What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) in Early Childhood Education?

Would you expect a 3-4-year-old to write and recite the alphabet or to read a classic novel like the Little Women by themselves?

If you found the second idea to be a little absurd, you’re not wrong. Except for some exceptionally bright prodigies, children at the age of 3-4 are mostly just starting to learn how to write and read the alphabet, not classic English literature. 

So, the educators also develop a curriculum that will be appropriate for little learners who are probably being exposed to formal education for the first time through primary school. They keep in mind that their students wouldn’t know how to read, write, or sometimes even how to hold a pencil. This logic of ensuring that the learning opportunities suit the current capacities and abilities of the students and further their development is called Developmentally Appropriate Practice. 

This blog discusses what Developmentally Appropriate Practices are, how they can be implemented for little learners and what are some of the benefits of doing the same.

Decoding developmentally appropriate practices

As posited above, the core idea behind Developmentally Appropriate Practices is to ensure that the curriculum meets the learners wherever they are in their developmental journeys. Here individual differences and diversity are key considerations that add to these practices.

According to the updated guidelines released by the National Association for the Education of Young Children in April 2020, the curriculum should cater to three core considerations, commonality, individuality, and context.

This consideration of commonality highlights that while the approach to education needs to be research-driven, the research in the field of education and in general hasn’t always been diverse in terms of cultural, social, and historical contexts. This does not only urge for a more inclusive body of research but also posits that understanding from a body of research mostly focused on one majority group should not be applied to everyone.

Individuality refers to not only acknowledging and honoring the diversity of students and their cultural, social, historical, and linguistic backgrounds in the classroom but actually welcoming the diversity and together learning from it. 

So, while developing the curriculum the individual contexts of various students and their social and cultural realities need to be kept in mind and be leveraged the most to develop an inclusive classroom. The same can be understood by keeping in mind the beneficial characteristics of inclusivity. 

Making an educational system that is DAP sound is not easy. This is why NAEYC gives certain guidelines to keep in mind while doing so:

  1. Coming together to create a space that is judgment free, safe, and caring to maximize learning opportunities and outcomes.
  2. Learning is an end in itself. Not learning to score marks but to enhance development and build one’s strengths.
  3. Designing the curriculum as well as each lesson in such a way that it meets the students in the developmental stage they are.
  4. Testing has to be done for two purposes. One is to assess which developmental stage the individual learner as well as the entire class is in. Two, to assess how well the customized curriculum is able to meet the little learners’ needs.
  5. Last but not the least, learning is a collaborative space. It shouldn’t just consist of the student and the educator but should also include the active participation and engagement of the parents, caregivers, siblings, etc.

DAP effective strategies for little learners

NAEYC highlights 3 major components that need to be a part of any DAP-informed curriculum. These include:

1. Play

Learning through playing is an important cornerstone of Developmentally Appropriate Practices. Playing can not only help the children in learning curriculum lessons but in the process, can also help them learn teamwork, discipline, emotional regulation, organization, leadership, and other social, emotional, and cognitive skills. 

Games can include board games, physical games, make-believe games, games from different cultures, and even online games. 

2. Explore

 A curriculum designed to help reach the individual’s developmental goals and progress toward the next encourages exploration. 

This includes exploration of the course material, oneself, and the environment. The goal is for children to try different things, from their culture and their peers’ culture, stumble upon their strengths and interests, and through continuous exploring, keep building on these strengths while simultaneously finding new ones.

3. Inquire

Students in a DAP-informed curriculum are pushed just the right amount so that they achieve the goals of their developmental stage and successfully move to the next one. 

To understand their current standing as well as the impact of the curriculum, their progress is continuously monitored and assessed using various tools. As students keep getting just the right amount of challenge that gets progressively harder so that they continue enquiring, relating what they are learning to their lives and vice versa. They are also given timely feedback on their progress and the curriculum is constantly adjusted to best facilitate their growth. 

Benefits of adopting developmentally appropriate practices

1. Inclusivity

The culture of a DAP-informed classroom promotes all sorts of diversity. Children from varying social, cultural, and even cognitive backgrounds come together to share a safe space where they collaboratively learn new things from the educator and from each other. DAP is a great example of inclusive classrooms. 

2. Individualized benefits

Before designing and implementing a DAP curriculum, all the individual students are assessed for their current level of development. Their unique social, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds are also taken into account. 

The goal of the curriculum then is to meet every student where they are and in the way they are. This will include practices and lessons appropriate for their level of development, delivered in the language they know and understand.

3. Overall development

Developmentally Appropriate Practices take a holistic approach to education. They don’t just promote the development of a simplistic class, all of whose students know how to write the alphabet or count to 100.

The goal is to promote and facilitate individual as well as class physical, social, cognitive, emotional, and linguistic growth and development.

4. Includes Play

The DAP curriculum is centered around play. Playing has several benefits like teaching the children how to make groups, sometimes even make up the games, organize themselves according to the rules, be spirited as well as respectful and learn various emotional regulation skills like how to be a gracious losing team and a humble winning one.

5. Integrated learning

Learning in a DAP-informed curriculum is not just restricted to one subject. Educators make it a point to bring out the multidisciplinary nature of all subjects and how they apply everywhere, in the classroom and outside, in their daily lives. Students are encouraged to take their learnings home with them and relate them to their daily lives to help with understanding, application, and retention. 


Developmentally Appropriate Practices are exactly what the name suggests, the most appropriate approach to education, especially for little learners.  They meet the students exactly where they need them and how they need them to, they are inclusive and holistic in their view of education and they promote learning that cuts across the boundaries of the classroom and make a real impact on their lives.

The core considerations of designing and implementing a DAP-informed curriculum are establishing commonality while respecting diversity and promoting and facilitating individuality, all in a way that is aware of the current context. This is done by encouraging students to play, enquire and explore. A DAP curriculum can take some time to establish but its benefits make this change totally worth considering.

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