by Bonnie Toth, T/Th 2’s Teacher
Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) is the term used by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) to describe the “best practices” of curriculum development. A preschool classroom’s curriculum should be derived from the research on child development and learning as well as educational effectiveness. At the Kids’ Co-op, we decide what to teach based on the NAEYC three tenets of Developmentally Appropriate Practice:
1. Research on how children develop. We know that children tend to grow and develop in relatively predictable ways. When you see the developmental milestone checklists in your doctor’s office, you are seeing the results of this research.
For example, the research shows us that children develop large motor skills before small motor skills and develop their core strength before the strength in their fingers. Using this knowledge, we can examine one goal of Early Childhood Education: writing the alphabet. Many people see writing the alphabet as the first step towards writing and literacy, however, it is actually near the end. It would not be developmentally appropriate to expect a 2-year-old to write their alphabet because most 2 year olds do not have the fine motor skills to complete this task yet. A more developmentally appropriate goal would be, “Children will be able to paint on a vertical surface, using a large paintbrush”. This task allows children to develop their core muscles, as well as the muscles in their shoulder girdle, upper arm, and forearm. Children will be more successful writers if these muscles are developed first.
2. The individual child’s development. In addition to looking at the research on growth and development, teachers also look at the individual child. Where is each child in this continuum? Typically developing children will usually develop skills in the same order, but may develop them at different times.
For example, if you look at any two 4-year-olds, you may see drastic differences in how they appear to be developing cognitively. One 4-year-old may be ready to do many pre-reading activities: They are doing lots of rhyming, can identify and produce words that start and end the same, and are interested in learning letter sounds. Another 4-year-old the same age may have no interest in these word games and are unable to complete these tasks. The teacher of these two children might do rhyming games during their whole group instruction. The children that are working on rhyming are given the opportunity to practice this skill. The children that are not there yet are being exposed to this skill and are being introduced to the idea that this can be fun. The teacher can further support each child where they are at through conversations during child-directed time.
Both of these children are still developing “normally”, but the teacher is able to use their knowledge about the individual child to tailor their teaching to support the individual where they are at in the continuum. Learning is an interaction between biological maturation and experience, so the teacher must give the children the experiences and exposure they need to support their natural biological progression.
3. Social and cultural values and expectations: The co-op model gives teachers a unique glimpse into our children’s family lives. I feel that we are able to utilize this third tenant of DAP much more effectively in the co-op setting. Our children learn these cultural “rules” very early in their development.
For example, in our Western culture we value using language to state your needs. This is evidenced in the way we use phrases such as, “Use your words” when children are angry. However, if a teacher thinks about this phrase through the lens of a child’s home life, they can determine the type of support a child needs in developing this skill. If a child’s culture dictate that they are expected to be seen but not heard, the child will not have had much practice at using their words. If a child comes from a home where they are ridiculed, then using their words is associated with shame, and they will need a lot of gentle guidance to gain this skill. If a child is in a home where they are given the chance to have their opinions heard and honored, then they may already be a master at this skill and the teacher can set other goals for this child.
Using the three tenets of Developmentally Appropriate Practice, our teachers are able to design appropriate classroom curriculum and set challenging and achievable goals for individual children.