Understanding Child Development and Developmentally Appropriate Practices

One of the most important things ECE providers can do to support all learners is to make sure that the learning environment is set up to help children succeed. This is achieved through a clear understanding of child development and developmentally appropriate practices.

When teachers have a comprehensive understanding of child development, they are able to recognize characteristics of typical development. They can create realistic expectations for children based on the science of child development rather than expecting children to do things that they are not physically or cognitively ready to do.  They can differentiate between expected emotional responses and challenging behaviors.

They can take all of this information and make informed decisions about the best course of action for individual children and the group as a whole.  This is the necessary foundation for educators seeking to implement developmentally appropriate practices.

In the Developmentally Appropriate Practice Position Statement published by NAEYC, experts outline the skills and strategies teachers and caregivers should use to promote children′s development and learning.

In the document, the authors state:

“Educators recognize that children are active constructors of their own understanding of the world around them; they understand that children benefit from initiating and regulating their own learning activities and from interacting with peers.”


“Recognizing play as critical for children to experience joy and wonder, early childhood educators incorporate frequent opportunities for play in their teaching strategies. They plan learning environments that provide a mix of self-directed play, guided play, and direct instruction.”

Experts recognize the importance of high-quality environments that provide children with a mix of learning opportunities. However, it is possible for children to become overwhelmed or bored in learning environments that do not meet their needs for engagement and self-direction.

Feeling overwhelmed or bored may cause children to act in ways that resemble the symptoms of ADHD, such as distractedness, fidgeting/running/climbing, the inability to engage in tasks, or ignoring instructions.

And because every child is different, the same learning environment may meet some children′s needs while missing the mark for other children. This is why it is crucial for teachers to consider each child′s skills, interests, and guidance needs when setting up the environment and planning curriculum activities.