You’ve probably heard it before: everyone learns differently. In fact, maybe you already know how you learn best – through doing, seeing, or hearing. Age plays a large factor in how people learn too. Young children learn best when an approach called developmentally appropriate practice, or DAP, is used (National Association for the Education of Young Children, n.d.). In fact, one study showed that students in classrooms that use more developmentally appropriate practice performed better academically, especially in language acquisition skills such as letter and word identification (Huffman & Speer, 2000).
You might be wondering what developmentally appropriate practice is and how educators and caregivers can implement it. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, DAP takes into consideration three main points:
- Typical milestones of children at each stage of development;
- A child’s specific needs and interests; and
- What is culturally meaningful to a child’s family or caregivers.
Developmentally appropriate practice is a teaching approach. It is about being sensitive to a child’s culture and individuality and intentionally tailoring strategies to meet student needs (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). In short, it is “an approach where school personnel demonstrate responsiveness to individual children’s abilities, behavior, culture, and language in their planning and decision making (National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, n.d.)”, thereby creating the instructional environment.
When thinking about how to educate young children, a good place to start is with socialization because most learning for young children happens through observation and experience (Kushnir, n.d.; Kalish, Kim, & Young, 2012). Bulotsky-Shearer et al. (2012) reported that the impact of play and socialization is particularly positive for African American and low-income children. Another important educational tool is the use of language to help children learn words and improve early literacy (Florez, 2011; Neuman & Cunningham, 2009; National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2009). So explain different ways to do things to children and ask children questions about what they think and how they feel about situations. Remember, it is important to engage children verbally and encourage them to question and explore. For more teaching strategies, visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s 10 Effective DAP Teaching Strategies webpage.