Developmentally Appropriate Practice: A Guide for Parents


Early childhood is an important time when children experience rapid development, learn important skills, and learn more about the world around them. To learn how you can support the early development of your child, read the facts and opportunities provided below.

What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?

Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) is the approach early care and education professionals use to teach young children. Developmentally Appropriate Practice:

    • is grounded in research on how young children learn;
    • provides connection to real-world experiences and opportunities to gain knowledge and skills through hands-on learning;
    • prepares children for future learning; and
    • acknowledges the role of play in learning and development.

Facts and Opportunities

FACT: Meaningful play experiences help your child build background knowledge, imagination, and rational thought that enables academic skill development. Consider:

    • Playing with your child in a water table helps them understand math concepts like shapes and measurements, as well as science concepts like float, sink, and waves.
    • Asking your child questions about observed activities, encouraging experimentation, and helping them understand cause and effect relationships during play.
    • Including playful elements like using reusable materials to create their own inventions.

FACT: Play is the primary way your child uses language and math concepts. Consider:

    • Allowing your child to construct stories during imaginative play will later become the foundation for creative writing.
    • Helping your child recreate elements of familiar books during play, demonstrating the understanding of characters, emotions, and empathy.
    • Supporting your child to make choices that interest them as a way to guide their math and literacy skills.
    • Asking what strategies your child’s teacher uses for reading instruction.
    • Asking if worksheet and book activities are made playful.

FACT: Dramatic play helps your child develop executive functioning and the ability to self-regulate. Consider:

    • During dramatic play, take turns with your child contributing ideas into imagined scenarios.
    • Providing your child with opportunities to make choices in their learning.

FACT: Physical movement—including the freedom to play—helps your child improve his/ her behavior and attention. Consider:

    • Asking your child’s teacher if physical activity is part of the classroom routine.

Print this Resource

To learn more and view the full guide, view the free printable PDF of this resource (English) (Español). Additional information is available for parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers. To learn more, visit our Developmentally Appropriate Practice: A Guide for Caregivers of Infants and Toddlers page.


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Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

Learn more about the series.

Request free printed materials from our Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series.


Picture: A young baby looks up at the camera.
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