Look at Emergent Literacy).

Amanda explains why it is so vitally important that families and educators are aware of DAP and Child Development–in order to best serve children–in order to instill a love of learning and a true foundation of knowledge and skills, we must have knowledge of the typical developmental stages and consider DAP in accordance.  We also have to acknowledge, as Amanda eloquently illustrates with the example of purchasing a dress for her niece, that not all children and contexts are equal and we have to think about how to reach each child as an individual, where he or she is and work on progress from there.

We must have knowledge of what normal development looks like at each age.  At our school we have Key Developmental Goals for each of the age groups we teach.  These serve as a starting point for curriculum in each class–teachers us these goals to shape a topic study (or what many call a unit or focus).  The teachers consider how the current topic study can be a vehicle for the various Key Developmental Goals they are trying to guide children toward.  For instance, how can learning about community helpers apply to literacy goals at age 2?  How about fine motor skills at age 4?  Each age has specific KDGs and the topic studies serve as the vehicles to make these goals come alive for kids in relevant, fun and exciting ways.

Occasionally, our 2-3 year olds and 4-5 year olds may be looking at similar topics–perhaps community helpers.  However, the knowledge and skills that the teachers guide the children toward are vastly different.  This is to say, topics can be the same, however, the KDGs will be different at age level.  So, the topic study will cover different aspects of the same topic and become more involved as children develop further.

The 2-3 year old teachers may focus on the different careers of community helpers and perhaps their vehicles.  They will look at the different tools each uses to perform their job.  They may look at the different colors of each uniform and vehicle.  Maybe they will look at first letters in different words they explore related to each.  Perhaps the kids make a community helper’s vehicle out of a shipping box with assistance from their teacher as they explore spatial relations, shapes, colors and hone their fine motor skills.  Maybe they visit the firemen and police or hear from a doctor about staying well and the dentist about brushing teeth.

The 4-5 year olds have most likely seen community helpers before and can discuss the different occupations.  So, maybe they do some writing intertwined with artwork by making a community helpers book.  Maybe the “read” their book to the 2-3 year olds who are learning about these careers.  Maybe the teacher realizes that community helpers can be taken further by looking at communities as a whole and specifically at the difference between a city versus a suburb.  Perhaps the kids look at the different buildings in a city and their own town.  They might look at how streets are closer together in the city and further a part in the town and how people that live in the city may use trains, bikes or walk to get to the different things they do because of that.  Maybe they look at maps and create maps of their town and where all of the community helpers are.  They can include where they live and where their friends live.  They can learn about symbols by looking at the legend and measurement by look at the map’s scale.  Maybe they learn about compasses and direction.  The teacher might even intertwine technology and help kids locate their house on Google Earth.

You can see how when DAP is applied to any topic, it molds the information to where most children at that age are, developmentally.  This allows for children to grasp the maximum amount of information and enjoy themselves as they cement the knowledge and skills into their foundation.  And, this foundation, when filled with excitement and joy for the topic and learning, is certain to be solid and fertile for years and years of healthy growth and development.

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