In the training of young children, one of the goals is to prepare them for formal schooling. The term “developmentally appropriate practice” (DAP) has become a national cliché signifying the necessity to provide both aspects of early childhood education and care. The significance of the term has often been questioned, but the two concepts are truly inseparable.
The concept of developmental appropriateness has two dimensions: Age appropriateness and individual appropriateness. Age appropriateness is the basic knowledge of child development which provides a framework from which adults prepare the environment and plan appropriate experiences. It refers to physical and expressive development, emotional development, social development, cognitive and linguistic development as well as spiritual development (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009).
Individual appropriateness refers to a knowledge of the personhood within each individual child and how learning experiences match the child’s developing abilities while also challenging the child’s interest, understanding and critical thinking skills. Individual appropriateness encompasses the child’s pattern and timing of growth, personality, learning style, coping skills and family background (Bredekamp and Copple, 1997; Copple & Bredekamp, 2009).
Education theorists have many points of agreement when it comes to the developmental appropriateness of early childhood education. According to Garhart Mooney (2000), John Dewey, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky all ascertained that for a young child’s environment to be developmentally appropriate it needs to be child-centered. Specifically, education must be active and interactive, helping the child develop new skills. Children should learn to be socially responsible people and their education must involve the community, preparing the child to live more fully. (This is not meant to imply that children should be in a child care or preschool setting in order to learn social skills. Quite the opposite: Children should learn their communal skills from their immediate family – assuming the immediate family members are socially respectable and socially responsible members of the community. If not, then perhaps a child care setting would offer a better environment for learning responsible and respectable social skills.)
In addition, Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky advocated that safety should be a paramount concern with attention given to developmentally and individually appropriate learning activities. Education should be well planned and organized, based on the child’s interests, building on past experiences. The curriculum should be meaningful and grow out of real home, work, and other life situations, helping the child understand their world.
Maria Montessori and Eric Erikson (Garhart Moony, 2000) added to the theorist’s list of requirements for a developmentally appropriateness by insisting that children learn from their environments, want and need to care for themselves and their surroundings and should be taught to care for their environment, keeping it clean, organized, and orderly. Of specific importance to Montessori and Erikson was the belief that children learn best through repetitive sensory experiences that increase their competence, are capable of great concentration when surrounded by many interesting things to do and given the time and freedom to do them. In order to accomplish this, activities and experiences should be based on the observed needs of the children and not curriculum manuals and teacher initiated and directed experiences which often interfere with a child’s learning.
Along these lines, a philosophical approach to developmentally appropriate education has become the foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church education system. In discussing these foundational philosophies, Ellen G. White wrote that “[a]s soon as the child is capable of forming an idea and reasoning, his education should begin (Ms 58, 1899, pp. 4, 5; 1993, 7MR, p. 6, ¶1). Because “[w]hat the child sees and hears draws deep lines upon the tender mind and repeated acts in a given course become habits” (1954/2002, CG, p. 199, ¶4), they should be taught “pleasantly, with reasonable requirements, expressed kindness, and wise direction” (1993, 7 MR, p. 20, ¶3). From infancy, they must learn the importance of being “subordinate to laws” both Divine and civil (1993, 7MR, p. 12, ¶1 & 2). Virtues must also be instilled “into their opening minds” (1954/2002, CG, p. 193, ¶2). Through the gift of “time and attention”, children are to be taught “habits of carefulness and quietness” (1993, 7 MR, p. 11, ¶1 & 2), meaning that the young child should not be allowed to become unruly. “In these first years of life, children should obtain book knowledge and the arts essential for practical life” (1954/2002, CG, p. 195, ¶4), learning “important habits of useful labor and to work quickly and thoroughly” (1993, 7MR, p. 3, ¶1; p. 14, ¶1).
The developmental checklists and material resource lists provided on this website by Young Child Ministries are intended to help parents merge their child’s developmental age with their individual developmental skill level. Regardless of where the child scores on the checklists, remember that all children develop – but all children develop at different rates. Use the checklists to help create an enjoyable and challenging learning environment that will help to promote a love for exploring and learning.
Links to Developmental Checklists
© 2010, C. Gillan Byrne. Young Child Ministries. Thousand Oaks, CA.
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Holy Bible, The. King James Version
Copple, C. & Bredekamp, S. (Eds.). (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 (3rd ed.). Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Garhart Mooney, C. (2000). Theories of Childhood. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
White, E. G. (1954/2002). In E. G. White Publications (Eds.), Child Guidance [CG]. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association. ISBN: 0-8280-1168-0.
White, E. G. (1903/2002). Education [Ed]. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1990). Manuscript Releases [7MR] (Vol. 7). Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate. Retrieved March 3, 2009 from http://www.ellenwhite.com/.