Learn What Experts Think
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.
We encourage you to explore this topic further. Here is a selection of resources about developmentally appropriate practices and early childhood education.
- The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments’ Developmentally Appropriate Practices webpage (http://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/training-technical-assistance/education-level/early-learning/developmentally-appropriate-practice)
- The National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Developmentally Appropriate Practices webpage (https://www.naeyc.org/DAP)
- The National Education Association webpage (http://www.nea.org/home/18163.htm)
- The Cromer School Development Program (https://medicine.yale.edu/childstudy/comer/)
Bulotsky-Shearer, R.J., Manz, P.H., Mendez, J.L., McWayne, C.M., Sekino, Y., & Fantuzzo, J.W. (2012). Peer play interactions and readiness to learn. A protective influence for African American preschool children from low-income households. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 225-231. doi:10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00221.x
Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (Eds.). (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Florez, I.R. (2011). Developing young children’s self-regulation through everyday experiences. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/201107/Self-Regulation_Florez_OnlineJuly2011.pdf
Huffman, L.R., & Speer, P.W. (2000). Academic performance among at-risk children: The role of developmentally appropriate practices. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15, 167-184. doi:10.1016/S0885-2006(00)00048-X
Kalish, C. W., Kim, S., & Young, A. G. (2012). How young children learn from examples: Descriptive and inferential problems. Cognitive Science, 36(8), 1427-1448.
Kushnir, T. (n.d.). Learning about how young children learn. Retrieved from http://www.human.cornell.edu/hd/outreach-extension/upload/Learning-about-how-children-learn-Kushnir.pdf
Neuman, S.B., & Cunningham, L. (2009). The impact of professional development and coaching on early language and literacy instructional practices. American Educational Research Journal, 46(2), 532-566.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (n.d.). Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/DAP
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8: Position statement. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/PSDAP.pdf
National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. (n.d.). Developmentally Appropriate Practice. Retrieved from http://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/training-technical-assistance/education-level/early-learning/developmentally-appropriate-practice