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What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?

Written by BMS teacher, Jenni Heartway.

Blue Mountain School advocates the use of Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). This is a phrase used to describe a way of teaching that is based on research about how youngsters learn. DAP fits with our philosophy of using evidence-based practices, and it truly gives our students the opportunity to be engaged, happy learners.  

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the three core considerations for teachers using DAP are:

1. Knowing about child development and learning.

At Blue Mountain School, all our teachers have degrees in education or related fields, and all our teachers have at least five years of experience teaching children. Our teachers know what to expect from children academically, socially, emotionally, and physically at different developmental stages. School director, Shelly Fox Emmett, has a Master's degree in community counseling and has over ten years of experience working with children and families, including six years as director at BMS. In addition, ongoing staff development keeps teachers aware of current research about child development and education. Like the children, we are always learning!

2. Knowing what is individually appropriate.

At Blue Mountain School, small class sizes and a focus on relationships foster an environment where our teachers know their students in a meaningful way. In addition, all teachers take turns spending time with all the children during recess and other events, and in this way, students begin to develop relationships with teachers before they enter that teacher’s class. Knowing our students as individuals and knowing where they fall on a developmental spectrum for a variety of subjects allows us to better plan for their personal academic success.

3. Knowing what is culturally important.

At Blue Mountain School, our relationships are not limited to the classroom or even only to time spent at school. As a small school in a small town, we are privileged to have the opportunity to truly know each other in a deeper way than is able to happen in a larger community. Intertwined as we all are within the broader Floyd community, our teachers and staff often spend time outside of school supporting the families that are a part of our school, too, and vice versa.

During my fourteen years as a teacher, I have worked in schools where Developmentally Appropriate Practice was considered less important than academic success. When teaching in Asia, it was my responsibility to teach 3-year-olds to read in a non-native language. Could it be done? Absolutely. My students were beginning readers in English by the end of the year. But at what cost? While it was culturally appropriate for me to teach this skill, I couldn't help but feel like I was not giving my students a balanced education. No matter how many sensory or social emotional activities I tried to include, the day only had so many hours, and these pieces were sacrificed time and again to make sure the academic goal was met.

I believe that as educators, we have a responsibility to nurture the whole child, not just one part of it. We know that students can learn anything, but we also know that helping a child develop into a well-rounded individual is most important.

We are so fortunate to be able to guide our students on a path of joyful, deep understanding at Blue Mountain School!

(Also written by Jenni Heartway: Nurturing Connections with Nature and Others.)

Check back tomorrow to learn about our curriculum…










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