Developmentally appropriate practice: Knowing about child development and learning

It is important teachers understand children’s development.

Effective early childhood educators know and understand milestones and sequences of development across all domains.

Effective early childhood educators know and understand milestones and sequences of development across all domains.

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is a research-based framework that outlines practices in the early childhood environment that provide optimal education for young children’s learning and development or “best practices.” DAP requires teachers to be aware of children’s development, meet them where they are as individuals and know about the social and cultural contexts in which each child lives. These three considerations make up the core of developmentally appropriate practice. The first core consideration is knowing about child development and learning.

Child development follows general, sequential and predictable patterns. These patterns are interrelated across developmental domains, including physical, social, emotional and cognitive. Effective early childhood educators know and understand milestones and sequences of development across all domains, and use this information when they are planning activities and structuring the environment.

Developmentally appropriate practice is based on knowledge, not assumptions, of children’s growth and development. Through this knowledge, teachers are able to plan for appropriate activities that challenge children enough to continue to promote their progress and interest.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children offers 12 principles of child development and learning to guide best practices in the classroom:

  1. All areas of development and learning are important.
  2. Learning and development follow sequences.
  3. Development and learning proceed at varying rates.
  4. Development and learning result from an interaction of maturation and experience.
  5. Early experiences have profound effects on development and learning.
  6. Development proceeds toward greater complexity, self-regulation and symbolic or representational capacities.
  7. Children develop best when they have secure relationships.
  8. Development and learning occur in and are influenced by multiple social and cultural contexts.
  9. Children learn in a variety of ways.
  10. Play is an important vehicle for developing self-regulation and promoting language, cognition and social competence.
  11. Development and learning advance when children are challenged.
  12. Children’s experiences shape their motivation and approaches to learning.

Understanding DAP is essential for early childhood educators to make good decisions about the care and education of young children.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to Michigan State University Extension programs, read our 2015 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2015, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

Other articles in series

Related Events

Related Articles