Developmentally the right fit at the right

Developmentally appropriate practices are at the core of early education. This lesson explains the history, tenets, and three core considerations of developmentally appropriate practices.

Developmentally Appropriate Practices

When Sophie’s daughter Selena was born, her mother-in-law bought her a cute pair of high-top shoes. Adorable, right? When Sophie took Selena to the doctor for her first checkup, though, the doctor told her the shoes, though stylish, weren’t really appropriate for development. The doctor explained that since Selena wasn’t going to be doing much walking for many months, it’s best for her feet to be covered loosely in socks to allow her feet to grow and form.As educators, we want to do good work for and with our students.

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We want to make sure what and how we teach is developmentally appropriate, or the right fit at the right time. Like the shoe story, we need to make sure the content we teach and the way we teach it is in line with the student with whom we work.Think of it this way – it would be rare to see kindergarten students being taught to write in cursive, and for a very good reason. Their muscles and minds are not yet ready for that skill. In order for a lesson to be a developmentally appropriate practice, it must meet the child’s current social, physical and cognitive stage of development. So cursive writing in kindergarten? Not so much.


The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines a developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) as a method of teaching using research and understandings of the development of young children in order to help all children learn and grow. In other words, educators are tasked with knowing, through research and experience, developmental stages of children in broad groups as well as individuals.Jenny is a preschool teacher in a four-year-old classroom.

She knows that, developmentally, her students are ready to walk up and down stairs independently while holding onto the railing. For most of her students, this is a DAP and totally developmentally appropriate. For Sally, though, who is behind in her gross-motor development, this task is a challenge.

Jenny knows it is not a DAP for Sally.The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) created the developmentally appropriate practice framework to guide educators in their quest to provide quality experiences in their classrooms. This construct consists of three core considerations:

  1. Knowing about child development and learning
  2. Knowing what’s appropriate to individual children
  3. Knowing what’s culturally important

Let’s take a closer look at what these three concepts mean.

Core Considerations of DAP

Jenny knows her stuff. She recognized that Sally wasn’t ready to tackle stairs independently, so she’s working with her to practice gross motor skills.

Jenny recognized that, though developmentally appropriate for most four-year-old children, climbing stairs isn’t quite appropriate for Sally. Jenny is considering what she knows about child development and what she knows about individual children, two of the three considerations for DAPs.Research helps us understand quite a bit about children and development. We know that all children go through typical stages of development at predicable times. For example, we all typically learn to walk at about the same age, give or take a few months.

We use this knowledge to help us make decisions about practices that are appropriate for our students.Though researchers can provide us with a framework for typical development, we should be aware that not all children develop at the same rate and pace. Each individual child will grow and develop in unique ways, sometimes outside the window we read about in research. As educators, we should carefully observe young children to determine their level of development, abilities, and progress.Finally, the NAEYC suggests that we know and understand the cultures of the children and their families in order to create experiences that are developmentally appropriate. To do this, we should talk to parents often to learn about their lives and those of the children with whom we work.

In this way, we can create opportunities for our students to grow in ways they connect with and feel are meaningful.

Lesson Summary

In order to provide the students with whom we work with rich, meaningful experiences, we must first be aware of their needs. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) suggests we do this by creating developmentally appropriate practices (DAP).

These practices take into consideration what a child is ready to learn and when. DAPs are broken into three constructs:

  1. Knowing about child development and learning
  2. Knowing what’s appropriate to individual children
  3. Knowing what’s culturally important

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