Early childhood: Exploring developmentally appropriate practice

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is a perspective within early childhood education based on the aspects of development.

These aspects are physical, social, emotional and cognitive development, nurtured by child caregivers and teachers. 


When done in the early stages of a child’s life, educators believe that it can help shape a versatile person in the future.


According to educators, these are all key developments nurtured in children during the early years.


How it’s done

Jacky Osama, an early childhood education teacher based in Kigali, says teachers normally nurture this by ensuring they meet children’s needs by engaging in hands-on activities.

She notes that DAP looks at a child as an individual even if they are identical twins, as there is a way they may differ in their development.

In fact, Osama says, DAP classrooms are well organised and children direct their own learning through zones/activity areas.

“This self-direction enables learner’s to develop decision-making skills that enable them to fit in society,” she says.

There is active learning since children are physically and mentally active, and concentrate on various mind-strengthening activities.

In this case, she points out that teachers don’t interfere with what children are doing, rather, they observe, listen, use inquiry questions and record observations. 

“This recording makes an educator plan what we call emergent curriculum — emergent information arises from child-directed ideas, which when encouraged, develops children’s interest in learning,” she says.

As Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) specialists, they observe how the brain of the child functions through their behaviour.

She says they set up learning zones with a variety of manipulative play materials to observe what kids think through their behaviour.

DAP, John Nzayisenga, Director of Kigali Harvest School in Kigali, says, does not mean making things easier for children.

Rather, he says, it means ensuring that goals and experiences are suited to their learning and development and challenging enough to promote their progress and interest.

The importance

Nzayisenga says DAP reduces learning gaps, increases achievement for all children, and most importantly, allows students to share and engage in the learning process while they solve their own problems as they learn new information.

He adds that research has proven that developmentally appropriate practices help children succeed in the future.

Furthermore, the educator notes that the overall goal for using DAP is to support excellence in early childhood education.

This can be made through decision-making based on knowledge about individual children, and child development principles combined with knowledge of effective early learning practices.

Mourine Muteshi, a teacher at Premier ECDE Teachers College, Kigali, says DAP brings about structural and functional changes to learners.

She says development in one area is related to development in other areas.

For instance, she notes that a child who has good health can be active socially and intellectually.

“Development is predictable through observation and growth, and development is heredity and influenced by environment,” she says.

Muteshi says that most of the traits are correlated in development, noting that development proceeds from general to specific.

However, she points out that development varies from person to person as it is sequential, gradual and also continuous.

Nzayisenga says DAP is essential to learners because they need healthy development in the early years, and that is the foundation of a child’s future well-being and success.

“A child’s healthy development in the physical, cognitive (mental), social, emotional and language areas depend on care and education that is positive and nurturing,” he says.

Young ones vary in their specific developmental and individual needs or conditions, Nzayisenga says. 

Aminadhad Niyonshuti, an English teacher at Apapper Complex School in Kigali, says with DAP, educators benefit from a sound and accurate understanding of what children are generally capable of doing or not doing, based on their age and developmental abilities.

“Children benefit when the adults around them provide a caring environment that reflects an understanding of child development and developmentally appropriate practices,” he says.

Also, children need relationships with caring adults who engage in many one-on-one, face-to-face interactions with them to support their oral language development and lay the foundation for later literacy learning, Niyonshuti says.

Skills to enhance

Osama says through zones, individual needs are met and children progress in all aspects of development. There is holistic development and integrated learning in all the zones.

She notes that examples include drama, music, blocks, maths, reading, writing, creative, manipulative and science, and that a teacher can create more zones according to the interest of children.


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