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"I keep hearing the term,"Developmentally Appropriate'"

What’s this whole “Developmentally Appropriate” thing about anyway?


Often times you may hear early childhood educators advocating for activities and curriculum that is “developmentally appropriate.” But what does that mean?

Essentially, all children develop and grow at different rates and as such, it is important to ensure that what they are learning and how they are learning is suited to their level of development. The work and method of learning shouldn’t be too hard that they can’t do it without assistance. However, it should not be so easy that they aren’t being cognitively challenged at all. Basically, developmentally appropriate work falls right in the sweet spot of a child’s learning range and is something that they can do in their current level of progression.

For example, you wouldn’t test a 4-year-old on their knowledge of shapes by having them write a 3-page long essay. That would developmentally inappropriate, on all domains. Physically, 4-year-olds are still developing fine motor skills and learning how to grasp a pencil. Cognitively, they are still very concrete learners and can only hold a few pieces of information in their minds at the same time without being cognitively overloaded. This task is much more abstract than they could handle. It’s a bit of a drastic example, but you get the point.

What is Developmentally Appropriate? And how can I identify?

This is where knowledge of child development comes in. In the Early Childhood Education program, you learn exactly this: how children develop physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially over time from birth to the age of 8. You become the expert in what kids are capable of and what they can handle. As such, you can become an advocate in your school for your children to ensure they are receiving the best education suited for their learning.

Fortunately, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has developed a set of Developmentally Appropriate Principles (DAP) for all teachers to follow when working with young children. Even if you’re not studying early childhood education, these principles are still great to keep in mind if you ever work with children in 3rd grade or below!

I took the liberty to sum them up for you here in a much easier read, but feel free to visit the NAEYC official position statement!

NAEYC's Developmentally Appropriate Principles

  1. All domains of development (physical, cognitive, social, and emotional) influence each other

  2. Children develop in a sequence and build upon abilities already acquired

  3. Every child develops at a different rate

  4. Both biology and experience influence a child’s development

  5. Early experiences have profound effects on a child’s learning and there may be optimal times for learning to occur

  6. Children will be capable of more complex, symbolic learning as they develop

  7. Children learn best when they have a secure relationship with adults and peers

  8. Development is influenced by different social and cultural contexts

  9. Children learn in a variety of ways

  10. Play is important for children’s development in all domains

  11. Learning occurs when children are challenged to achieve at a level just beyond their current mastery

  12. A child’s experiences shape their dispositions, motivations, and behaviors and vice versa

So, if you feel passionate about advocating for children and working with them where they are at, early childhood might be the place for you!


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