ERIC Identifier: ED356101
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Kostelnik, Marjorie J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Developmentally Appropriate Programs. ERIC Digest.
The phrase DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE is currently used to describe a great
many early childhood education practices. This term is sometimes used to justify
such incompatible notions as readiness programs that structure children's
learning within narrowly defined parameters and programs that advocate giving
children the gift of time by providing little or no structure. It may be used to
rationalize grouping children by ability or by almost any criteria OTHER than
ability. These inconsistencies have led to much confusion about what
developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) or programs entail (Walsh, 1991).
DEBUNKING THE MYTHS ABOUT DAP
In the absence of informed
understanding, myths have sprung up to explain what DAP means. Some of these
myths represent collective opinions that are based on false assumptions or are
the product of fallacious reasoning. Others result from intuitive
interpretations of child behavior or superficial understanding of child
development and learning-related theories and research (Spodek, 1986). Still
more myths have been created as a way for people to make finite and absolute a
concept that is in fact open-ended and amenable to many variations. Some of the
most common myths or erroneous assumptions about DAP are:
1. THERE IS ONLY ONE RIGHT WAY TO IMPLEMENT A DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE
PROGRAM. This belief is based on the underlying assumption that one method of
teaching suits all children. On the contrary, individual teaching episodes can
and should be qualified by "it depends" (Newman and Church, 1990). Practitioners
need to continually weigh what they do in relation to their knowledge about how
children develop and learn; examine their assumptions and learn from the
children as they evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching; and search for
the BEST ANSWERS (rather than one RIGHT ANSWER) to meet the needs of children
with a wide range of abilities, learning styles, interests, and backgrounds at a
particular time and in a particular situation.
2. DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PROGRAMS ARE UNSTRUCTURED AND PRACTITIONERS OFFER MINIMAL, IF ANY, GUIDANCE TO THE CHILDREN IN
CARE. Structure refers to the extent to which teachers develop an instructional plan, then organize the physical setting and social
environment to support the achievement of educational goals (Spodek, Saracho,
and Davis, 1991). By this definition, developmentally appropriate classrooms are
highly structured, but fluid enough to use input from the children (Newman and
Church, 1990) to change the teacher's instructional plan. Children may ask
questions, suggest alternatives, express interests, and develop plans that may
lead the instruction in new directions so that instructional goals can be
reached. Developmentally appropriate classrooms are active, but not chaotic;
children are on-task, but not rigidly following a single line of inquiry.
Overall instructional goals are merged with more immediate ones to create a
flexible, stimulating classroom structure.
3. IN DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PROGRAMS, THE EXPECTATIONS FOR CHILDREN'S
BEHAVIOR AND LEARNING ARE LOW. Learning can be characterized as occurring in two
directions, vertically and horizontally. Vertical learning is traditional
hierarchical learning, that is, piling new facts or skills on top of previously
learned ones to increase the number and complexity of facts and skills attained.
Horizontal learning, however, is conceptually based. In this framework,
experiences occur more or less simultaneously, and the role of the learner
becomes that of making connections among these experiences, which leads to an
understanding of the world through the development of increasingly elaborate
concepts. Both vertical and horizontal learning are essential to human
understanding, but horizontal learning, also known as "concept development,"
tends to be neglected in traditional primary education. Because children in the
early years are establishing the conceptual base from which all future learning
will proceed, their need for a solid, broad foundation is great. The breadth of
the conceptual base children form eventually influences their performance in
school. A balance in the curriculum, with both kinds of learning addressed and
valued, is a fundamental aspect of DAP. Such a balance results not in children
learning LESS, but in children learning BETTER.
4. ACADEMICS HAVE NO PLACE IN DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PROGRAMS.
Proponents and opponents of this myth in the early childhood community tend to
equate academics with technical subskills or rote instruction; confuse concepts
with methods; and ignore the ways in which reading, writing, and number-related
behavior and understanding emerge in young children's lives. Children may
manifest literacy-related behaviors and an interest in counting and calculating
very early, seeking new knowledge and skills as they mature and their capacities
to KNOW and DO increase. There is no specific time before or after which this
learning is either appropriate or inappropriate. Programs that focus on isolated
skill development and rely on long periods of whole group instruction or
abstract paper-and-pencil activities are unlikely to meet the needs of young
children. By contrast, those that emphasize concepts and processes, and use
small group instruction and active manipulation of relevant, concrete materials
and interactive learning, provide a solid foundation for academics within a
context of meaningful activity.
5. DAP IS INAPPROPRIATE FOR CULTURALLY DIVERSE GROUPS, FOR CHILDREN OF VARYING SOCIOECONOMIC BACKGROUNDS, OR FOR CHILDREN
SPECIAL NEEDS. While specific details of what is appropriate for children will vary from population to population and from child to child, the
principles guiding developmentally appropriate programs are universally
applicable. To put it another way, one might ask, For what children is it
appropriate to ignore how they develop and learn? If the answer is none, then
there is no group for whom the basic tenets of DAP do not apply.
THE ESSENTIALS OF DAP
Figuring out what does or does not
constitute developmentally appropriate practice requires more than debunking the
myths related to DAP. It involves looking at every practice in context and
making judgments about each child and the environment in which he or she is
functioning. The guidelines for DAP put forward by the National Association for
the Education of Young Children (Bredekamp, 1987), and later corroborated and
embellished by organizations such as the National Association of State Boards of
Education (NASBE) and the National Association of Elementary School Principals
(NAESP), provide an excellent resource for thinking about DAP. They serve to
inform our decision making and to give us a basis for continually scrutinizing
our professional practices. Guidelines, however, cannot be expected to tell us
everything there is to know about DAP. Every day practitioners find themselves
in situations in which they must make judgments about what to value and what to
The essence of DAP can be expressed as:
into account everything we know about how children develop and learn, and
matching that to the content and strategies planned for them in early childhood
Specialized knowledge about child development and learning is the cornerstone
of professionalism in early childhood education. Such knowledge encompasses
recognizing common developmental threads among all children and understanding
significant variations across cultures. Teachers and caregivers with the
knowledge needed to do these things are better equipped and more likely to
engage in developmentally appropriate practices; more likely to accept typical
variations among children and accurately recognize potential problems that may
require specialized intervention; and more likely to understand the degree of
developmental readiness children need to achieve particular goals.
children as individuals, not as a cohort group. Practitioners are called on
daily to make decisions that require them to see each child as distinct from all
In their efforts to guide children's instruction and establish appropriate
expectations, teachers and caregivers must weigh such variables as the
children's experiences, knowledge and skills, age, and level of comprehension.
Contextual factors, and physical resources and the amount of time available, can
also affect teacher judgments.
children with respect by recognizing their changing capabilities, and viewing
them in the context of their family, culture, and community, and their past
experience and current circumstances.
Respect involves having faith in children's ability to eventually learn the
information, behavior, and skills they will need to constructively function on
their own. Having respect implies believing children are capable of changing
their behavior and of making self-judgments. Caregivers and teachers manifest
respect when they allow children to think for themselves, make decisions, work
toward their own solutions to problems, and communicate their ideas. Out of
respect, child care workers allow children to make choices about activities and
where to sit at the lunch table. They encourage toddlers to pour their own
juice, preschoolers to become actively engaged in clean-up, and school-age
children to help determine the activities for the day. Respect for children's
increasing competence involves allowing them to experience the exhilaration of
accomplishment, and recognizing that self-control is an emerging skill that
children achieve over time, given adequate support and guidance. With this in
mind, children's transgressions are handled as gaps in knowledge and skills, not
as character flaws.
Experiences planned for children and
expectations for children should reflect the notion that early childhood is a
time of life qualitatively different from the later school years and adulthood.
Granting individual interpretation of the essence of DAP, the basic tenets
outlined above provide a common foundation for defining high quality early
childhood programs. Such programs are ones in which children of all abilities,
ages, races, cultures, religious beliefs, socioeconomic, and family and
lifestyle backgrounds feel lovable, valuable, and competent.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bredekamp, S. Ed. DEVELOPMENTALLY
APPROPRIATE PRACTICE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS SERVING CHILDREN FROM BIRTH
THROUGH AGE 8. Expanded Edition. Washington, DC: National Association for the
Education of Young Children, 1987.
Kostelnik, Marjorie J. "Recognizing the Essentials of Developmentally
Appropriate Practice." CHILD CARE INFORMATION EXCHANGE (March, 1993): 73-77.
Kostelnik, Marjorie J. "MYTHS Associated with Developmentally Appropriate
Programs." YOUNG CHILDREN (May, 1992): 17-23. EJ 447 666.
Kostelnik, Marjorie J., Whiren, A.P., and Soderman, A.K. DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICE FOR EARLY EDUCATION: A PRACTICAL GUIDE. New York: MacMillan, 1993.
Newman, J.M., and Church, S.M. "Myths of Whole Language. Commentary" THE
READING TEACHER 44 (1) (1990): 20-26. EJ 413 063.
Spodek, B. TODAY'S KINDERGARTEN. New York: Teachers College Press, 1986.
Walsh, D.J. "Extending the Discourse on Developmental Appropriateness." EARLY
EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT 2 (2) (1991): 109-119. EJ 441 902.