Guidelines for decisions about developmentally appropriate practice
Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8
A linear listing of principles of child development and learning, such as
the above, cannot do justice to the complexity of the phenomena that it attempts
to describe and explain. Just as all domains of development and learning are
interrelated, so, too, there are relationships among the principles. Similarly,
the following guidelines for practice do not match up one-to-one with the
principles. Instead, early childhood professionals draw on all these fundamental
ideas (as well as many others) when making decisions about their practice.
An understanding of the nature of development and learning during the early
childhood years, from birth through age 8, generates guidelines that inform the
practices of early childhood educators. Developmentally appropriate practice
requires that teachers integrate the many dimensions of their knowledge base.
They must know about child development and the implications of this knowledge
for how to teach, the content of the curriculum -- what to teach and when -- how
to assess what children have learned, and how to adapt curriculum and
instruction to children's individual strengths, needs, and interests. Further,
they must know the particular children they teach and their families and be
knowledgeable as well about the social and cultural context.
The following guidelines address five interrelated dimensions of early
childhood professional practice: creating a caring community of learners,
teaching to enhance development and learning, constructing appropriate
curriculum, assessing children's development and learning, and establishing
reciprocal relationships with families. (The word teacher is used to refer to
any adult responsible for a group of children in any early childhood program,
including infant/toddler caregivers, family child care providers, and
specialists in other disciplines who fulfill the role of teacher.)
Examples of appropriate and inappropriate practice in relation to each of
these dimensions are given for infants and toddlers (Part 3, pp. 72-90),
children 3 through 5 (Part 4, pp. 123-35), and children 6 through 8 (Part
5, pp. 161-78). In the references at the end of each part, readers will be
able to find fuller discussion of the points summarized here and strategies for implementation.
1. Creating a caring community of learners
Developmentally appropriate practices occur within a context that supports
the development of relationships between adults and children, among children,
among teachers, and between teachers and families. Such a community reflects
what is known about the social construction of knowledge and the importance of
establishing a caring, inclusive community in which all children can develop and learn.
- The early childhood setting functions as a community of learners
in which all participants consider and contribute to each other's well-being and learning.
- Consistent, positive relationships with a limited number of
adults and other children are a fundamental determinant of healthy human
development and provide the context for children to learn about themselves and
their world and also how to develop positive, constructive relationships with
other people. The early childhood classroom is a community in which each child
is valued. Children learn to respect and acknowledge differences in abilities
and talents and to value each person for his or her strengths.
- Social relationships are an important context for learning. Each
child has strengths or interests that contribute to the overall functioning of
the group. When children have opportunities to play together, work on projects
in small groups, and talk with other children and adults, their own development
and learning are enhanced. Interacting with other children in small groups
provides a context for children to operate on the edge of their developing
capacities. The learning environment enables children to construct understanding
through interactions with adults and other children.
- The learning environment is designed to protect children's health and safety
and is supportive of children's physiological needs for activity, sensory stimulation,
fresh air, rest, and nourishment. The program provides a balance of rest and active
movement for children throughout the program day. Outdoor experiences are provided
for children of all ages. The program protects children's psychological safety;
that is, children feel secure, relaxed, and comfortable rather than disengaged, frightened,
worried, or stressed.
- Children experience an organized environment and an orderly routine that provides an
overall structure in which learning takes place; the environment is dynamic and changing
but predictable and comprehensible from a child's point of view. The learning environment
provides a variety of materials and opportunities for children to have firsthand, meaningful
2. Teaching to enhance development and learning
Adults are responsible for ensuring children's healthy development and
learning. From birth, relationships with adults are critical determinants of
children's healthy social and emotional development and serve as well as
mediators of language and intellectual development. At the same time, children
are active constructors of their own understanding, who benefit from initiating
and regulating their own learning activities and interacting with peers.
Therefore, early childhood teachers strive to achieve an optimal balance between
children's self-initiated learning and adult guidance or support.
Teachers accept responsibility for actively supporting children's
development and provide occasions for children to acquire important knowledge
and skills. Teachers use their knowledge of child development and learning to
identify the range of activities, materials, and learning experiences that are
appropriate for a group or individual child. This knowledge is used in
conjunction with knowledge of the context and understanding about individual
children's growth patterns, strengths, needs, interests, and experiences to
design the curriculum and learning environment and guide teachers' interactions
with children. The following guidelines describe aspects of the teachers' role
in making decisions about practice:
- Teachers respect, value, and accept children and treat them with dignity at all times.
- Teachers make it a priority to know each child well.
- Teachers establish positive, personal relationships with children to foster
the child's development and keep informed about the child's needs and
potentials. Teachers listen to children and adapt their responses to children's
differing needs, interests, styles, and abilities.
- Teachers continually observe children's spontaneous play and interaction
with the physical environment and with other children to learn about their
interests, abilities, and developmental progress. On the basis of this
information, teachers plan experiences that enhance children's learning and development.
- Understanding that children develop and learn in the context of their
families and communities, teachers establish relationships with families that
increase their knowledge of children's lives outside the classroom and their
awareness of the perspectives and priorities of those individuals most
significant in the child's life.
- Teachers are alert to signs of undue stress and traumatic events in
children's lives and aware of effective strategies to reduce stress and support
the development of resilience.
- Teachers are responsible at all times for all children under their
supervision and plan for children's increasing development of self-regulation abilities.
- Teachers create an intellectually engaging, responsive environment to promote each
child's learning and development.
- Teachers use their knowledge about children in general and the particular
children in the group as well as their familiarity with what children need to
learn and develop in each curriculum area to organize the environment and plan
curriculum and teaching strategies.
- Teachers provide children with a rich variety of experiences, projects,
materials, problems, and ideas to explore and investigate, ensuring that these
are worthy of children's attention.
- Teachers provide children with opportunities to make meaningful choices and
time to explore through active involvement. Teachers offer children the choice
to participate in a small-group or a solitary activity, assist and guide
children who are not yet able to use and enjoy child-choice activity periods,
and provide opportunities for practice of skills as a self-chosen activity.
- Teachers organize the daily and weekly schedule and allocate time so as to
provide children with extended blocks of time in which to engage in play,
projects, and/or study in integrated curriculum
- Teachers make plans to enable children to attain key curriculum goals across
various disciplines, such as language arts, mathematics, social studies, science,
art, music, physical education, and health (see "Constructing appropriate
curriculum," pp. 2021).
- Teachers incorporate a wide variety of experiences, materials and
equipment, and teaching strategies in constructing curriculum to accommodate a
broad range of children's individual differences in prior experiences,
maturation rates, styles of learning, needs, and interests.
- Teachers bring each child's home culture and language into the shared
culture of the school so that the unique contributions of each group are
recognized and valued by others.
- Teachers are prepared to meet identified special needs of individual
children, including children with disabilities and those who exhibit unusual
interests and skills. Teachers use all the strategies identified here, consult
with appropriate specialists, and see that the child gets the specialized
services he or she requires.
- Teachers foster children's collaboration with peers on interesting, important enterprises.
- Teachers promote children's productive collaboration without taking over
to the extent that children lose interest.
- Teachers use a variety of ways of flexibly grouping children for the
purposes of instruction, supporting collaboration among children, and building a
sense of community. At various times, children have opportunities to work
individually, in small groups, and with the whole group.
- Teachers develop, refine, and use a wide repertoire of teaching strategies to
enhance children's learning and development.
- To help children develop their initiative, teachers encourage them to
choose and plan their own learning activities.
- Teachers pose problems, ask questions, and make comments and suggestions
that stimulate children's thinking and extend their learning.
- Teachers extend the range of children's interests and the scope of their
thought through presenting novel experiences and introducing stimulating ideas,
problems, experiences, or hypotheses.
- To sustain an individual child's effort or engagement in purposeful
activities, teachers select from a range of strategies, including but not
limited to modeling, demonstrating specific skills, and providing information,
focused attention, physical proximity, verbal encouragement, reinforcement and
other behavioral procedures, as well as additional structure and modification of
equipment or schedules as needed.
- Teachers coach and/or directly guide children in the acquisition of
specific skills as needed.
- Teachers calibrate the complexity and challenge of activities to suit
children's level of skill and knowledge, increasing the challenge as children
gain competence and understanding.
- Teachers provide cues and other forms of "scaffolding" that
enable the child to succeed in a task that is just beyond his or her ability to
- To strengthen children's sense of competence and confidence as learners,
motivation to persist, and willingness to take risks, teachers provide
experiences for children to be genuinely successful and to be challenged.
- To enhance children's conceptual understanding, teachers use various
strategies that encourage children to reflect on and "revisit" their
- Teachers facilitate the development of responsibility and self-regulation in children.
- Teachers set clear, consistent, and fair limits for children's behavior and
hold children accountable to standards of acceptable behavior. To the extent
that children are able, teachers engage them in developing rules and procedures
for behavior of class members.
- Teachers redirect children to more acceptable behavior or activity or use
children's mistakes as learning opportunities, patiently reminding children of
rules and their rationale as needed.
- Teachers listen and acknowledge children's feelings and frustrations,
respond with respect, guide children to resolve conflicts, and model skills that
help children to solve their own problems.
3. Constructing appropriate curriculum
The content of the early childhood curriculum is determined by many
factors, including the subject matter of the disciplines, social or cultural
values, and parental input. In developmentally appropriate programs, decisions
about curriculum content also take into consideration the age and experience of
the learners. Achieving success for all children depends, among other
essentials, on providing a challenging, interesting, developmentally appropriate
curriculum. NAEYC does not endorse specific curricula. However, one purpose of
these guidelines is as a framework for making decisions about developing
curriculum or selecting a curriculum model. Teachers who use a validated
curriculum model benefit from the evidence of its effectiveness and the
accumulated wisdom and experience of others.
In some respects, the curriculum strategies of many teachers today do not
demand enough of children and in other ways demand too much of the wrong thing.
On the one hand, narrowing the curriculum to those basic skills that can be
easily measured on multiple-choice tests diminishes the intellectual challenge
for many children. Such intellectually impoverished curriculum underestimates
the true competence of children, which has been demonstrated to be much higher
than is often assumed (Gelman & Baillargeon 1983; Gelman & Meck 1983;
Edwards, Gandini, & Forman 1993; Resnick 1996). Watered-down, oversimplified
curriculum leaves many children unchallenged, bored, uninterested, or
unmotivated. In such situations, children's experiences are marked by a great
many missed opportunities for learning.
On the other hand, curriculum expectations in the early years of schooling
sometimes are not appropriate for the age groups served. When next-grade
expectations of mastery of basic skills are routinely pushed down to the
previous grade and whole group and teacher-led instruction is the dominant
teaching strategy, children who cannot sit still and attend to teacher lectures
or who are bored and unchallenged or frustrated by doing workbook pages for long
periods of time are mislabeled as immature, disruptive, or unready for school
(Shepard & Smith 1988). Constructing appropriate curriculum requires
attention to at least the following guidelines for practice:
- Developmentally appropriate curriculum provides for all areas of a child's
development: physical, emotional, social, linguistic, aesthetic, and cognitive.
- Curriculum includes a broad range of content across disciplines that is socially
relevant, intellectually engaging, and personally meaningful to children.
- Curriculum builds upon what children already know and are able to do (activating
prior knowledge) to consolidate their learning and to foster their acquisition of new
concepts and skills.
- Effective curriculum plans frequently integrate across traditional subject-matter
divisions to help children make meaningful connections and provide opportunities for
rich conceptual development; focusing on one subject is also a valid strategy at times.
- Curriculum promotes the development of knowledge and understanding, processes and
skills, as well as the dispositions to use and apply skills and to go on learning.
- Curriculum content has intellectual integrity, reflecting the key concepts and tools
of inquiry of recognized disciplines in ways that are accessible and achievable for young
children, ages 3 through 8 (e.g., Bredekamp & Rosegrant 1992, 1995). Children directly
participate in study of the disciplines, for instance, by conducting scientific experiments,
writing, performing, solving mathematical problems, collecting and analyzing data, collecting
oral history, and performing other roles of experts in the disciplines.
- Curriculum provides opportunities to support children's home culture and language
while also developing all children's abilities to participate in the shared culture of
the program and the community.
- Curriculum goals are realistic and attainable for most children in the designated age
range for which they are designed.
- When used, technology is physically and philosophically integrated in the classroom
curriculum and teaching. (See "NAEYC Position Statement: Technology and Young
ChildrenAges Three through Eight" [NAEYC 1996b].)
4. Assessing children's learning and development
Assessment of individual children's development and learning is essential
for planning and implementing appropriate curriculum. In developmentally
appropriate programs, assessment and curriculum are integrated, with teachers
continually engaging in observational assessment for the purpose of improving
teaching and learning.
Accurate assessment of young children is difficult because their development
and learning are rapid, uneven, episodic, and embedded within specific cultural
and linguistic contexts. Too often, inaccurate and inappropriate assessment
measures have been used to label, track, or otherwise harm young children.
Developmentally appropriate assessment practices are based on the following guidelines:
- Assessment of young children's progress and achievements is ongoing, strategic,
and purposeful. The results of assessment are used to benefit children -- in adapting
curriculum and teaching to meet the developmental and learning needs of children,
communicating with the child's family, and evaluating the program's effectiveness
for the purpose of improving the program.
- The content of assessments reflects progress toward important learning and developmental
goals. The program has a systematic plan for collecting and using assessment information
that is integrated with curriculum planning.
- The methods of assessment are appropriate to the age and experiences of young children.
Therefore, assessment of young children relies heavily on the results of observations of
children's development, descriptive data, collections of representative work by children,
and demonstrated performance during authentic, not contrived, activities. Input from
families as well as children's evaluations of their own work are part of the overall
- Assessments are tailored to a specific purpose and used only for the purpose for
which they have been demonstrated to produce reliable, valid information.
- Decisions that have a major impact on children, such as enrollment or placement,
are never made on the basis of a single developmental assessment or screening device but
are based on multiple sources of relevant information, particularly observations by teachers
- To identify children who have special learning or developmental needs and to plan
appropriate curriculum and teaching for them, developmental assessments and observations
- Assessment recognizes individual variation in learners and allows for differences in
styles and rates of learning. Assessment takes into consideration such factors as the child's
facility in English, stage of language acquisition, and whether the child has had the time
and opportunity to develop proficiency in his or her home language as well as in English.
- Assessment legitimately addresses not only what children can do independently but
what they can do with assistance from other children or adults. Teachers study children
as individuals as well as in relationship to groups by documenting group projects and other
(For a more complete discussion of principles of appropriate assessment, see
the position statement Guidelines for Appropriate Curriculum Content and
Assessment for Children Ages 3 through 8 [NAEYC & NAECS/SDE 1992]; see also
5. Establishing reciprocal relationships with families
Developmentally appropriate practices derive from deep knowledge of
individual children and the context within which they develop and learn. The
younger the child, the more necessary it is for professionals to acquire this
knowledge through relationships with children's families. The traditional
approach to families has been a parent education orientation in which the
professionals see themselves as knowing what is best for children and view
parents as needing to be educated. There is also the limited view of parent
involvement that sees PTA membership as the primary goal. These approaches do
not adequately convey the complexity of the partnership between teachers and
parents that is a fundamental element of good practice (Powell 1994).
When the parent education approach is criticized in favor of a more
family-centered approach, this shift may be misunderstood to mean that parents
dictate all program content and professionals abdicate responsibility, doing
whatever parents want regardless of whether professionals agree that it is in
children's best interest. Either of these extremes oversimplifies the importance
of relationships with families and fails to provide the kind of environment in
which parents and professionals work together to achieve shared goals for
children; such programs with this focus are characterized by at least the
following guidelines for practice:
- Reciprocal relationships between teachers and families require mutual respect,
cooperation, shared responsibility, and negotiation of conflicts toward achievement
of shared goals.
- Early childhood teachers work in collaborative partnerships with families, establishing
and maintaining regular, frequent two-way communication with children's parents.
- Parents are welcome in the program and participate in decisions about their children's
care and education. Parents observe and participate and serve in decisionmaking roles in
- Teachers acknowledge parents' choices and goals for children and respond with sensitivity
and respect to parents' preferences and concerns without abdicating professional responsibility
- Teachers and parents share their knowledge of the child and understanding of children's
development and learning as part of day-to-day communication and planned conferences. Teachers
support families in ways that maximally promote family decisionmaking capabilities and
- To ensure more accurate and complete information, the program involves families in
assessing and planning for individual children.
- The program links families with a range of services, based on identified resources,
priorities, and concerns.
- Teachers, parents, programs, social service and health agencies, and consultants who
may have educational responsibility for the child at different times should, with family
participation, share developmental information about children as they pass from one level
of a program to another.
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