Early childhood education standards of quality have become a nation-wide trend in the last few decades and brought forth many discussions and debates on the role of standards in the development of young children and their relationship to developmentally appropriate practices. The modern field of the standards movement is large and can be subdivided into at least four subtypes of standards for various areas of education. According to Barbara T. Bowman, these four subtypes can be described in a certain way:
- Content standards are well-structured levels that define the physical and social skills, and academic knowledge taught at each level, using the curriculum of studies;
- Program standards serve to define the learning environment and deal with sizes of study groups, requirements for educators and types of learning activities;
- Performance standards are essential for guiding the outcome of education, they detail the necessary knowledge and skills that children need to achieve in a certain period of time;
- Standards for professional development determine the learning objectives and the necessary training for educators to ensure they have the according to skills and knowledge (Bowman, 2006, p. 1-2).
The purpose of developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) in early childhood education is to address the issues of individual ways of children’s development and making generalized forecasts of their development rates, taking into account the differences in age, personality, and socio-cultural context. The key point of the DAP is that its educational strategy is not based on speculations, but on solid facts and irrefutable evidence provided by children’s development theories. In DAP, it is also very important to consider all the variations in development and learning processes, establish the trust-based relationships within the study groups and between the families and educators and create a steady “community of learners.”
Although these conceptions of learning may seem completely contradictory and even mutually exclusive, in my opinion, both of them can be implemented in today’s system of early education, and their methods can be compatible with each other. The fact is a detailed analysis allows for the conclusion that these conceptions pursue different goals. According to the book “Continuing Issues in Early Childhood Education,” one of the problems in the DAP concept is its focus: “From the beginning, the document [NAEYC’s recommendations] has described how to teach, not what to teach” (Feeney, Galper, Seefeldt, 2009, p. 267). However, this method’s limitation may also become a solution to the question of integration of the DAP and the educational standards.
The strict standardization can be moderated by the liberal position of the developmentally appropriate practice, which emphasizes such values as the respect for each child, the importance of creating a healthy environment and relationships, and incorporating the play practices into the learning schedule, even at the cost of more academic studies. The DAP can, in turn, be augmented by applying the ways of standard movement, which include the all-encompassing planning, ability to set distinct goals and structure the stages of the process. Eventually, a reasonable balance between the two methods can lead to a mutually beneficial way to solve the problems of young children’s education.
If my task were to develop an instructional strategy for integrating the educational standards and the developmentally appropriate practices, the main point to direct attention to would be the training of the educators. The teachers, the mentors, the administrators, and all the people involved in the field of education should have a clear idea of the purpose of each method and the ways of its application. It is common knowledge that early childhood educators dislike the standardization and often criticize it for the narrow-mindedness. However, it is important to show them that implementing the general standards instead of specific and discreet ones will not infringe upon the interests of children, but at the same time will facilitate the learning routes. On the other hand, following the methods of DAP and the statement of National Association for the Education of Young Children it can be claimed that “well-educated, knowledgeable, and caring teachers are the key to positive outcomes for children” (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2002, p. 8).
Training in groups, cooperative learning, and collaborative creation of a methodological base will allow the participants to share their experience and propose new solutions. Teachers should be encouraged to share their experiences, publish articles, and make public appearances to discuss the issues of implementing the different concepts in education and their compatibility. Aside from the training, it would also be advisable to raise awareness of the topic among the interest groups of society. The increased awareness may lead to increased efforts to create a comprehensible and sustainable educational system and implementing the enhanced standards of learning at the governmental level. Educators can find motivation in becoming the role models for the young learners, but they also should recognize the responsibility for meeting the standards. It must be emphasized, that such responsibility should never become a goal to be achieved at all costs because it may have a severe negative impact on children, but rather be turned into a soft encouragement and persuasion, humanized by the use of appropriate techniques and respect to children “as a whole.”
Bowman, B.T. (2006). Standards: At the heart of educational equity. Young Children 61(5): 42-48. Web.
Feeney, S., Galper, A, & Seefeldt, C. (2009). Continuing Issues in Early Childhood Education. (3rd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
National Association for the Education of Young Children (2002). Early Learning Standards. Creating the Conditions for Success. Web.