What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?


Image source: Cornerstone Learning Community

The Learning Child Team is starting up a book study within our group of Extension Educators on the topic of Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP).  We are all reading the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAECY) publication, Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs; Serving Children from Birth Through Eight. Thus, it occurred to me that I use the term DAP quite frequently in my blogs and in the company of childcare professionals and parents. I will visit about what DAP means in my blog this month.

When I think of DAP for children from birth to age eight, the phrase “best practice” comes to mind.  According to NAEYC, DAP encourages teachers to make choices about education based on sound knowledge of child development and learning processes while taking in to account individual differences and needs, as well as social and cultural constructs. As stated by the authors of our book, Sue Bredekamp and Carol Copple, teachers who practice DAP meet learners where they are, not necessarily where they should be, and take in to consideration all the developmental areas of the whole child (physical, emotional, social, cognitive).


  • Teachers meet children where they are, they get to know them well, and enable children to reach goals that are both challenging and achievable.
  • Teaching practices are uniquely attuned to the child’s age and developmental abilities, as well as the social and cultural contexts in which they live.
  • DAP does not mean that teachers make things easier for the child, but rather, designs challenging experiences that stretch their interest and abilities.
  • Educators use reliable research as a foundation for best practice in choosing curriculum, teaching practices, and making decisions in early care and education.


Teaching is literally woven into every aspect of the child’s environment including both child guided and teacher guided experiences where play promotes key abilities for children to learn successfully. The curriculum is carefully selected and skilled teachers are able to adapt the curriculum to each individual child.

  • Relationships with responsive care givers
  • Active learning, hands on experiences for children
  • Meaningful experiences
  • Large group time
  • Small group time
  • Learning Centers
  • Daily Routines


Early childhood educators are intentionally supporting the growth and development of multiple domains through carefully planned environments and routines that support these interwoven areas.  Often these areas are supported by the same activity, hitting many of the domains at once. Such as building with blocks can support physical development, creative expression, language development and concepts in math such as size and number.

  • Social Emotional development
  • Language development
  • Literacy
  • Math and numeracy
  • Technology and Scientific inquiry and knowledge
  • Understanding of self
  • Creative expression
  • Physical development and skills

NAEYC’s Position Statement  details more specifics on developmentally appropriate practices and what it looks like in early care and education settings.

Better Kid Care by Penn State Extension also highlights the goals of DAP and strategies and approaches for applying developmentally appropriate practices.

How does your view of Developmentally Appropriate Practice shape the way you care for and teach young children?


Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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