When planning preschool classroom activities, understanding the principles of developmentally appropriate practice -- also known as DAP -- can make the difference between a dazzler and a dud. The National Association for the Education of Young Children notes that DAP activities take three core considerations into account: understanding what is typical for each stage and developmental level, creating appropriate practices for each learner and knowing the significance of a child's culture and family background. From the art center to science and beyond, you can use and infuse DAP into each area of your preschool classroom.
Making the Most of Materials
Preschoolers excel when they have opportunities to explore new types of materials, notes the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC. DAP activities should include new, age-appropriate materials that help children reach their potential developmental levels. For example, instead of giving 4-year-olds the same crayon-and-paper art activities that they've done for years, create an activity that uses a new art item, such as oil pastels or water-based nontoxic printing ink and stampers. Additionally, DAP materials for activities should include a broad range of cultures to address each child's background. Provide a range of multicultural dolls for pretend play or stock your dress-up area with traditional clothing pieces from other countries.
DAP activities must take each child's individual needs into account, according to NAEYC's position statement "Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8." Instead of expecting one activity to work equally well for all preschoolers in your class, differentiate projects and lessons to meet all of the variations. For example, for an architecture activity where students build houses using blocks, if a few children aren't ready to make a structure, ask them to create more abstract forms or encourage them to make lined-up block bridges.
DAP relies on the fact that a young child's development is a set of inter-related domains, meaning that social, emotional, cognitive and physical areas all link and connect as the child grows. Preschool classroom activities should reflect this and follow cross-developmental and cross-curricular themes. For example, for a science exploration take the students on a nature hike and collect items fround outdoors, such as leaves, twigs, pebbles and flowers. The tie to physical development is having the children use their fine motor skills to pick up and collect the natural materials. This activity also hones social skills as the students discuss and share their reflections on the outdoor environment and encourages emotional development as they walk in an orderly fashion. You can can tap into other content areas, too, by making a natural materials collage.
Instead of sitting in a circle, listening to a teacher talk at them, preschoolers in DAP classrooms learn language, literacy and communication skills through interactive play. Set up a pretend activity in which preschoolers act out a story that you just read, or provide toy foods and have them create a kitchen or restaurant scene. Children talk as they act out the scenarios and they communicate with each other while deciding how the story should be portrayed.
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Developmentally Appropriate Practice
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: DAP With Preschoolers Ages 3-5
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images