If there is one thing that every preschool teacher must know, it’s how to use developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) in their classroom. Developmentally appropriate practice is how teachers intentionally plan for their students.
SETTING UP YOUR ENVIRONMENT
A big part of DAP is your classroom environment. The classroom should be arranged in a way that sets children up for success. The classroom needs to be warm and inviting without being over stimulating.
Teachers have to be able to anticipate problem areas in their classroom and recognize when it is no longer working. Then changes can be made accordingly. Unnecessary conflicts can be avoided this way. For example, if you notice that the children have been building large elaborate structures in the block area that spill over into the reading area, then you know you need to change up your layout.
Materials should be easily accessible and need to be appropriate for the ages and stages of the classroom as well. For example, if your preschoolers have never used scissors before you would not leave a basket of scissors out for them to use freely. At least, not until after you have properly introduced them to the group and demonstrated the correct way to hold scissors. Giving some guidelines as to what scissors are used for is always a good idea, too.
Otherwise, you could very quickly find yourself in a situation where you have a preschooler who has cut someone’s hair or clothing. It would not be developmentally appropriate to impose such responsibility on your preschoolers who have never used scissors before. This is why it is so important to really get to know each student on an individual level.
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR PRESCHOOLERS
In order to successfully implement developmentally appropriate practices in your preschool classroom you have to get to know each individual student. You need to know their personalities, strengths, weaknesses, aversions, and their interests. You must know and understand all of your students on a personal level.
The simplest and best way to get to know your preschoolers is by actively engaging with them in play! The first week of preschool is a crucial time to begin getting to know your students. It is not important to focus on a specific curriculum for that first week. Instead, allow yourself this time to observe your preschoolers.
See how they interact with each other. Pay attention to the kinds of activities they are most interested in, areas they seem confident in, and things they shy away from or struggle with. Written documentation of your observations is a great tool to use while planning your curriculum and classroom environment.
PLANNING YOUR CURRICULUM
Intentionality is the most important thing to consider as you plan your curriculum. While it is a lot of fun to plan based on a theme, you must be intentional in your planning to ensure that your lessons are developmentally appropriate. You do this by considering each child’s strengths and weaknesses as you set goals for them. Then you can create lessons that help them work towards those goals.
For example, if you are planning a farm theme for your preschool classroom it wouldn’t be enough to just pick random fun farm themed lessons. Instead, recognize that “Johnny” needs to work on his fine motor skills in order to get closer to his goal of being able to hold a pencil correctly. Then, you can plan to have the children help make clean mud, which would help “Johnny” work on his pincer grasp by ripping the paper.
Simply put, in order to use developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) in the preschool classroom you must be truly cognizant of where each child is at developmentally and use that to intentionally plan for the children as a group and individually.