I recently attended a conference where one of the participants bravely asked, “What is DAP?” As early childhood educators, we loosely throw those three letters around, but do we truly know what they mean or better yet, what DAP looks like in early childhood classrooms?
NAEYC tells us that DAP means developmentally appropriate practice which is defined as practice that promotes young children’s optimal learning and development. They also suggest three important steps to making that happen:
Meet kids where they are – individually and the whole group
Help each child reach challenging and achievable goals that contribute to his/her ongoing development and learning
Understand how students learn and develop
First, to meet children where they are, we need to get to know them. Listening to their conversations, observing them play, watching how they interact with the environment and other students, and discovering their interests, abilities and developmental levels are ways to achieve that.
Second, to help children reach challenging and achievable goals, teachers must be aware of what children already know. Then teachers need to relate what they are trying to learn to what they already understand. Breaking tasks down into smaller pieces and providing cues and assistance are effective ways to make this happen.
Finally, educators need to be aware of how their students learn and utilize various learning contexts and teaching strategies. Teaching the whole group, as well as small groups and learning centers or stations are effective ways to help all different kinds of students. Strategies that include assisting, encouraging, questioning, demonstrating and modeling can also be utilized for effective teaching. In addition, knowledge about physical, social and emotional development is a must to developmentally appropriate practice.
The bottom line is that we can toss around the DAP acronym all we want, but actually knowing all we need to know and purposefully planning to put that knowledge into our everyday classroom practices is not an easy feat. If we know our students, scaffold their learning and do so using what we know about child development and learning, we can bring those three letters to life, creating unlimited learning for all our students.
Copple, Carol & Bredekamp, S., eds. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Third Edition. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2009. Print.