Core Considerations to Inform Decision Making
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Core Considerations to Inform Decision Making
Developmentally appropriate practice requires early childhood educators to seek out and gain knowledge and understanding using three core considerations: commonality in children’s development and learning, individuality reflecting each child’s unique characteristics and experiences, and the context in which development and learning occur. These core considerations apply to all aspects of educators’ decision-making in their work to foster each child’s optimal development and learning.
Commonality—current research and understandings of processes of child development and learning that apply to all children, including the understanding that all development and learning occur within specific social, cultural, linguistic, and historical contexts
An ever-increasing body of research documents the tremendous amount of development and learning that occur from birth through age 8 across all domains and content areas and how foundational this development and learning is for later life.4 This extensive knowledge base, including both what is known about general processes of children’s development and learning and the educational practices educators need to fully support development and learning in all areas, is summarized in the principles section of this statement.
When considering commonalities in development and learning, it is important to acknowledge that much of the research and the principal theories that have historically guided early childhood professional preparation and practice have primarily reflected norms based on a Western scientific-cultural model.5, 6 Little research has considered a normative perspective based on other groups. As a result, differences from this Western (typically White, middle-class, monolingual English-speaking) norm have been viewed as deficits, helping to perpetuate systems of power and privilege and to maintain structural inequities.7, 8 Increasingly, theories once assumed to be universal in developmental sciences, such as attachment, are now recognized to vary by culture and experience.9
The current body of evidence indicates that all child development and learning—actually, all human development and learning—are always embedded within and affected by social and cultural contexts.10 As social and cultural contexts vary, so too do processes of development and learning. Social and cultural aspects are not simply ingredients of development and learning; these aspects provide the framework for all development and learning. For example, play is a universal phenomenon across all cultures (it also extends to other primates). Play, however, can vary significantly by social and cultural contexts as children use play as a means of interpreting and making sense of their experiences.11 Early childhood educators need to understand the commonalities of children’s development and learning and how those commonalities take unique forms as they reflect the social and cultural frameworks in which they occur.
Individuality—the characteristics and experiences unique to each child, within the context of their family and community, that have implications for how best to support their development and learning
Early childhood educators have the responsibility of getting to know each child well, understanding each child as an individual and as a family and community member. Educators use a variety of methods—including reflecting on their knowledge of the community; seeking information from the family; observing the child; examining the child’s work; and using authentic, valid, and reliable individual child assessments. Educators understand that each child reflects a complex mosaic of knowledge and experiences that contributes to the considerable diversity among any group of young children. These differences include the children’s various social identities, interests, strengths, and preferences; their personalities, motivations, and approaches to learning; and their knowledge, skills, and abilities related to their cultural experiences, including family languages, dialects, and vernaculars. Children may have disabilities or other individual learning needs, including needs for accelerated learning. Sometimes these individual learning needs have been diagnosed, and sometimes they have not.
Early childhood educators recognize this diversity and the opportunities it offers to support all children’s learning by recognizing each child as a unique individual with assets and strengths to contribute to the early childhood education learning environment.
Context—everything discernible about the social and cultural contexts for each child, each educator, and the program as a whole
One of the key updates in this revision is the expansion of the core consideration regarding the social and cultural contexts of development and learning. As noted in the first core consideration on commonality, the fact that development and learning are embedded in social and cultural contexts is true of all individuals. Context includes both one’s personal cultural context (that is, the complex set of ways of knowing the world that reflect one’s family and other primary caregivers and their traditions and values) and the broader multifaceted and intersecting (for example, social, racial, economic, historical, and political) cultural contexts in which each of us live. In both the individual- and societal- definitions, these are dynamic rather than static contexts that shape and are shaped by individual members as well as other factors.
Early childhood educators must also be aware that they themselves—and their programs as a whole—bring their own experiences and contexts, in both the narrower and broader definitions, to their decision-making. This is particularly important to consider when educators do not share the cultural contexts of the children they serve. Yet even when educators appear to share the cultural contexts of children, they can sometimes experience a disconnection between their professional and cultural knowledge.12
To fully support each child’s optimal development and learning in an increasingly diverse society, early childhood educators need to understand the implications of these contexts. By recognizing that children’s experiences may vary by their social identities (for example, by race or ethnicity, language, gender, class, ability, family composition, and economic status, among others), with different and intersecting impacts on their development and learning, educators can make adaptations to affirm and support positive development of each child’s multiple social identities. Additionally, educators must be aware of, and counter, their own and larger societal biases that may undermine a child’s positive development and well-being. Early childhood educators have a professional responsibility to be life-long learners who are able to foster life-long learning in children; in this, they must keep abreast of research developments, while also learning continuously from families and communities they serve.