Effects of Developmentally Appropriate Practices on Social Skills and Problem Behaviors in 1st through 3rd Grades

By Van Horn, M. Lee; Karlin, Emilie et al. | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, January-March 2012 | Go to article overview

Effects of Developmentally Appropriate Practices on Social Skills and Problem Behaviors in 1st through 3rd Grades


Van Horn, M. Lee, Karlin, Emilie, Ramey, Sharon, Journal of Research in Childhood Education


The guidelines published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children on the use of developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) have, over the last two decades, had an important influence on young children's educational experiences. The efficacy of these guidelines for changing children's outcomes has been examined by only a handful of studies and with mixed results. This study looks at the effects of classroom and school-level use of classroom elements of DAP in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades on parent ratings of children's social skills at the end of the year, controlling for ratings of the same construct at the end of the previous year, gender, and ethnicity with a sample of between 1,145 and 2,111 students each year. Differential effects of DAP for males and females and for children of different ethnic backgrounds also were examined. Despite high power, no consistent effects of DAP were observed and no interactions found, suggesting that DAP does not affect parents' ratings of social skills in 1st through 3rd grades. The importance of these results, in light of other work on the effects of DAR is discussed.

Keywords: developmentally appropriate practices, social skills, problem behaviors, student outcomes, differential effects, effects of teaching

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Early childhood education programs tend to fall along a continuum of teaching styles, with those emphasizing didactic teaching of academic skills on one end, and those offering a more "child-centered" approach on the other. The child-centered approach has received considerable attention with the development of the popular developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) guidelines by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC; Bredekamp, 1987; Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). The DAP guidelines portray the child as an active participant in the learning process, emphasizing play as a means of learning, and the importance of using teaching methods appropriate to the developmental stage of the class as a whole and to the individual needs of each child (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). The DAP guidelines are widely endorsed by early childhood educators partly because they make intuitive sense and offer concrete examples of appropriate classroom practices.

Although many academics and educators have embraced the DAP guidelines, others have been more critical. There are three major criticisms of DAP: (1) its guidelines purport to provide a set of global best practices yet disregard diversity and cultural differences, (2) limited support exists for its theoretical base, and (3) there is little empirical evidence of its efficacy in improving child outcomes. Although the revised version of the DAP guidelines addresses cultural issues more thoroughly than the initial version, critics argue that the general principles of DAP reflect middle-class White values rather than those of more collectivistic cultures (Hsue & Aldridge, 1995; Smith, 1996). Academics also have debated the value of having global written guidelines for best practices (Charlesworth, 1998a, 1998b; Lubeck, 1998a, 1998b). Furthermore, there are very few empirical studies that specifically evaluate the effects of DAP on children from different cultures (Van Horn, Karlin, Ramey, Aldridge, & Snyder, 2005).

The NAEYC guidelines cite Piaget and Vygotsky as theoretical influences on DAP, but critics argue that DAP guidelines focus mostly on the stage-like system of development proposed by Piaget and place significantly less emphasis on the social and cultural influences on development suggested by Vygotsky (Smith, 1996; Walsh, 1991). The DAP guidelines state that it is crucial to incorporate information about children based on their developmental level and on their individual characteristics, but much more time is spent discussing appropriate developmental levels (Aldridge, 1992). This may be problematic, because research has shown limited support for the notion of stage-like development (Gelman & Baillargeon, 1983).

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