ERIC Identifier: ED413106
Publication Date: 1997-10-00
Author: Dunn, Loraine - Kontos, Susan
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Developmentally Appropriate Practice: What Does Research Tell
Us? ERIC Digest.
Those who advocate for developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) do so based
on the conviction that these classroom practices enhance children's development
and facilitate learning. This ERIC Digest examines recent research on DAP and
social-emotional and cognitive development, and describes what we have learned
about DAP in early childhood classrooms.
Given the context in which the
National Association for the Education of Young Children's original position
statement was released, namely Elkind's (1981) discussion of the "hurried
child," it is not surprising that the earliest studies on developmentally
appropriate practice focused on stress and emotional development. Two research
teams documented that children exhibit more stress in didactic environments than
in child-initiated environments. In the Hyson, Hirsh-Pasek, and Rescorla study
(1990), preschool children enrolled in child-initiated programs displayed lower
levels of test anxiety than children enrolled in academic programs, regardless
of parental preferences for classroom approaches. In the second study (Burts et
al., 1990), children in inappropriate classrooms exhibited more total stress
behaviors throughout the day and more stress behaviors during group times and
Turning now to cognitive development,
we focus on creativity, language development, children's perceptions of their
cognitive competence, and traditional measures of achievement. Classrooms
characterized by child initiation appear to facilitate children's creative
development. The Hyson research team found that children in child-initiated
classrooms scored higher on measures of creativity, or divergent thinking, than
children in academically oriented classrooms (Hirsh-Pasek, Hyson, &
Rescorla, 1990; Hyson, Hirsh-Pasek, & Rescorla, 1990).
In two other studies on language development in child-initiated and
academically focused programs, the developmentally appropriate, or
child-initiated, programs were associated with better language outcomes.
Progress reports from public-school preschool programs indicated that children
in child-initiated classrooms had better verbal skills than children in
academically oriented programs (Marcon, 1992). Children's receptive language was
better in programs with higher quality literacy environments and when
developmentally appropriate activities were more prevalent (Dunn, Beach, &
Young children in developmentally appropriate programs also seemed more
confident in their own cognitive skills. Children described their cognitive
competence more positively when they attended child-initiated rather than
academically oriented programs (Mantzicopoulos, Neuharth-Pritchett, &
Morelock, 1994; Stipek et al., 1995).
When using the traditional measuring sticks of achievement tests and report
card grades, it is difficult to say whether child-centered or didactic programs
are superior. Similar to the state of affairs for social development, the
available research is equivocal with regard to these assessments of cognitive
development. The majority of the studies indicate that a didactic approach is
not necessary to promote children's learning of academic skills. Supporting
developmentally appropriate practice are studies by Sherman and Mueller (1996)
and Marcon (1992). Sherman and Mueller (1996) observed better reading and
mathematics achievement scores for children attending developmentally
appropriate kindergarten through second grade. Preschool children in Marcon's
(1992) study had more positive progress reports overall and specifically on math
and science when they attended child-initiated classrooms. Mathematics
achievement was similar for children in both types of classrooms, however.
Hyson, Hirsh-Pasek, and Rescorla (1990) found no differences in academic
achievement as a function of the developmental appropriateness of the program
preschool children attended.
Studies following children over time suggest there may be academic benefits
to DAP in the long run. Children experiencing preschool programs rating high on
developmental appropriateness do well academically in first grade (Frede &
Barnett, 1992). In addition, children of low socioeconomic status attending
appropriate kindergarten classrooms tend to have better reading achievement
scores in first grade than children attending inappropriate classrooms (Burts et
al., 1993). These are encouraging findings, given that the classroom children
currently attend is also likely to influence their performance. The fact that
differences between children in more- and less-appropriate classrooms are
evident a year or more later suggests that children's learning environments
during these early years are important.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
What have we learned from research on
DAP? First, developmentally appropriate practices are not the norm in early
childhood programs. Although teachers endorse this pedagogical method, they
often struggle with implementation. Professional preparation designed to help
teachers implement developmentally appropriate practice can be quite effective.
We need to learn more about how to most effectively support teachers'
implementation of developmentally appropriate practice.
Second, parents and teachers may not agree on the value of DAP. Helping
parents understand the link between DAP and basic skill acquisition may prevent
potential tensions between parents and teachers over instructional methods. The
emotional costs of academically oriented classrooms, particularly for children
from low-income, linguistically or culturally diverse groups, behoove us to make
parents aware of the potential benefits of DAP.
Third, developmentally appropriate practices create a positive classroom
climate conducive to children's healthy emotional development. Emotional
development is an area often neglected when making programming decisions. This
literature reminds us that children's emotions and their participation in
classroom activities are vitally linked.
Fourth, we have only scratched the surface in understanding how
developmentally appropriate practices influence children's social development.
While developmentally appropriate practices enhance children's social skills in
general, additional data are needed to determine how these practices affect
other facets of socialization. Classroom practices and children's cognitive
development interact in complex ways.
Taken together, the research favors DAP. In
general, child-initiated environments were associated with higher levels of
cognitive functioning. Coupling this information with the findings on stress and
motivation provides a strong argument for developmentally appropriate practice,
especially for low-income children--the very children whose parents may prefer
academically oriented programs. While academic environments sometimes may result
in higher levels of achievement, this achievement may come at emotional costs to
the child. Given that similar cognitive advantages also occur in child-initiated
environments, it would seem beneficial to explore ways to communicate more
effectively how cognitive development is enhanced through developmentally
Condensed by permission from L. Dunn &
S. Kontos, "Research in Review: What Have We Learned about Developmentally
Appropriate Practice?" YOUNG CHILDREN 52 (5): 4-13. Copyright 1997 by the
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