Developmentally Appropriate Practices as Predictors of Self-Competence among Preschoolers

Article excerpt

Abstract. The purpose of the study was to investigate whether the use of developmentally appropriate practices in the classrooms is related to the perception of self competence among preschoolers. Ninety-one children (females = 46, males = 45) of several ethnic origins, attending seven different preschool programs, participated in the study. Self competence was measured using the Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Social Acceptance; developmentally appropriate and inappropriate practices were measured using the Checklist for Rating Developmentally Appropriate Practices in Early Childhood Classrooms. Regression analysis to determine whether the use of developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood influenced the perception of self competence among preschoolers indicated that teaching strategies, curriculum goals, motivation, and guidance of social-emotional development were found to be significant predictors of the peer acceptance component of self competence, but not to other components. Th e results suggest that developmentally appropriate curricula promotes opportunities for social development of children.

Many child development researchers and early childhood educators believe that highly formalized instruction and curriculum for young children are inappropriate and may, in fact, impede the development of the child (e.g., Charlesworth, 1985, 1989; Elkind, 1986; Hirsch-Pasek & Cone, 1989; Schweinhart & Weikhart, 1988). Elkind (1986) argued that early formal instruction or developmentally inappropriate practices may promote high levels of stress and low levels of motivational, intellectual, and social development. The present research was designed to evaluate the relationship between perceived self-competence among preschoolers and the use of developmentally appropriate practices in their early childhood settings. The project was guided by the literature on developmentally appropriate practices and self-competence among young children.

In the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) position statements on developmentally appropriate practices in programs for children, birth through 8 years of age (Bredekamp, 1987; Bredekamp & Copple, 1997), the core idea behind developmentally appropriate practices is that "the child is the basic unit of the curriculum." The developing cognitive, physical, social, and emotional competence of the children, along with the cultural background of the children, should be the basis for planning the curriculum of an early childhood setting. Developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) include three core dimensions to which teachers should attend: human development and learning, individual characteristics and experiences, and the social and cultural contexts of the child. Developmentally appropriate practices are based primarily on cognitive-developmental, social-learning, and ecological systems theories. Important concepts from cognitive developmental theory include creating an optimum envi ronment for the child to learn and interact with materials, using positive guidance techniques, and providing experiences that meet the needs of every child and promote each child's self-esteem and positive attitude toward learning. Social-learning theory concepts, such as the view that children continually imitate and learn from models and peers, are incorporated into the DAP guidelines. An important concept drawn from ecological systems theory is that each child's development is influenced by multiple factors, including those at the familial, cultural, and societal levels. Early childhood teachers should keep these factors in mind in order to create developmentally appropriate classrooms for children.

Although the findings of current research are generally supportive of DAP (e.g., Dunn & Kontos, 1997; Hart, Burts, & Charlesworth, 1997), researchers and educators continue to question the potential positive and negative impacts of practices that are more or less developmentally appropriate on young children's development. …