Developmentally Appropriate Educational Practices in Early Childhood Programs: An Economic Investment for the Future

Linda Benedict  |  1/6/2006 11:23:31 PM

Young children who spend time in an early childhood classroom that is developmentally appropriate have opportunities to move around the room and select from a wide range of interesting and challenging activities. Moving around the room, participating in a variety of activities, allows the children to interact with other children and adults, teaching the young children concepts and skills that will help them grow into prosperous adults. The researchers say that developmentally appropriate programs can be a sound economic investment of Louisiana’s limited resources. (Photo by Shannon Hannaman)

Interesting activities that interest children and challenge them to think, solve problems andplay creatively can be found in a developmentally appropriate classroom setting. An LSU studyfinds children who were in classrooms where teachers used developmentally inappropriate activities exhibited twice the stress behaviors as children who were in classrooms where teachers used developmentally appropriate activities. (Photo by Carol Aghayan)

Children learn to read and write through daily classroom routines in a developmentallyappropriate classroom. Experts say that an early care and education environment that incorporates developmentally appropriate practices includes many opportunities for childrento learn reading, math, science and social studies concepts. (Photo by Joan Benedict)

Children who take part in a developmentally appropriate classroom grow emotionally, socially and physically by interacting with other children, as well as adults. (Photo by Carol Aghayan)

Children learn science concepts as they explore their environments in a developmentally appropriate classroom setting. During the past 15 years, LSU researchers have conductedstudies in the area of developmentally appropriate practice. The “LSU Studies” have been used by scientists in the United States and all over the world. (Photo by Carol Aghayan)

Diane C. Burts, Teresa K. Buchanan, Joan Benedict and Cynthia DiCarlo

The effect of early experiences on a child’s later success is well-documented by social scientists. Because young children are increasingly spending more of their early years in a variety of settings, it is critical that they receive high-quality care and education during these formative years. The many types of early care and education programs include licensed child care centers, family child care homes, Head Start and public and private pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs. In Louisiana more than 57,380 children are in public kindergartens, and approximately 149,850 children are in the various early childhood programs that serve children under age 5.

Researchers have found that early care and education programs have an immediate effect on local and regional economies. These programs support the economy when they pay employee wages and purchase supplies, materials and equipment. In fact, researchers in Louisiana have shown that child care has more direct and indirect positive effects on local and regional economies than other industries, including agriculture, construction, manufacturing or retail. In addition, early care and education programs affect the economy indirectly through their long-term effects on children.

Developmentally Appropriate

Louisiana is beginning to make early childhood education a priority, but it is not enough to simply have more early childhood programs. Programs must be of high-quality. What is high-quality? In 1987 and 1997, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) published position statements describing the best care and education practices in programs serving children from birth through age 8. The term used by the NAEYC to refer to this is “developmentally appropriate practice.” Appropriate practice requires that early care and education professionals understand the children and families they serve and that they keep abreast of research so they can make decisions to support children’s learning and their social, emotional and physical development.

When teachers use developmentally appropriate curricula and teaching practices, they derive their curriculum from what they know about their children’s interests, individual capabilities and cultural backgrounds. As the photographs illustrate, an early care and education environment that incorporates developmentally appropriate practices includes many opportunities for children to learn reading, math, science and social studies concepts. Children learn these concepts and skills as they move around the room interacting with adults and other children and selecting from activities that interest them and challenge them to think, solve problems and play creatively. Assessment is systematic and on-going. Teachers observe children involved in activities throughout the day, talk with them about their new discoveries and understandings and document their learning.

Inappropriate

In contrast, a developmentally inappropriate environment is predominately teacher directed and limits children’s movement, interactions, choices and activities. The teacher may rigidly follow a prescribed curriculum without attention to individual children’s needs, interests or backgrounds. Instruction may not challenge the children, or it may exceed their capabilities. Memorization and skill development are emphasized. Assessment is primarily limited to children’s performance on paper-and-pencil tasks measured sporadically, such as before a reporting period.

LSU Studies

During the past 15 years, LSU researchers have conducted studies in the area of developmentally appropriate practice. This body of work, known nationally and internationally as “The LSU Studies,” has been used by scientists in the United States, Argentina, Canada, China, Greece, Korea, Russia and Uganda. One of the primary goals of the research is to determine the short- and long-term consequences of developmentally appropriate and developmentally inappropriate practices. To get this information, public and private pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers reported their beliefs and classroom practices on questionnaires; their responses were verified through observations. Children in classrooms where teachers used either predominately developmentally appropriate or predominately developmentally inappropriate practices were observed. Researchers recorded the activities in which the children were engaged and whether they exhibited signs of stress (for example, hand manipulation, nail biting, nervous laughter) during these activities. Report cards and state assessment measures were used to gather follow-up achievement information. Report cards and a teacher questionnaire provided information about the children’s behaviors in later years.

Major Findings

Children who were in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms where teachers used developmentally inappropriate practices exhibited twice the stress behaviors as children who were in classrooms where teachers used developmentally appropriate practices. In another study, kindergarten children who were in a classroom where the teacher used developmentally inappropriate guidance strategies showed a decrease in positive social behaviors, while children in a kindergarten classroom where the teacher used developmentally appropriate guidance showed an increase in positive social behaviors during the school year.

Follow-up studies indicate that the growth trajectories beginning in early childhood tend to persist over time. Children who had been in kindergarten classrooms where teachers used developmentally inappropriate practices had lower report card averages in first, second, third and fourth grades; lower state assessment reading scores in third grade; and lower grades for conduct and work habits in first, second and third grades. They also exhibited more aggression, hostility and hyperactive-distractible behavior over time. All of these outcomes were mediated by the children’s stress behaviors observed when they were in kindergarten.

The LSU Studies are cited in numerous publications and are used to substantiate the benefits of developmentally appropriate practice and the negative consequences associated with developmentally inappropriate practice. Teachers have re-examined their classroom practices, and administrators have supported teachers’ movement toward developmentally appropriate practice. Direct involvement in the research has resulted in individual classroom teachers changing their teaching practices to be more developmentally appropriate.

Other researchers have found evidence of direct economic benefits of early care and education experiences. The LSU Studies help show that the quality of those early childhood programs is critical. High-quality programs have important short- and long-term effects on children that could benefit the economy in the long term. If programs are developmentally appropriate, they can be a sound economic investment of Louisiana’s limited resources.

Click here for article "Choose Child Care Carefully"

Diane C. Burts, Grace Drews Lehmann Professor, School of Human Ecology, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.; Teresa K. Buchanan, Associate Professor, College of Education, LSU, Baton Rouge, La.; Joan Benedict, Assistant Professor and Director, Child Development Laboratory Preschool, and Cynthia DiCarlo, Assistant Professor, School of Human Ecology, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article was published in the fall 2005 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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