Developmentally Appropriate Teaching in Early Childhood Programs


The primary goal of the language and literacy program is to expand a child's ability to communicate through speaking, reading, and writing. Technical skills or subskills are taught as needed to accomplish the larger goals - not as the goal itself. Teachers provide generous amounts of time and a variety of interesting activities through which children develop language, writing, spelling, and reading ability.

  Appropriate Reading Practices

  • Look through books or read high-quality children's literature and nonfiction for both pleasure and information.
  • Allow students to draw, dictate, and write about their activities or fantasies.
  • Plan and implement projects that involve research at suitable levels of difficulty.
  • Create teacher-made or student-written lists of steps to follow to accomplish a project.
  • Discuss what was read.
  • Prepare a weekly class newspaper.
  • Interview various people to obtain information for projects.
  • Make books of various kinds (e.g., riddle books, what-if books, books about pets).
  • Listen to recordings or view high-quality films of children’s books.
  • Read at least one high-quality book or part of a book to the student each day.
  • Visit the school library and the library area of the classroom regularly.

Each day, some children may read aloud to the teacher, another child, or a small group of children, while other children may do so weekly. Subskills such as learning letters, phonics, and word recognition are taught as needed to individual children and small groups through enjoyable games and activities.

Teachers use the teacher's edition of the basal reader series as a guide to plan projects and hands-on activities relevant to what is read and to structure learning situations. Teachers accept children's invented spelling with minimal reliance on teacherprescribed spelling lists. Teachers also teach literacy as the need arises when working on science, social studies, and other content areas.

  Inappropriate Reading Practices

  • Making the goal of the reading program solely that each child pass the standardized tests given throughout the year at or near grade level.
  • Teaching reading only as the acquisition of skills and subskills.
  • Teaching reading only as a discrete subject.
  • Seeing instruction of other subjects as being separate from reading.
  • Considering silence in the classroom to be a sign of excellent teaching.
  • Allowing conversation to only occur during infrequent, selected times.
  • Focusing on language, writing, and spelling instructions in workbooks.
  • Teaching writing as grammar and penmanship.
  • Focusing the reading program on the basal reader, to be used only in reading groups and accompanying workbooks and worksheets.
  • Preparing the reading lesson in the teacher's guidebook for each group each day and seeing that the other children have enough seat work to keep them busy through the group reading time.
  • Limiting phonics instruction to learning rules rather than understanding systematic relationships between letters and sounds.
  • Requiring children to complete worksheets tied to the basal reader even though they are capable of reading at a higher level.
  • Knowing which children are in the slower reading group.
  • Rejecting children's writing efforts if they use incorrect spelling or poor English.


The goal of the math program is to enable children to use math through exploration, discovery, and meaningful problems.

  Appropriate Math Practices

  • Integrate math activities with other relevant projects such as science and social studies.
  • Let children acquire math skills through projects, spontaneous play, and situations of daily living.
  • Use the teacher's edition of the math textbook as a guide to structure learning situations and to stimulate ideas about interesting math projects.
  • Provide supplementary materials to use with math problems and card games, board games, or paper and pencil games to be used daily.
  • Play noncompetitive, impromptu oral number games such as "math stumper" for practice.

  Inappropriate Math Practices

  • Teaching math as a separate subject at a scheduled time each day.
  • Focusing the math program around a math textbook, accompanying workbooks, practice sheets, and board work.
  • Moving sequentially through lessons as outlined in the teacher's edition of the text.
  • Not allowing time for recommended "hands-on" activities.
  • Letting only the children who finish their math seat work to use the few math manipulatives and games in the classroom.
  • Giving daily timed tests on number facts.
  • Creating competition between other students or groups of students to motivate children to learn math facts.

Social Studies

The classroom should be treated as a laboratory of social relations where children can learn the rules of social living and explore cultures and values. In a positive, integrated learning environment, children can gain respect for individual differences and choices.

  Appropriate Social Studies Practices

  • Identify social studies themes as the focus of work for extended periods of time.
  • Learn social studies concepts through a variety of projects and playful activities.
  • Involve the children in independent research through library books, interviewing visitors, and discussion.
  • Use relevant language, writing, spelling, and reading skills as opportunities to develop social skills such as planning, sharing, taking turns, and working in committees.
  • Provide multicultural and nonsexist activities and materials to enable children to accept and appreciate differences and similarities of people and cultures.
  • Promote the development of children's consciences and selfcontrol through positive guidance techniques.
  • Set clear limits in a positive manner, involve children in establishing rules of social living and problem solving of misbehavior, and redirect children to acceptable activities.
  • Meet with an individual child who is having problems or with children and their parents.
  • Maintain perspective about misbehavior by recognizing that every infraction does not warrant attention. Identify those that can be used as learning opportunities.

  Inappropriate Social Studies Practices

  • The primary goal of social studies should not be to maintain control of the classroom by spending considerable time enforcing rules, giving external rewards for good behavior, and punishing infractions. When social conflicts arise, the teacher should not always intervene, separate, and quiet participants in order to avoid the social issues. In spite of intentions, a teacher's attitude often feels demeaning to the child.
  • Including social studies instruction only occasionally after the reading and math programs are completed.
  • Relating social studies only to holidays.
  • Limiting projects to brief activities from the social studies textbook or reading a commercially developed newspaper and doing the accompanying seat work.
  • Ignoring cultural and other individual differences.
  • Expecting children to adapt to the dominant culture.
  • Justifying the lack of a multicultural component in the curriculum by the homogeneity of the group, ignoring the fact that we live in a diverse society.
  • Lecturing about the importance of appropriate social behavior and using punishment or deprivations (such as no recess) when children who become restless and bored with seat work whisper, talk, or do not finish their work in the allotted time.
  • Placing teachers in an adversarial role with children by emphasizing their power to reward acceptable behavior and punish unacceptable behavior.
  • Allowing little time for children to practice social skills in the classroom because they are seated and doing silent, individual work.
  • Saving opportunities for social interaction for the playground, where the teacher is not present unless it is her playground duty day; therefore, children don’t have a consistent, familiar adult to help them with problems.


Discovery science is a major part of the curriculum. It builds on a child’s natural interest in the world where they can learn many science facts related to their own experience.

  Appropriate Science Practices

  • Make science projects experimental and exploratory.
  • Encourage the active involvement of every child.
  • Take advantage of natural phenomena such as the outdoors.
  • Include many plants and pets in the classroom for which children provide care daily.
  • Provide science projects and field trips that children learn to plan, dictate or write their plan, and apply thinking skills such as observing, experimenting, predicting, and verifying.

  Inappropriate Science Practices

  • Teaching science mainly from a single textbook or not at all.
  • Having children complete related worksheets on science topics.
  • Making science consist of memorizing facts or watching a teacher-demonstrated experiment.
  • Eliminating field trips or having them only rarely.
  • Having a science area in the classroom with only a few plants, seashells, or pine cones that have been there many months and are essentially ignored by the children.

Fine Arts and Healthy Lifestyles

Art, music, woodworking, drama, and dance (as well as opportunities for other physical activity) are integrated throughout each day as relevant to the curriculum and as needed for children to express their ideas and feelings both artistically and physically.

  Appropriate Fine Arts and Healthy Lifestyles Practices

  • Work with specialists in and out of the classroom.
  • Let children explore and experiment with various forms of art, media, and music.
  • Plan a variety of health and safety projects (e.g., nutrition, dental health, hand washing) that are designed to help children learn personalized facts about health and safety.
  • Help children integrate classroom learning into their daily habits.
  • Enable children to plan and dictate or write their plans, draw and write about these activities, read silently and aloud, and enjoy learning because it is related to their lives.
  • Plan daily outdoor activity so children can develop large muscle skills, learn about outdoor environments, and express themselves freely.

  Inappropriate Fine Arts and Healthy Lifestyles Practices

  • Teaching art, music, and physical education as separate subjects only once a week.
  • Not closely coordinating with specialists.
  • Emphasizing representational art for its approximations to reality.
  • Expecting children to follow specific directions that result in identical projects.
  • Substituting crafts for artistic expression.
  • Teaching health with the aid of posters and a textbook.
  • Scheduling a health lesson once a week or completing a unit on health once a year.
  • Limiting outdoor activities because it is viewed as interfering with instructional time or, if provided, is viewed as recess (a way for children to use up excess energy).
© 2003, Elementary CORE Academy, Utah State Board of Education, Utah State University. Artwork created by Nancy Bittner