Early childhood educators often talk about the importance of “developmentally appropriate practice” or DAP. But what does this mean exactly? According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), DAP is “an approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn.” Teachers who implement DAP know what is typical at each age and stage of early development so they can provide children with the right mix of challenge and support. With DAP, children remain curious and creative, but don’t feel overwhelmed by material or tasks that are too difficult.
Consider this scenario (taken from the NAEYC website):
In the dramatic play center, two 4-year-old girls are pretending to read menus. Maria [the teacher], noticing that neither girl has taken on the role of waiter, takes notepad and pencil in hand and asks them, “May I take your order?” Over the next few days, more children join the restaurant play. Waiters set tables, take orders, give orders to the cook, and prepare checks for diners.
Maria’s intervention extends and enriches the children’s play. As they take on the new role of waiter, they interact in different ways, create more complex dramatic play situations, and use writing and math for new purposes. In short, Maria is meeting children where they are and stimulating them to go further. Such “scaffolded play” is one hallmark of a classroom characterized by DAP and one indicator of high-quality preschool education.
Emerita Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education
Rutgers Graduate School of Education