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Developmentally appropriate practices “challenge individual children to learn and reach their potential in all areas of development,” says consultant David Burchfield, who teaches at Brownsville Elementary School in Albemarle County, Va.
Teachers must attend not only to the cognitive domain but to children's social, emotional, and physical needs as well.
“That's the piece that's gotten lost” in the past, she believes.
In large measure, early childhood experts are promoting developmentally appropriate practice in response to a phenomenon dubbed the “escalated” or “pushed-down” curriculum.
Should she leave him to continue his observations unaided?
Should she try to teach him about evaporation and molecules, simplifying the concepts as far as possible? How best to teach young children—pupils in preschool, kindergarten, and the early grades—has long been a subject of lively debate.
We know, for example, that children aged 4–6 learn better through direct, interactive experiences than through traditional teaching, where the learner is passive and receptive.
(The latter might be “okay” for children aged 8 or older, Katz says.) Further, the younger children are, the more what they learn needs to be meaningful on the day they learn it, not just in the context of some future learning.
Teachers need to consider both dimensions, she says.“Typically in schools, we pay too much attention to the cognitive,” he says.“We shouldn't ignore the complexity of children.” Developmentally appropriate practice is not a recipe but a philosophy for teaching young children, experts explain.In choosing a learning experience for a child, knowing what's age-appropriate “gets you in the ballpark,” Bredekamp says, but the teacher must also consider the individual.She offers an analogy to choosing a toy for a 3-year-old.