Developmentally Appropriate Practice 101

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) was developed in the 1980s to give early childhood educators a framework of high-quality and appropriate teaching practices for young children. DAP are learning experiences that promote the development (social, emotional, physical, health, cognitive) and general learning of each child served. NAEYC’s 2020 Developmentally Appropriate Practice Position Statement gives educators guidelines and recommendations for implementing DAP with children ages birth through age 8. This Q&A is intended for early childhood educators just learning about DAP who are thinking about how to use DAP in their classrooms.

Why is DAP important for early childhood educators?

DAP helps you think about children as individuals and how they make progress and growth in their own time. It helps educators think about matching activities and lessons to a particular child’s interest and developmental needs. It helps educators understand child development for the ages in their classroom and when to think about reaching out for additional help or support for a child outside of developmental norms. It helps educators celebrate developmental strengths and work on areas of challenge or need for a particular child. It helps educators truly know and understand the children they work with through their culture, community, and family.

The goal of DAP is for each and every child to have access to high-quality early childhood opportunities that support their optimal development and learning. Early childhood educators who engage in DAP help support children’s learning and maximize the opportunities for each child to reach their full potential.

How can educators use DAP in their day-to-day work?

Developmentally appropriate practice can be used by early childhood educators in a variety of ways. Educators can use DAP to …

  • Understand children, their communication and behavior, and their development.
  • Plan engaging active-learning activities for the children in their care.
  • Monitor the progress and learning of children in their care.
  • Get to know families, their cultures, their languages, and their wider communities.
  • Understand their expected norms for children and families are not necessarily the norms of the children in their care or the expectations of the families in their program.

Consider this example. Joe, a preschool teacher of eighteen 3- and 4-year-olds, is striving to use DAP in his work with children. He observes the children every day to note their interests, strengths, and challenges. Based on these observations, he plans and leads small group activities in the classroom, such as blocks with dinosaurs, painting at the easel, and letter recognition using letter stamps. He uses further observations to note which children are struggling and plans additional support for them in future activities.

Through family-teacher conferences, he gets to know each family better and invites families in to do a cooking exercise together to experience a family’s favorite food and culture. Joe is dedicated to the children and their families and realizes that each year his class is vastly different and requires different activities and strategies in the classroom. DAP helps him plan for each and every child so they all can make progress and enjoy their time in preschool.

What is new and different with the latest version of DAP?

DAP was updated in 2020 to recognize the growing racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity of national and global communities. Additionally, instead of “best practice,” DAP uses the term “quality practices” because there is not just one practice that works for all children, educators, or families.

The current DAP also has been expanded to include a wider age band that focuses on practices that support the learning of children ages birth through age 8 rather than just 3- and 4-year-olds. This is the fourth edition of NAEYC’s position statement on DAP.

Web Resources

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
  • Preschoolers (Age 3 Through Age 5)

Revised: 2021