Over the past five or six years, child-centered practice as a concept has received some exposure thanks to coverage in the popular press and media. The concept has been referred to as developmentally appropriate practices (DAP), child-centered practice, constructivism, active learning, and other terms. The concept implies an understanding of how children learn and develop which is then applied to instruction. The practice requires that teachers structure instruction around the needs of the growing, individual children.
As more school districts investigate DAP and jump into the change process, it is not uncommon for communities to question the concepts that underly the philosophy. Additionally, there have been several critiques of DAP from universities and authors. The following critiques are drawn from those published comments. Answers to the critiques are drawn from Sue Bredekamkp's answer to a Los Angeles Times letter to the editor.
CRITIQUE: The NAEYC Guidelines for Developmentally Appropriate Practices are not research-based.
ANSWER: "...the position derives from more than 75 years of accumulataed research on child development and learning and our 1997 edition clearly reflects current findings of cognitive science. NAEYC draws on this vast body of knowledge to provide guidance for our members who work with young children from birth through age 8. The developmental achievements and needs of children across this full age span are very different. NAEYC believes that kknowledge of age-related human characteristics is useful in helping adults make decisions about what kinds of experiences, interactions, activities, and materials are likely to be safe, healthy, interesting, achievable and also challenging to children. Obviously, what is appropriate for a 2-year-old in terms of supervision or academic expectations is not appropriate for an 8-year-old and vice versa, hence the use of the phrase "developmentally appropriate."
CRITIQUE: Developmentally appropriate practices result in a "watered-down curriculum" that is not challenging.
ANSWER: "...NAEYC is in favor of providing challenging, content-rich academic programs for young children. We are deeply concerned that some people have interpreted our position on developmentally appropriate practice as "watered-down curriculum" and we have actively worked to correct this distortion. We believe (and our guidelines state) that curriculum content for young children should have intellectual integrity, reflecting the key concepts and tools of inquiry of recognized disciplines (science, mathematics, etc.). But NAEYC also believes that curriculum content should be presented in ways that are accessible and achievable for young children. For example research shows that young children learn best in small groups or one-on-one interactions with adults rather than in whole group instruction. This does not mean that the whole group instruction is never approprite; at times, it is best. But the younger the child, the less effective whole class instruction will be."
CRITIQUE: NAEYC advocates withholding challenging curriculum from young children.
ANSWER: "NAEYC believes that decisions about curriculum should not be dictated by one individual nor by a national organization. Therefore, NAEYC does not endorse nor do we disseminate a specific curriculum.... Just because NAEYC does not explicitly state what curriculum content children should learn, does not mean that we support withholding challenging curriculum from children."
Dr. Bredekamp uses the example of teaching first graders about the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome as inappropriate curriculum. "Based on research about how and when young children acquire understanding of history, teachers have legitimately questioned whether this content is more appropriate for older children and whether the limited time in first grade is better spent on other fundamental learning. These same teachers know that no matter what instructional technique they use, 6-year-olds will have difficulty fully understanding this content. If tested for understanding following considerable instruction, they will be able to repeat numerous facts but they will still think that ancient civilization was when their Daddy was a little kid or when dinosaurs were alive."
"Questioning this specific curriculum content for this specific age group does not mean one is opposed to teaching history or geography. Considering child development knowledge in decisions about curriculum does not mean that one does not teach anything...The same teacher who chafes at the requirement to teach first graders to map ancient Egypt would effectively teach those same children mapping skills by using the child's own community, state, or nation. Likewise, a school district may choose to focus on American history (which is more accessible to young American children than ancient history) in elementary school and introduce world history later."
Bredekamp, Sue. Letter to the L.A. Times Editor, June 20, 1997.
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