The Importance of DAP and Why it Makes a Difference in Early Childhood Education

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Key Terms
Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)click here for an explanation of DAP
Early Childhood Education (ECE)

I’ve heard a lot lately (mostly from non-ECE parents) about how their child got sent home with multiple crafts daily in preschool in the 1990’s. I’ve also heard how one parent’s child hasn’t come home with any crafts the past month from daycare/preschool and that is upsetting to them. I would like to shed some light on this topic, with the hopes of educating those not in the ECE field (or even those who are!) about the importance of Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) and how it affects children, caregivers and preschool/daycare workers, and parents.

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It’s important that parents understand that my goal as a home daycare provider is to help develop your child into a well-rounded, capable, confident, and genuine person. While everyone loves to get sent home cute crafts (like the school bus one, above) that their child did, the likelihood that your child actually did any or even most of that, is very unlikely, especially if they are under age 3. It is for that reason that I strive to do art projects and crafts that are open-ended and that don’t have a “goal” or “look” in mind for the finished product. (Although in trying to appease parents that aren’t familiar with my ‘why’ for the type of art we do here, I find myself adding in crafts like these…).

If you don’t believe me, cut out all the pieces for this school bus craft, give your child a glue stick and the cutout pieces, some instructions, keep your hands off their project, and see what happens if they do this all on their own. (Don’t get me wrong, we do cutesy crafts for holidays just because it’s like 5-6 times a year and I like to give parents a little something for those. But in general, I prefer to do open-ended art projects, or process art, because it’s entirely child-directed, unique, their own creation, and it’s one-of-a-kind. Not to mention that they learn so much more than if they were doing a cookie-cutter project. Let me explain below.)

It’s vital to use DAP not only with expectations that you have of a child based on their age, but to also to understand that art projects should be the child’s own, and often that can translate to “nothing” but scribbles, brush strokes, and pencil marks. But trust that this is all part of the learning process and is DAP for the child’s age. They will eventually read and write and draw, but all in due time.

Essentially what DAP means is that children should be doing activities, having expectations for behavior and schedules, arts and crafts projects, etc. based on where they are developmentally. Notice I didn’t say based on age. But strictly based on development. 2 children the same age can have very different skills, competencies, abilities, and strengths. It is for that reason that DAP is vital- a caregiver needs to know where the child is at currently to be able to challenge them to get them to the next level. Going based on assumptions of where a child should be or what they should be doing is dangerous, unless you suspect a delay. Comparing 2 children and saying “He can do that, why can’t you?” or “You should be able to do this because you’re 4.” doesn’t help anyone.

Instead, focus on what your child CAN do, and work on the areas where there’s struggle or lag at home. Everything in early childhood is connected to a later milestone – a baby picking up food with hands leads into a toddler using silverware and then eventually a paintbrush and then eventually a pencil and then a pen as an adult. Without the first step, the others cannot happen. It is for this reason that self-feeding is so important (among others like: stopping when baby feels full, confidence, texture awareness, hand-eye coordination, dexterity, hand muscle strength, pincer grasp, etc.)

So while your child may not have art coming home for your fridge often, that just means that the child is working on things that are focused on skills, learning at the daycare/preschool, social skills, feelings, understanding rules and limits, napping without disrupting others, eating varied foods, learning to self-feed and then eventually use silverware, sensory play (sand table, water table, dirt, grass, etc.), confidence, competency, turn-taking (sharing is more for elementary-aged children), personal space, how to touch others (gentle vs rough), how to be a good friend, considerate of others, helpful, aware of their body, big body play/gross motor skills developed outside, clean-up skills and finish-a-project-before-you-go-to-another-one skills; all of which are not visible but that parents can definitely see a change in their child if they are in a wholesome place.

My point with this whole article is this:
Think about what your child TRULY needs and if those things are being given to them in a place that is organized, has a positive atmosphere, and where there’s joy, provider competency, and thinking going on by the children. Look past the superficial to the deep side of the program offerings and ask, “Is this place enriching my child’s soul?” and if yes, well then, you’ve found the right place.

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