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Dr. Tisha Shipley has been in education for over 23 years. She has taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, Gifted and Talented 3rd-6th Grades, Dr. Shipley was an elementary principal, a cheer coach, and was on...
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Early Childhood Environments: Why Use DAP and How to Overcome Obstacles

When you walk into an early childhood classroom, what do you expect to see? Teachers, administrators, staff, and educational expects probably expect to see something different than parents, children, or community members. Teachers are usually taught in school what is appropriate and needed to have a warm, welcoming, and appropriate environment for each age level. Therefore, hours of thought are put into how their classroom will be set up and ran. 1. There is the HOW to set up the room. 2. There is the WHY that goes behind setting up a developmentally appropriate classroom environment. 3. There is the ACTUAL TIME when children are in the environment interacting and engaging in the learning process. For these reasons, teachers must plan and implement accordingly. When others visit your room, they see colors, what you have hanging on the wall, toys, materials, windows, etc. They likely don’t stop and think about each thing, what it is for, and why it helps children develop and learn. As stated by Bullard (2010), “the environment we are in affects our moods, ability to form relationships, effectiveness in work or play-even, our health (p. 3).

Why do teachers aspire to use developmentally appropriate practices (DAP)? 

1. Children are the number one priority, and it is the right thing to do. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has written an amazing position statement that has evolved over many years and guides teachers, parents, staff, and administrators on educational effectiveness and the importance of DAP (NAEYC, 2009).

2. A developmentally appropriate classroom strives for a classroom community where children learn to value others.

3. A developmentally appropriate classroom has a schedule that allows teachers to maximize instruction time by using procedures and routines that run the classroom instead of using discipline to manage the environment.

4. Using engaging DAP materials, children’s interests, and standards, lessons can be built toward each student’s needs.

What Makes A Developmentally Appropriate Classroom?

1. A warm, inviting, nurturing, print-rich environment where children are greeted each day and respected for the diversity they bring to the classroom community.

2. Centers that are engaging and meaningful to the children and are based on their interests and developmental stage.

3. Transitions that allow children time to finish what they are doing and allow them to move about on their own.

4. A daily Schedule where routines and procedures are present.

5. Large group, small group, and one-on-one learning instruction time and assessment.

5. Reciprocal family relationships

6. Teachers that model, scaffold, observe, and use rich language practices that encourage children and experiences that are planned and have objectives are present.

7. All activities are planned on each student’s background knowledge and developmental stage and meets students where they are as individuals and as a group (NAEYC, 2009).

Obstacles Teachers May Face when Implementing DAP

1. Money

2. State and Legislative Standards

3. No support from administration (no understanding)

How to Overcome These Obstacles.

1. Ensure that you have research that backs all of the strategies you are using. For example, if someone asks you why your students are “playing” all day, have research that backs engaging centers; play is the cornerstone of a child’s learning, and children learn through differentiation and their own learning style.

2. Document all of the skills that each child is learning, including state, local, and legislative standards. Also note small motor, gross motor, social, etc. You want these for your administrator and your families.

3. Professional Development. Ask your administrator to ensure that professional development is geared toward what you and your colleagues need. This can be anything from how to set up a classroom to how to change out centers or add new DAP materials to the classroom environment.

Employing a developmentally appropriate classroom atmosphere is vital to a child’s learning success. Think back to when you were in school. What did your favorite classroom look like? What did it feel like when you entered it? What materials were in the classroom, and looking back, were they developmentally appropriate? We spend a great deal of time in the classroom environment as teachers and students. You want the people that enter your classroom to feel the respect you have for each child’s intellectual, physical, and social needs. Have fun setting up your classroom and make it a place to love to be each day too!

~ Tisha


Bullard, J. (2010). Creating Environments for Learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

NAEYC, (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.