Developmentally appropriate practice: Knowing what is culturally appropriate

It is important teachers understand each child’s culture.

Early childhood educators must make an effort to get to know the families of children in their care.
Early childhood educators must make an effort to get to know the families of children in their care.

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is a research-based framework that outlines practices in the early childhood environment that provide optimal education for young children’s learning and development or “best practices.” DAP requires teachers to be aware of children’s development, meet them where they are as individuals and know about the social and cultural contexts in which each child lives. These three considerations make up the core of developmentally appropriate practice. The third core consideration is knowing what is culturally appropriate.

Early childhood educators must make an effort to get to know the families of children in their care and learn about the values, expectations and factors that shape their lives at home and in their communities. This background information provides meaningful, relevant and respectful learning experiences for each child and family.

What constitutes a child’s family? The definition of “family” is much broader than just people related by blood, marriage or adoption. Family includes biological parents (custodial and non-custodial), adoptive parents, foster parents, step-parents, grandparents and other relatives of significance to the child, and all half, step or full siblings. In addition, any individual the family defines as a part of their family, a person who has extensive contact with the child or is a significant person in their life, could be included.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Position Statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice explains all children grow up within a family and within a broader social and cultural community. Every person comes to understand about what is appropriate, valued, appreciated, admired and respected through the lens of their culture. Every culture structures and interprets children’s behavior and development in its own way. When young children are engaged in a group setting outside the home, what makes sense to them and how they experience the world will depend on the social and cultural contexts to which they are accustomed.

Early childhood educators must take the many factors of social and cultural context into account, along with children’s ages and their individual development, as they are shaping the learning environment. Educators also need to be sensitive to how their own cultural experiences shapes their perspectives and realize that multiple perspectives must be considered in decisions about children’s development and learning.

DAP requires not only the knowledge of child development and individual children, as outlined in the first two core considerations, but also of the context in which the child is living. The younger the child, the more critical it is for educators to form relationships with the children’s family. It is not developmentally appropriate to limit parental involvement to scheduled events or events focused just on “parent education” instead of parental inclusion. When parental involvement focuses just on “education,” parents may not see themselves as partners in their child’s care and education, and may instead see the educators as having all the knowledge and insight.

It is critical for early childhood educators to establish reciprocal relationships with the families of children in their care. Providers must learn about each child in partnership with their families, develop two-way communication strategies and form supportive relationships with families.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to Michigan State University Extension programs, read our 2015 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2015, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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