Developmentally appropriate practice

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Developmentally appropriate practice (or DAP) is a perspective within early childhood education whereby a teacher or child caregiver nurtures a child's social/emotional, physical, and cognitive development by basing all practices and decisions on (1) theories of child development, (2) individually identified strengths and needs of each child uncovered through authentic assessment, and (3) the child's cultural background as defined by his community, family history, and family structure.[1]


DAP is one of a number of practices associated with Outcome-based education and other progressive education reform movements. Some critics have argued that some reforms such as NCTM mathematics and Whole Language which fully support "Developmentally Appropriate Practices" are believed to introduce students to materials and concepts which may be too advanced for young children, or above their reading levels.[2] On the opposite side, some critics claim that DAP approaches use content and concepts considerably below traditional grade levels. Educators in many states implement DAP approaches to meet learning standards that were established by specialized professional associations, including in the content areas of language arts, math, social studies and science. The National Science Education Standards proposes to teach elementary school students how to construct their own experiments, whereas traditionally high school students and even college students were typically taught how to perform pre-designed experiments, but not to construct their own experiments. In the DAP environment, through intentional teaching techniques, as well as by capitalizing on teachable moments, children are engaged in authentic, meaningful learning experiences. Educators do not just teach to the whole group, but use a variety of grouping strategies, including small groups, pairs and 1:1. Individualization becomes a key component in making sure the needs and interests of each child are focused on in a DAP environment. Developmentally appropriate practice is based upon the idea that children learn best from doing. Children learn best when they are actively involved in their environment and build knowledge based on their experiences rather than through passively receiving information. Active learning environments promote hands on learning experiences and allow children to interact with objects in their environment, as well as their peers and teachers.


  1. ^ Bredekamp, V.S. & Copple, C. (1997). "Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs". Washington, DC: NAEYC. Archived from the original on 2007-02-28. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  2. ^ AMERICAN INSTITUTES FOR RESEARCH What the United States Can Learn From Singapore’s World-Class Mathematics System February 7, 2005 Page 47: "Because topics are mapped out in such a general way, the NCTM requirements risk exposing students to unrealistically advanced mathematics content in the early grades."

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (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.