The state guidelines support a developmental approach to learning. Developmentally appropriate instruction reflects what is known about how young children develop and learn physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively. It acknowledges that children grow and learn at different rates, and it includes both short-term and long-term goals for each child’s development. In this approach to learning, teachers know how children generally develop, and they stay aware of each child’s developmental goals during instruction. A child’s age is one of many considerations used to decide what is developmentally appropriate for each child (National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC], 2009).
The abilities, needs, and interests of the child inform developmentally appropriate instruction. Lessons are fluid and interactive, meaning that teachers adapt instruction to support each child. Children are presented with challenging but achievable activities that are appropriate for (or adapted to) their stage of development. Developmentally appropriate instruction has been shown to be more effective than rigid instruction that expects the same outcomes from all children (NAEYC, 2009).
Developmentally appropriate instruction also takes into account that as children age, they are able to perform more challenging tasks and think in more complex ways (NAEYC, 2009). Note how children’s development over time is reflected in the following language indicators from the state guidelines. The indicators are examples of developmentally appropriate language skills for infants through four-year-olds. Together, they show how language skills generally progress over time.
- At ages 0–8 months, infants might begin to imitate sounds like “da” when caregiver says “da.”*
- At ages 8–18 months, older infants might try to name familiar people and objects, like “mama” and “dada.”*
- At ages 18–36 months, toddlers might use new words in everyday experiences (“books in box”).*
- At 36–48 months, three-year-olds might use more abstract words to understand their world (use words like “think,” “know,” guess”).*
- By around 48 months of age, the child uses new words while engaging in child-initiated play. (This is an example of a child behavior from standard II.D.I.)**
( *Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines, 2013, pp. 54–55 and **Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, 2015, p. 53 )
The guidelines provide valuable information about child development and age-appropriate behaviors. You and your team should familiarize yourselves with the guidelines and developmental milestones and then read and discuss them with your teachers and staff. Stress that understanding how children generally develop is important for providing developmentally appropriate instruction. Teachers can use this understanding as they plan and present lessons.
You will also need to explain, however, that the guidelines are a jumping-off point rather than an unchangeable set of expectations for all children in a class. Teachers should be flexible in their expectations of each child. Children of different ages and levels of development will have different abilities. This means that an activity that may be developmentally appropriate for four-year-olds may be inappropriate for many three-year-olds (Texas Education Agency, 2015).
In addition, each child learns and develops at his or her own pace. Children of the same age may have significantly different learning paces and styles. Children also learn different skills at different rates (NAEYC, 2009). For example, a child may develop motor skills more quickly than he or she develops language skills, or some language skills more quickly than others. Support your teachers in being aware that the children at your school are at multiple development stages, regardless of their closeness in age.
By keeping children’s different developmental stages in mind, teachers can plan and, if needed, adapt language and pre-literacy lessons to support all the children in their class. Encourage teachers to welcome diversity in the classroom and to see children as unique individuals with different backgrounds, abilities, needs, learning styles, and interests.
When you observe and monitor teachers, your focus will be on helping them understand and use the guidelines. As teachers gain more experience, you can use monitoring to create accountability. However, you will need to keep in mind that the main goal of observation and monitoring is to support your staff, especially when they are using the guidelines to inform instruction for the first time.
The following are additional suggestions for supporting your staff in using the guidelines:
- You and your team should know the guidelines and developmental milestones and use your knowledge to support teachers and other instructional staff in using them.
- You and your team should meet with teachers to discuss the language and pre-literacy guidelines.
- Teachers should share examples of children’s work or developmental growth (based on guidelines or other milestones) with you and your team and with parents and families.
- You and your team should use lesson plan reviews, checklists, walkthroughs, and observations to monitor lessons to ensure they address developmental milestones and align with state guidelines.
- Teachers should be trained on what assessments and checklists to use, when to administer these tools, and how to use data to inform instruction. (See the Assessment module for more information.)
TO LEARN MORE: To learn more about child development and developmentally appropriate instruction, you may want to review the following sources:
The National Association for the Education of Young Children’s position statement Developmentally Appropriate Practices in Early Childhood Programs Servicing Children from Birth through Age 8 includes the “12 Principles of Child Development and Learning.”
The Child Development section of the Center for Disease Control’s website provides research and articles on health and development, as well as information on developmental milestones and screening.
ZERO TO THREE, from the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, provides information to parents and families, instructional staff, and policymakers about young children’s development. The website offers literature and podcasts on behavior and development and provides support for staff in nourishing relationships between parents and their children.
Parenting Counts offers educational materials and tools and hundreds of videos and articles that explore child developmental from 0 to age five. The website has valuable videos showing parents working with their children to support them in learning developmentally appropriate skills.