Developmentally Appropriate Practice for Infants and Toddlers: From Concept to Classroom

Guidelines, Key Questions and Pro Tips to Boost DAP in Your Program

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot – but a lot of the time people don’t stop to talk about what it actually means! So, what does DAP look like for teachers working with infants or toddlers?

Sue Bredekamp and Carol Copple shared the DAP perspective in their 1996 book on the topic, published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). NAEYC has also created an online resource focused on DAP. At the core of DAP is a call for early childhood professionals consider three core factors in their work:

  1. Child development and learning
  2. What is individually appropriate
  3. What is culturally appropriate

While those guidelines are very helpful, the proof is in the actual (developmentally appropriate) practice. So let’s explore what on earth these guidelines mean and how you can use them on a day to day basis. Let’s break it down a bit!

Practice Rooted in Child Development and Learning

What it looks like: Children learn by being engaged and playing.

  • With Infants: Talk to your infants and give them chances to explore their surroundings! Make sure they get tummy time every day and have opportunities to try to do things all by themselves.
  • With Toddlers: Trying to herd toddlers is like trying to herd cats. So make sure you are communicating with them in a way that they understand. Sing to them! Sign to them! Tell them what is going to happen next. Understand that they are going to get into everything and make sure your environment supports that.

What it looks like: Make sure your expectations are taking into account their age.

  • With Infants: Babies cry to communicate a need. It is not always easy to figure out but the more time you spend with that baby the better you will understand what they are trying to communicate.
  • With Toddlers: Toddlers are impulsive and need help regulating themselves. Be patient and forgiving. One of the best ways to help toddlers learn about emotions is to be honest with your own emotions.
Individually Appropriate Practice

Definition: Even if you had a magical class of children who were all born on the same day, they would all be completely different! Remember that every child develops at their own pace and in their own way.

What it looks like: Consider how each child will interact with and experience environments and learning plans.

  • With Infants: Are there spaces for your youngest infant who cannot roll over as well as spaces for your infant that is crawling everywhere?
  • With Toddlers: Do you have options for play that every child will enjoy and engage with? Make sure you have several things going on in the classroom so that each child can do whatever they are more interested in (this also helps spread the children out!).
Culturally Appropriate Practice

Let’s keep this one as simple as possible. Think about how each of these cultures impact what happens in your classroom:

  • Your own culture: Think about how you were raised – have things changed? What do we know now that we didn’t back then?
  • Your workplace culture: Coworkers and policies impact the culture of your classroom.
  • Families’ culture: Get to know your families and actively include them in the classroom. (Discover more information on family engagement here.)

Hopefully this helps to unpack a concept that we use all the time – but often don’t have the time to explore.