What does Developmentally Appropriate mean?

You may have come across the words “developmentally appropriate” before. What does it mean? Why is it so important that the phrase keeps reappearing everywhere? Well, here’s why.

Children have a natural disposition towards learning. They are capable of constructing their own knowledge through exploration and interaction with their environment, the people around them, and learning materials. Their brain simply perceives all information presented to it and learns everything it can. So the true learning experience of a child includes their classroom experience as well as their lived experiences outside of the classroom. And at the center of this entire process is their brain’s physical and cognitive development.

Understand your child's development and tailor their education to suit their learning needs. Developmentally Appropriate Practice ensures that each child is taught in a way best suited for their age and level of understanding.
Using teaching methods that appropriately suit your child’s development help to improve their learning experience.

Children’s needs and abilities change over time. A child’s brain is constantly changing as it grows. Their experiences grow, their interaction with their environment deepens and becomes more complex. As an educator, it is your primary objective to enable the child to learn to their best ability. Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) is the approach that encourages educators to tailor the education of each child depending on their individual needs and capabilities. DAP depends on universal laws governing the child’s development to determine the propriety of the practice of teaching in a classroom.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice

With every lesson learned, the education of the child must take into account what they have learned and the changes in their immediate environment. Using this information, the educators can then help tailor the learning experience to enhance the child’s growth. With appropriate methods and tools, you not only help the child learn better but also make them love learning. Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) has three core components: 

  • Child development theory and the knowledge of how the human brain develops
  • The respective abilities of each students, their strengths, weaknesses and interests.
  • A student’s cultural context and knowledge of their social environment.

Every stage of development that the child goes through requires a specialized approach towards their education. One must take into account their intellectual capabilities, their interests, their cultural experience as well as any challenges they may face. Teachers are encouraged to constantly keep track of the child’s progress and provide appropriate support for their learning. There are different suggestions for teachers to engage in developmentally appropriate practice depending on students’ stage of development.


During infancy, children are at their most delicate. They have just begun to explore their senses and have a bare minimum understanding of their environment. They naturally try to touch and taste everything they see. This is how the infant’s brain acquaints itself with the physical world. It is very important to supervise babies and make sure that they are safe. Parents and caregivers must protect them from any possible danger or harm. At this age, no formal education is necessary. However, one must ensure the freedom for them to learn on their own from their environment.

  • Set an environment that prompts exploration and make sure it is safe and stimulating
  • Meet physical needs of the infant by providing clean and quiet areas
  • Provide the child with enough engaging and informative toys to play with and explore
  • Interact with the child and help the become acquainted with their environment
  • Infants’ families should be provided with culturally sensitive care to support the child’s development

Early childhood

During early childhood, between ages <2 to about 5 or 6, the child begins to communicate and formulate thoughts. They begin to truly express and explore their curiosities. Moreover, their interaction with their social environment also begins to deepen between these ages. They start to communicate with people outside of their family and even make friends!

Early childhood is also when most children begin their experience with formal schooling. Across the world, children of these ages are enrolled in nurseries or kindergartens and other forms of pre-schools. Pre-school prepares a young toddler for formal schooling. Pre-schooling gives them the guidance and opportunity to explore ways of expressing themselves. Thus, Pre-schooling is the very foundation of a child’s lifelong education. This is why it is very necessary to approach the education of these children in a way that is developmentally appropriate and relevant to their cultural context. Along with these planned methods, the educator must also allow enough freedom and encourage the child to explore their natural curiosities.

  • Provide assurance to children who may have difficulties separating from their guardian
  • Allow children to explore classroom environment
  • Encourage the children to creatively express themselves. Arts and crafts help develop their spatial and logical thinking as well as their fine motor skills.
  • Make sure students acquire basic academic skills, such as letter identification and sound correspondence. This helps to prepare them for a more fulfilling school experience
  • Use a variety of activities and innovative learning methods to make their education more fruitful
  • Foster joy for literature in children
  • Reinforce learning with relevant references from the child’s environment
  • Include the child’s social environment in the process of their education

Middle Childhood

As the child refines their language and logical reasoning, their curiosities only intensify. They begin to question everything, they begin to seek knowledge more actively. During middle childhood, it is very important that adults actively address and also encourage these curiosities. Letting the child learn willingly is far easier and more effective than persuading them to study. Through middle childhood, the child is introduced to many complex fields of academic study like math or general science. Making their academic syllabus more engaging is another effective way to help keep young children engaged with their education. Here are some developmentally appropriate practices that should be introduced to children beginning school.

  • Encourage families and caregivers to be actively involved in activities
  • Encourage children to explore their language skills willingly through reading and creative writing
  • Suggest interactive projects to learn the more complex subjects.
  • Make field visits available for the child to have the opportunity to engage with real life experiences of things they learn
  • Reinforce positive relationships with peers through fun games and setting down a basic code of conduct

Early Adolescence

By early adolescence, children have formed their general understanding of most concepts and know where their strengths lie. An educator must enable them to utilize this knowledge and combine it with their interests to propel their learning forward. With their highly refined motor skills, adolescents can be urged to pursue their abilities. As a toddler, a child wants to know everything. After that, as they grow and streamline their tastes and interests, their curiosity to know everything begins to fade. The learning environment for older children should help them retain their curiosity from their earlier years and seek more and more knowledge.

  • Design a curriculum that will challenge students to incorporate knowledge and skills across multiple content areas
  • Allow children the freedom to incorporate personal touches to their learning experience
  • Offer ready guidance to growing children and do not limit their curiosities
  • Assign an adult to check the welfare of each student

A student’s education must transform as they progressively grow. This is why Developmentally Appropriate Practice is such an important topic for discussion among educators around the world. It is necessary to find ways to tailor each child’s learning experience to their individual capabilities and interests. Doing this helps foster a love for learning in the child as they find more and more ease in understanding and retaining what they learn.

The Developmentally Appropriate alphaTUB

Among the many educational tools available for your child’s learning, it is difficult to find one that molds itself to your child’s learning needs. After years of research and much thought and trial, alphaTUB has been able to create a tool that does just that! The alphaTUB board is the gift that keeps giving. A single board allows you to enable language learning for years by simply facilitating the creation of new content that grows as your child grows.