What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?

What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?

What is developmentally appropriate practice? (Is my child learning how to read?)

Families may look for evidence of learning in really different ways than preschool teachers who have studied child development. Families can sometimes be concerned about their child’s success and achievement in school. Developmentally Appropriate Practice or DAP, may not be something families recognize as a method of teaching and learning. In this era of academic focus, we understand why families might be concerned when they are looking for skills in preschool that usually come later.

We know the way we teach reading and writing may be different from what you expected and what we did as kids. We don’t see teachers focusing on literacy in the way they expect by, say, tracing letters or memorizing sight words. We want you to know there’s no rush; you can give your child the time to enjoy what he’s learning—which is actually a lot and right on schedule—and you will be pleased to see him love reading on his own when’s he’s ready. Our most important job right now is to keep reading fun so that your child can make progress every day. That’s developmentally appropriate practice.

Research from the best universities DAP confirms:

  1. Younger children have different learning processes than older children and preschoolers are at the younger side of even the early learning spectrum.
  2. Developmentally appropriate practice is about making sure children have fun so that they will learn. Preschoolers can’t learn on demand—they learn because they want to.
  3. Teachers take play really seriously. We use play intentionally to ensure each child makes progress toward specific learning goals.
  4. Teachers use documentation to show children’s progress (like drawings, photos, or notes comparing what a child did at the beginning of the year to work done later in the year).

Research actually shows that the way children learn when they are in preschool and kindergarten is simply different from the way they learn when they’re older. In terms of reading, for example, our most important job right now in preschool is to make sure preschoolers love books. We do that by:

  • reading them great stories
  • letting them choose books and subjects that they find interesting
  • making sure your child knows how to hold the book so that the print is upright and the cover is facing the front
  • reading and allowing access to books throughout the day and in every part of the room, even outside in the playground
  • and by inviting families to come in and be Mystery Readers. Imagine the magic that happens when your favorite person comes to school to share your favorite story with your favorite friends and teachers!

When your child is listening intently and understanding the content of books, she’s also making gains in her writing skills. Once she starts to write her name, she has made the connection that letters represent sounds and meaning.


“Developmentally appropriate practice, often shortened to DAP, is an approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education. Its framework is designed to promote young children’s optimal learning and development.

DAP involves teachers meeting young children where they are (by stage of development), both as individuals and as part of a group; and helping each child meet challenging and achievable learning goals.”