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The Power of Intentionality: Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Education Essay

Abstract: Informed by, and primarily rooted in research, developmentally appropriate practice is central to optimizing children’s learning and development in early childhood educational settings CITATION Nat09 \l 1033 (NAEYC, 2009). The use of developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) involves teaching in a way that understands development in the classroom individually, and as a whole CITATION Liz13 \l 1033 (Taylor, 2013). When considering the role of the early childhood educator, the creation of adaptive and accommodating teaching methods is crucial to building a supportive and dynamic environment for learning.

In building such an environment, educators may use the guiding framework of DAP to ensure that their classroom not only reinforces an advantageous atmosphere that is developmentally appropriate at every level, but also actively encourages continuous positive growth for everyone in the learning community. This position statement reaffirms the benefits of DAP in an early childhood setting by examining its guidelines, the needs and characteristics of young children, the many factors influencing a child’s learning and development, creating an environment that meets these needs, family and community involvement, and understanding the benefits and uses of assessment.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice In order to highlight its benefit as an infrastructure to early childhood education, one must first understand developmentally appropriate practice itself. Key to understanding DAP is the understanding that it is informed by our knowledge of development through theory, literature, and research, confirming that it is an evidence based practice CITATION Nat09 \p 10 \l 1033 (NAEYC, 2009, p. 10).

The essence of DAP, however, relies on conscious and constant intentionality, “in the knowledge that practitioners consider when they are making decisions, and in their always aiming for goals that are both challenging and achievable for children” (9). This wealth of knowledge required of early childhood educators includes extensive understanding of development, but is shaped by one’s knowledge of each child as an individual, their needs and abilities, and the social and cultural contexts from which they come (9,10).

This careful intention and forging of relationships fosters an overall enthusiasm for learning by creating an environment for each individual child in which they are uniquely known, understood, and respected. The National Association for the Education of Young Children’s publication of their position statement in the mid 1980’s was highly influential in the widespread recognition of DAP CITATION Sue10 \p 70 \l 1033 (Bredekamp, 2010, p. 70). DAP is defined as a practice that promotes the optimal learning and development of young children, of which is grounded in research regarding both child development as well as what is required of effective education in early childhood settings (16).

In the interest of this definition, developmentally appropriate practice outlines five significant guidelines for addressing the decisions made by early childhood educators: creating a community of learners, teaching to enhance development and learning, planning curriculum to achieve important goals, assessing children’s development and learning, and establishing reciprocal relationships with families CITATION Nat09 \l 1033 (NAEYC, 2009).

Criticism, however, has emerged in response to NAEYC’s position statements over the years, questioning whether the recommended practices retain equal relevance when applied to diverse groups of students CITATION Sue10 \p 71 \l 1033 (Bredekamp, 2010, p.71). In actuality, the significance of this statement is countered in the very definition of this statement, and is even directly addressed in the most recent publication of NAEYC’s position statement on DAP. “Because the United States children’s learning opportunities often differ sharply with family income 1 / 4 and education, ethnicity, and language background, sizable achievement gaps exist [and have been identified] between demographic groups” CITATION NAE09 \l 1033 (NAEYC, 2009).

For this reason, a strong need for the narrowing of these gaps has been clearly emphasized, explaining that educators and programs must therefore “provide even more extended, enriched, and intensive learning experiences” for children who’s learning opportunities have been disadvantaged by such disparities CITATION NAE09 \l 1033 (NAEYC, 2009). Characteristics and Needs of Children In order to enable children to reach challenging and achievable goals, understanding that all domains of a child’s development are interrelated is imperative.

In this, children do not divide their experiences, but contrarily their learning and development evolves as one great culmination of all experience CITATION Liz13 \l 1033 (Taylor, 2013).

Not only are all areas of development and learning important; similarly, they are the result of the interaction between the sequential and varying maturation of the child and their growing experience CITATION Nat09 \l 1033 (NAEYC, 2009). The inseparable nature of all developmental domains: physical, social, emotional, and cognitive, illustrate the relative needs of each child at the different stages of their development. Every child is different, and while development may be predicted in a sequential progression, it does vary and cannot be completely limited to what we consider more exact periods of development.

The generally accepted periods of development, however, refer to infancy extending from birth- 2years, early childhood as 2-5 years, and middle and late childhood as 5-11 years of age. Cephalocaudal pattern of growth characterizes physical development in infancy, where growth occurs from the head down, resulting in control of the head before the legs CITATION Joh11 \p 107 \l 1033 (Santrock, 2011, p. 107). Motor development then originates from the center of the body and moves outward, where coordination of the trunk and arms precede the hands and fingers CITATION Mot10 \l 1033 (Flinders University, 2010).

Beginning as gross and graduating to fine motor development, reach and grasp are achieved in infancy. Crawling and walking also occur during infancy, typically between 5-17 months CITATION Mot10 \l 1033 (Flinders University, 2010). Motor abilities develop rapidly in early childhood in which walking leads to running and jumping, the ability to climb develops, and hand-eye coordination progresses with the growing ability to cross midline CITATION Joh11 \l 1033 (Santrock, 2011). By mid to late childhood myelination of the nervous system results in manipulation skills relative to that of an adults (153).

Cognitive development can be simplified into three stages: sensorimotor, preoperational, and concrete operational. Infants in the sensorimotor stage coordinate an understanding of the world through sensory experiences, eventually leading to the beginnings of symbolic thought (174). During the preoperational stage, children’s ability to think symbolically expands as they begin to use words and images to represent their interpretation of the world (180). Their interpretation, however, is strongly influenced by egocentrism and centration (174). By mid to late childhood, the concrete operational stage emerges.

From 6-7 years and on children exhibit the ability to perform concrete operations in their capacity to logically reason regarding concrete events, and use classification and seriation to organize objects (174). The maturation of self-understanding explains the complexities of social and emotional development in children. “Children are not just given a self by their parents or culture; rather, they construct themselves”(324). As they grow, their cognitive representation of the self, or self-understanding, changes (324). Self-recognition is the key indicator of self-understanding in infancy, and initially

appears around three months of age (324). The ability to establish a positive recognition of oneself sets the stage for establishing relationships with others, as well as the eventual positive regulation and understanding of emotions. In conjunction with verbal communication, children are able to descriptively distinguish themselves, typically using abilities or accomplishments, active and physical descriptions, or unrealistic overestimations to define themselves (326-7). For example, a 4-year-old may describe himself or herself by saying “I know how to count” or “I have blonde hair and he has

brown hair” (325). Social comparison and self-description grow in complexity in mid to late 2 / 4 childhood, and include more realistic identifications of the self. With increased aptitude for perspective, children compare themselves with others, and use social and psychological traits to refer to themselves. For instance, a 7-year-old may say, “I am smart, and I can ride a bike as good as my sister” (326). Creating Learning Environments Providing an environment that is rich and diverse in intellectual and sensory experiences supports an effective and developmentally appropriate curriculum.

The careful and informed intention of teachers is also reflected in learning environments that meet and challenge the needs of each individual child as well as the classroom as a whole. Infants and toddlers require a stimulating and dynamic sensory environment as they begin to establish themselves through the physical exploration of the world around them. As infants and toddlers begin to crawl, they need easily accessible opportunities to manipulate and observe their environment. Placing mirrors at ground level, and providing reachable and interesting toys and pictures, encourage development.

The establishment of trust and autonomy is also central to infantile development; therefore, building responsive relationships between child and teacher should be emphasized as well as providing a safe and natural environment in support of the child CITATION Tri09 \l 1033 (Trister & Bickart, 2009). Interactively reading to infants and toddlers is vital to establishing a relationship with language and begins a visual familiarity with script CITATION Liz13 \l 1033 (Taylor, 2013).

Centering on initiative, 3 to 5-year-olds need an interactive environment that offers them many choices, and allows them to grow in their decision-making abilities CITATION Tri09 \l 1033 (Trister & Bickart, 2009). Language skills during these years expand enormously, as do fine and gross motor abilities; meaning, the “richer and more interesting the environment, the more opportunities there are for children to learn” (1).

The learning environment should reflect the very physically and socially active nature of 3 to 5-year-olds and should allow for spacious areas for high-level group play, as well as individual playtime. It is especially important to recognize that “the physical environment is the vehicle through which children learn” and therefore should be changed periodically to inspire new experiences (1). During the years of mid to late childhood, autonomy becomes a source of power for children as they demonstrate self-direction and pride in accomplishment (1).

The creation of stations, corners, or individual learning environments within the classroom provide space for this feeling of independence. Establishing friendships is very important to 6 to 8-year-olds, meaning that the environment should also include opportunities for high-level small group play. Across the developmental board, however, a child needs to be able to see themselves in their environment as well as in their learning experiences. Interests of all children should be catered to by the learning environment as well as challenged by it.

Displaying pictures of students, their work or accomplishments, and what intrigues them promotes positive development of the self, and creates enthusiasm for learning. Assessment Dynamic, constant, and ongoing assessment is key in early childhood education, and should barely look or behave like assessment at all CITATION Liz13 \l 1033 (Taylor, 2013).

The power of observation and assessment lies in their ability to tap into some of the purest and uninhibited forms of interaction children exhibit. “Play is the expression of who a child is in every way”, and therefore should be closely and individually observed in order to better understand exactly where children are developing, their strengths, what challenges them, and their unique interests CITATION Liz13 \l 1033 (Taylor, 2013).

Educators must asses major childhood growth and developmental domains, expected outcomes, and unique patterns of development in order to provide scaffolding experiences that value each individual child as well as the learning community CITATION Liz13 \l 1033 (Taylor, 2013). Maintaining portfolios for each child in a class tracks progress, as well as paints a better picture of development and learning for that child. Portfolios should be reviewed with the child and their families, contain notes and observations regarding the child in all domains, and should hold 3 / 4 examples of accomplishments made by the child reflected over time.

Influences on Learning It is nearly impossible to identify every aspect of influence on a child’s learning. Among the multitude of ways learning is influenced, the role of the teacher is paramount, along with the impact of peers, family, and culture. Parents are extremely powerful in their influence on their child’s sentiment towards learning and being a part of a community of learners. Encouragement and support from parents communicates the importance of their development, as well as fosters desire to learn and be a part of their greater community. Parents can demonstrate a loving care for their children’s continued achievement by doing something as simple as reading to them every night.

By making this simple commitment to their child, parents promote a positive attitude towards this sort of intellectual engagement, as well as strengthen a caring relationship with their child. Not only is learning made important by this, but so too is the importance of investing quality time together reinforced. Involving Families and the Community Families, culture, and communities that children come from directly impact their value and understanding of how one behaves, demonstrates respect, and appreciates CITATION Liz13 \l 1033 (Taylor, 2013).

Building reciprocal partnerships with parents and families establishes “mutual respect, cooperation, shared responsibility” necessary in moving toward the achievement of shared goals CITATION Nat09 \p 23 \l 1033 (NAEYC, 2009, p. 23). Meeting the family where they are and where they come from, relationships are established through ongoing trust and commitment to one another. Families should be invited into the classroom community, supported, and encouraged in their involvement. Keeping families informed via newsletters, inviting them into the classroom, providing conferences, and even making home visits are all ways in which a caring community of learners is built CITATION Liz13 \l 1033 (Taylor, 2013).

Conclusion The benefits of using developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood education are exemplified in its specific intention to meet and challenge the developmental needs of each individual child, as well as the entire class. By discussing the characteristics and needs of children, their progressive development across all domains, the ways in which their learning environment reflects and meets those needs, the importance and benefits of assessment, influences on learning, and the importance of family and community involvement, one can see how DAP holistically approaches early childhood education. Works Cited BIBLIOGRAPHY Bredekamp, S. (2010).

Effective Practices in Early Childhood Education: Building a Foundation . Online . Flinders University. (2010, Feb 6). Motor Development. Retrieved from ehlt. flinders. edu. au: http://ehlt. flinders. edu. au/education/DLiT/2000/Motor%20Dev/start. htm NAEYC. (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. (C. Copple, & S. Bredekamp, Eds. ) Retrieved from National Association for the Education of Young Children: www. naeyc. org NAEYC. (2009).

Key Messages of the Position Statement. (C. Copple, & S. Bredekamp, Eds. ) Retrieved from National Association for the Education of Young Children: www. naeyc. org Santrock, J. (2011). Child Development (13th ed. ). New York : McGraw-Hill . Taylor, L. (2013, November ). Developmentally Appropriate Practice . (E. 3. Lecture, Interviewer) Trister, D. , & Bickart, T. (2009). How Curriculum Frameworks Respond to Developmental Stages: Birth through Age 8. Retrieved December 2013, from ECAP Collaborative : http://ecap. crc. illinois. edu/pubs/katzsym/dodge. html POWERED BY TCPDF (WWW. TCPDF. ORG).

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