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Early Childhood: Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP)


Play is the Way! (2017)

Children Learn by Playing

DPI promotes play as the key to early learning.


DAP is woven into the values and practices that are core to how DPI believes educators should approach learning for young children and they are foundational to the WI Model Early Learning Standards and its guiding principles. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) released an updated position statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) in April 2020. 

The  2020 statement integrates new research, strengthens our lens on equity, and closely aligns with the DPI’s asset-based approach to learning and focus on educational equity. It  provides in-depth information related to all levels of early childhood education to inform practice and create opportunities for each and every child to achieve their full potential.

Three Core Considerations to Inform Decision-Making:

  • Commonality—current research and understandings of processes of child development and learning that apply to all children, including the understanding that all development and learning occur within specific social, cultural, linguistic, and historical contexts.
  •  Individuality—the characteristics and experiences unique to each child, within the context of their family and community, that have implications for how best to support their development and learning.
  •  Context—everything discernible about the social and cultural contexts for each child, each educator, and the program as a whole.

Nine Principles of Child Development and Learning and Implications that Inform Practice:

1. Development and learning are dynamic  processes that reflect the complex interplay between a child’s biological characteristics and the environment, each shaping the other as well as future patterns of growth.

2. All domains of child development—physical development, cognitive development, social and emotional development, and linguistic development (including bilingual or multilingual development), as well as approaches to learning—are important; each domain both supports and is supported by the others.

3. Play promotes joyful learning that fosters self-regulation, language, cognitive and social competencies as well as content knowledge across disciplines. Play is essential for all children, birth through age 8.

4. Although general progressions of development and learning can be identified, variations due to cultural contexts, experiences, and individual differences must also be considered.

5. Children are active learners from birth, constantly taking in and organizing information to create meaning through their relationships, their interactions with their environment, and their overall experiences.

6. Children’s motivation to learn is increased when their learning environment fosters their sense of belonging, purpose, and agency. Curricula and teaching methods build on each child’s assets by connecting their experiences in the school or learning environment to their home and community settings.

7. Children learn in an integrated fashion that cuts across academic disciplines or subject areas. Because the foundations of subject area knowledge are established in early childhood, educators need subject-area knowledge, an understanding of the learning progressions within each subject area, and pedagogical knowledge about teaching each subject area’s content effectively.

8. Development and learning advance when children are challenged to achieve at a level just beyond their current mastery and when they have many opportunities to reflect on and practice newly acquired skills.

9. Used responsibly and intentionally, technology and interactive media can be valuable tools for supporting children’s development and learning.

Additional Resources: 

For questions about this information, contact Sherry Kimball (608) 267-9625