The following is an excerpt from an NAEYC online author Q&A event with Carol Copple & Sue Bredekamp on the book Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 (3d ed.). The Q&A took place October 10-14, 2011. To view more highlights from 2011 online Q&As, click here.
It seems that the standards for young children have moved up a year: Preschool is the new kindergarten and kindergarten is now a world of strict regulations, with the importance of play and exploration forgotten. How can developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) be implemented in classrooms in a way that respects new standards but brings some of the fun back?
Yours is probably the most frequently asked question about DAP and the biggest concern of most early childhood educators. It is true that the expectations for children’s learning have increased over the years. In some cases, these expectations have become developmentally inappropriate—that is, they are not achievable for most children in a given age range, even with good teaching. It is important to note, however, that this is not true of all the standards. For example, the new Head Start Early Learning and Development Framework is certainly developmentally appropriate, and many state standards were developed with considerable input from early childhood educators.
There are several reasons why this “push down” trend has occurred, and it has been going on for a long time. Most people attribute the trend to the increased emphasis on standardized test scores in the early grades and the accountability movement’s focus on child outcomes. But a positive contributing factor is that we now know more about the kinds of skills and abilities that predict children’s later success in school. In addition, we know that children are more capable of learning complex concepts (in mathematics, for example) than we previously thought. Unfortunately, many children, especially those from low-income families or dual language learners, have not had the prior experiences at home that prepare them for the rigors of these higher standards.
Keep in mind that teachers are still the most important determinants of the quality of children’s experiences and their learning. And there is considerable research that supports the use of a variety of teaching strategies that are developmentally appropriate, such as socio-dramatic play for self-regulation, language and literacy learning, and block building and board games for mathematics. Children learn phonemic awareness by singing and playing rhyming games. They learn vocabulary and background knowledge through small group story book reading with opportunities to talk about what is read. Children gain literacy skills by doing their own writing, whether while playing restaurant or while describing their drawings. Teachers themselves have the power to be playful and joyful with children, establish warm positive relationships, speak kindly, and make learning fun.