Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Knowing What is Individually Appropriate

Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Knowing What is Individually Appropriate


By Carrie Shrier

It is important teachers care for children as individuals.

What we learn about specific children helps us teach and care for each child as an individual.

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 second core consideration is knowing what is individually appropriate.

What we learn about specific children helps us teach and care for each child as an individual. By continually observing children’s play and interaction with the physical environment and others, we learn about each child’s interests, abilities and developmental progress.

Children obtain certain skills at predictable ages and stages in their development. Just as we would not expect a newborn to walk, we cannot expect a toddler to read or a preschooler to know algebra. Knowledge of what is and is not a developmentally appropriate expectation of a child at a certain age is critical for early childhood educators. Some age-appropriate expectations include:

  • Infants (0-6 months): Learn to reach and hold objects, roll over, react to familiar voices, like to be held and comforted.
  • Babies (6-12 months): Crawl and move around, play games like peek-a-boo, wave bye-bye, may show fear of strangers.
  • Toddlers (12-24 months): Pull up and begin to walk, like to push/pull, enjoy picture books, participate in solitary play.
  • Toddlers (2-3 years): Become better walkers, run, jump and climb, scribble, develop a vocabulary, like making choices, enjoy parallel play, are not good at sharing.
  • Preschoolers (3-4 years): Much more coordinated, dress themselves, enjoy art, learn to print their name, speak in sentences, very social, begin to share, enjoy group play.
  • Kindergarteners: Can ride a tricycle or bike, learn to tie their shoes and read, enjoy pretend play with peers.

Teachers or child care providers are most effective when they know how to choose differing strategies to fit with individual situations. When deciding what approach will be most effective, teachers must take into account the child’s age, developmental level, what they already know how to do and what their learning goals are for that situation. By being flexible and observing children, teachers can adapt their strategies to support children as needed.

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.


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