Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) promotes the development (social, emotional, physical, health, cognitive) and general learning of each child served. Developed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the 2020 Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) Position Statement gives educators guidelines and recommendations for implementing DAP with children ages birth through age 8.

This DAP tool kit will help educators, higher education faculty, and professional development providers become familiar with

  • DAP and child development and standards,
  • DAP and learning through play,
  • DAP and infant-toddlers,
  • DAP and preschoolers, and
  • DAP for higher education faculty and professional development providers.

See IEL’s Q&A Developmentally Appropriate Practice 101 for a quick overview of developmentally appropriate practice.

DAP and Child Development and Standards

DAP gives educators a framework to better understand child development from birth through age 8. Educators need to be well informed about child development to

  • plan appropriate and challenging learning activities for children;
  • consider how to help children progress in all areas of their development;
  • individualize for each child, based on their strengths and challenges; and
  • know when to seek additional support for a child who may be missing developmental milestones.

To learn more, see NAEYC’s Principles of Child Development and Learning and Implications That Inform Practice.

Educators can use their understanding of child development to observe and assess young children. Ongoing observation and assessment can look like written notes, checklists, or developmental screenings in early childhood education. Documenting what the children do and say while they are with you is essential to better understand where they are developmentally. These documents help inform educators of the experiences and learning activities children are ready for next.

To learn more, see NAEYC’s Observing, Documenting, and Assessing Children’s Development and Learning.

In addition to DAP, Illinois has guidelines and standards in place that provide a framework to guide early childhood educators in their work with young children. It is important that educators familiarize themselves with these age-based standards and guidelines.

DAP and Learning Through Play

Play is essential for all young children and is one of the most joyful ways for them to learn. Imagine 3-year-olds playing with their friends in the block area. To make an imaginative structure (and keep it standing!), they make plans by communicating and then figuring out what shapes are best to use in building the structure.

Through play, children learn about problem solving, the give-and-take of social relationships, large and fine motor development, how to communicate with peers and adults, and more!

To learn more about age-appropriate play for young children, see IEL’s Q&A Age-Appropriate Play for Young Children.

DAP and Infant-Toddlers

DAP is just as critical when working with our youngest children: infants and toddlers. DAP emphasizes the important role of educators of infants and toddlers in

  • creating secure bonds and relationships with very young children;
  • building relationships and communicating with families and getting to know their culture, interests, and what is important to them;
  • setting up a safe and engaging environment on the child’s level;
  • watching for and documenting child development milestones; and
  • matching activities with the developmental levels and interests of the children in their care.

To learn more, see NAEYC’s DAP with Infants and Toddlers, Ages Birth-3. Also, IEL’s resource list Best Practices for Infant and Toddler Care gives guidance on how to support very young children in your care.

DAP and Preschoolers

DAP can support preschool and pre-K educators working with young children ages 3, 4, and 5. DAP stresses the importance of

  • supporting peer relationships and teaching about behaviors, expectations, and feelings;
  • encouraging language development and communication through activities, art, and games;
  • supporting the growth of imagination through pretend play and open-ended play; and
  • promoting independence and allowing preschoolers to take appropriate risks in social roles and physical activity.

To learn more, see NAEYC’s DAP with Preschoolers, Ages 3-5.

DAP for Higher Education Faculty and Professional Development Providers

DAP is being more fully incorporated into professional development and higher education coursework in early childhood education. To remain current and on the cutting edge of research and policy, modifications and adaptations to coursework may be needed as DAP is updated. As faculty and professional development providers prepare trainings and courses, it is essential that they become familiar with NAEYC’s Recommendations for Higher Education and Adult Development.

In addition, faculty preparing early childhood educators may align courses and professional preparation programs with the national standards for early childhood, as described in NAEYC’s Professional Standards and Competencies for Early Childhood Educators.

These standards are aligned to the larger education field’s understanding of effective teaching. They are focused on the domains of early childhood knowledge and practice, are designed to drive accountability, and serve as the core standards for the profession of early childhood.

Web Resources

About this Resource

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

Intended audience(s):
  • Faculty / Trainer
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
  • Infants and Toddlers (Birth To Age 3)
  • Preschoolers (Age 3 Through Age 5)

Revised: 2021