"We believe that children are active learners and unique individuals. They learn in a developmental sequence, progressing at their own pace. The integrated setting should be arranged to stimulate acquisition of competencies in communication, cognition and social skills."
Teachers use knowledge of child development to identify the range of appropriate behaviors, activities and materials for a specific age group. This knowledge is used in conjunction with an understanding of each child in the classroom and his/her unique personalities, backgrounds and abilities to design the most appropriate learning environment.
Sue Bredekamp (1987) identifies four areas in the general overview of DAP. These include:
Attention to all of these areas is important in establishing a program that embraces the DAP philosophy. Each of these areas is briefly described below.
A developmental approach to curriculum design is dependent on the learner's developmental status, is responsive to the individual's strengths, interest, and needs, and provides experiences which are meaningful, relevant, and respectful of the social and cultural context in which children live.
of developmental appropriateness
has three dimensions which link together.
Teachers should have knowledge of typical child development for the age span served by the program. This knowledge provides a framework from which teachers prepare the learning environment and plan appropriate experiences.
Both the curriculum and adult interactions with children should be responsive to individual differences. Each child is a unique person with an individual pattern and timing for growth. Experiences should match the child's developing abilities while challenging their interest and understanding.
A child's unique personality is developed as a result of their own personal history and the experiences they have within the cultural group they belong to. Among the rules they learn are how to show respect, how to organize time and personal space, and how to interact with people they know well vs. those they have just met. Therefore, decisions about how to care for and educate young children cannot be made without knowledge of the child's cultural and social context.
In a developmentally appropriate curriculum, all areas of development (physical, cognitive, social and emotional) are addressed, and as often as possible, integrated into all activities. It is important to look at the whole child when planning activities. This can be illustrated in a Sand and Water interest center set up with a variety of objects such as measuring cups, funnels, and different sized containers, accommodating four children. The children are learning a variety of skills from several domains while interacting with the materials/activity, including:
pouring and grasping utensils
DAP views learning as the interactive process of the child
exploring his/her environment. It is the teacher's responsibility to provide a
stimulating environment and interesting materials to encourage exploration. An
example, again, is the Sand and Water activity in which the child can learn a
variety of skills through his/her interactions with a variety of materials and
explorations of the different ways of using the materials.
Activities and experiences are concrete, real and relevant to children's lives. A child is much more likely to learn and understand concepts like "full", "empty", "wet", and "dry" by participating in a Sand and Water activity than through a worksheet.
Activities are planned for a wide developmental range. NAEYC suggests planning activities for a two year age span. For example, planning activities for three year olds that are also appropriate for two to four year olds. As more schools move towards mixed age groupings and the age span expands, this wider range of abilities must be taken into account. Using the Sand and Water interest center as an example, the open-ended nature of the activity provides for a wide developmental range of learning. Other examples are the learning and interactions that occur at the Art Center with sponge painting or dress up at the House Center. Each individual child determines how they will use the materials provided by the teachers, i.e, the sponge painting may become a big blob of color or show a more deliberate placement of prints on paper; the dress up clothes may be just tried on or children may do role play after dressing up.
It is important that the environment, activities provided, and the attitudes of the staff reflect an understanding of the diverse backgrounds and cultures the children and families may bring to the setting. Each child's background and culture should be valued and acknowledged, not by holding 'theme' weeks, but rather, by reflecting aspects of their background or culture through the books, toys, and other activities and displays available throughout the classroom environment.
Large group and small group activities as well as activities designed for one or two children are available during the day, with a majority of in-class time devoted to small group activities. Large group activities are short and should allow participation from each child. Small group activities at the Teaching Research Child Development Center are encouraged and supported through the room arrangement and provision of clearly defined interest centers. Active and quiet times should also be balanced throughout the day.
Art and music are a part of the daily activities. These are necessary components of a preschooler's day and should not occur only when time permits. Examples of music activities used at Teaching Research include songs and musical instruments at circle time, singing during transitions, as well as small group music activities.
Gross motor or outdoor activities are another important aspect of the child's day and should be planned for. This is a time which should be seen as much more than just a time for the children to run off excess energy or for teachers to take a break. The planning may involve the rotation of items in and out of the play yard to reduce boredom, or the planning of a teacher-directed activity such as parachute play. An indoor gross motor room is an ideal solution when the weather prevents outdoor play. Providing a variety of toys, materials, and activities such as basketballs, tricycles, bouncy balls, hula hoops and tumbling ensures a varied and interesting experience for the children.
Positive and respectful adult interactions with children facilitates the development of self control, self esteem and independence. The staff at Teaching Research strive for a minimum of 4:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. A high ratio of adults to children is important to allow each child to receive individual support and attention. NAEYC suggests a ratio of one adult to every ten four year olds. We strive for a one to six ratio, which can be a challenge considering the typical budget demands in early childhood programs. One way we meet this ratio is through the use of volunteers recruited from the local university, high schools, and the community. We also incorporate a training program to prepare volunteers to work effectively in our classrooms.
Family participation and parent involvement can do much to enhance the child's learning experience. It is important for early childhood educators to recognize that parents are the child's first and most important teachers. Parents must play an active role in their child's education to ensure a quality experience for the child. Teaching Research keeps an open door policy which encourages parents to visit the center anytime. They will often visit at lunch time, during special activities or circle time. Communication between the program and the family is also a vital component for the child's success. Examples of parent communication systems used at Teaching Research include:
Parent events also bridge the home-school gap. These events are scheduled at various times of day to accommodate parents' busy schedules. An example of a parent event held at Teaching Research is art night, whose goal is to communicate the concept of the process oriented approach to art that we embrace. We set up the messiest, most process-oriented art activities for the children and families to participate in. Written information is also distributed to parents about the benefits of a developmentally appropriate approach to art. Another parent event used at Teaching Research is a child prepared and served lunch for parents. Take-home projects are made available for parents who are unable to attend the various parent events scheduled during the day. These family projects are worked on at home and then shared by the child in school (e.g., a giant decorated turkey during Thanksgiving.).
Ongoing assessment is an important part of any program, and there are a variety of reasons for assessing children. While it is important to keep parents abreast of how their child is progressing and what they are learning, we must also regularly assess children's interests and knowledge in order to better plan activities. Assessments are based on observations and conducted across the various activities within the center. For example, a child's social skills (are they sharing and interacting with others or are they still at parallel play), as well as some cognitive skills (do they know concepts like full, empty, wet, dry, etc.) can be assessed at the Sand and Water table.