Human Growth & Development · Learning Environments & Curriculum · Observation & Assessment

What is Developmentally Appropriate? DAP

When I started this journey to do training, I joined several facebook groups for preschool teachers. I wanted to get an idea of what things they were interested in and what questions they might have. I am so surprised at how many posts ask questions like, “What’s the best way to teach two-year olds the alphabet?” – and – “How do I get my three-year olds to do what I tell them? They just do whatever they want.” And many other things that don’t fall into DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practice).


When did early learning become so academic and regimented? It seems like we have confused structure with conformity. But study after study shows that children learn through play. They need the freedom to make their own choices and learn from them. As teachers, our job is to facilitate and scaffold play not instruct and direct.

Let me elaborate just a bit with some definitions from Merriam-Webster:

Facilitate – to make easier: help bring out; Facilitate growth

Scaffold – a supporting framework


Instruct – 1) to give knowledge; 2) to provide authoritative information or advice; 3) to give an order or command.

Direct – to regulate activities or course of

What is DAP?

DAP is short for the term Developmentally Appropriate Practice. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) coined the phrase and states, “Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is an approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education”. It goes on to say that teachers should meet each children’s needs for where they are developmentally.  In order to do this, teachers need to know what the developmental stages are and know each child.

Here is a link to the NAEYC site that has resources and information on DAP and children’s development.

In conclusion…

Teachers need to be aware of the development of each child in their classroom. Not every child fits in the developmental norm for their age. Many are a bit behind or ahead. It is the teacher’s responsibility as an early learning professional to provide activities that not only stimulate further development, but allow a child to have success in the activity itself. Check out this NAEYC publication of the DAP Position Statement for more information.

For more information on DAP and developmental milestones, visit the NAEYC website. There are articles and book reviews that can help. And if you aren’t already a member of NAEYC, I highly recommend it. With your membership you receive the monthly magazine, Young Children, as well as discounts on books. Staying on top of the research helps tremendously in understanding these little people we work with and gives us the skills to enrich their experiences to the fullest.

Note: This is not an advertisement for NAEYC. I believe strongly in this organization and it’s work to advance the Early Childhood Education field.




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