What Developmentally Appropriate Practice REALLY means for Children

In a recent Facebook LIVE video post, Dr. Garcia discussed her stance on certain school district curriculums and her stance on what is actually best for children's learning.

In a time when teachers are increasingly leaving the classroom and are also frustrated with the demands of what they are being asked to implement in the classroom, Dr. Garcia advocates and debunks perceptions on what learning looks like in the classroom in support of developmentally appropriate practices in kindergarten.

To LISTEN to the video podcast check out The Kindergarten Experience on iTunes or Google Play, Episode 2.

The following is the transcript of her video.

Dr. Garcia:

I want to share, very quickly, I got a shirt, a t-shirt, that you can see. "Please don't mistake my passion for aggression." I just want to remind everyone of that as I get into a topic that has really come to surface for me, as I'm out there looking at what schools are doing, and how they're implementing, or working to implement, best practice.

I have come across quite some many teachers who are feeling very frustrated, for many reasons. One of the things that have come up more recently now, this is very specific to Arizona, and so those of you who have liked our page and are not from Arizona, this won't even make a whole lot of sense to you, outside of the fact that you might be able to relate to expectations that we have of children that are not developmentally appropriate.

We have what's called BT here, that is led by a school district in our state who have been very successful at implementing what they have created as a calendar of expectations for teachers to have an understanding or an idea of what children should be meeting in terms of expectations. Now, there are many schools in our state who have not subscribed to the calendar, but there are about 100 schools across Arizona that have.

I will tell you that, I really had to calm down about this. When I found out what specifically are being asked of teachers, in terms of implementing, or having expectations of children, I got really frustrated. At that point, probably, my passion did become aggression. I'm going to give you some examples of what it is that teachers are being asked to ensure children, or at least working in the direction of supporting children, with these expectations.

For quarter one, it says "The highly proficient student can read and can write a word independently using correct spelling, when given an orally spoken word, within 10 days of starting school. The highly proficient students can fluently read all of the sight words for quarter one within 30 days of starting school. The highly proficient student can read text from a book correctly without tracking or assistance within five days of starting school."

Now, I'm going to tell you why this is damaging, but first I'm going to tell you where my history and background comes from. Especially if you have never attended any of our sessions; hopefully, many of you who are on our page have been to many of our sessions. I will tell you that we subscribe to developmentally appropriate practices by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. I started in the field, about three years shy of 30 years. So I've been in the field for quite a bit of time.

I've been everything from a classroom teacher, to an administrator for about 12 years. I have done everything from curriculum, and when I talk about authentic assessment, I lived it. I did it. I know how to do it from the core of my soul, and I believe in it. I believe in authentic assessment, formative assessment is the term that we're using nowadays, but formative assessment and implementing that in its truest sense as a process of really understanding children. That through our observations, and careful documentation, and reflection, that it informs what we should be doing for children.

In order to understand developmentally appropriate practices, I just want to share this book. So if you have never seen this book, this is not the first edition. This book has been around for the entire time I've been in the field, but I urge you to get this book, if you have never seen it before. It defines developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood. I will tell you that we have been working specifically with kindergarten, even though DAP is birth to age eight, so that's third grade.

And this book, this is the new version. Developmentally Appropriate Practices Focus on Kindergarten. They have one for infants and tots. They have one for preschool. They have one for kindergarten and primary grades. First through third grade. So this is a comprehensive ... they've taken parts of the developmentally appropriate original book, and have now made a very comprehensive approach and understanding of developmentally appropriate practices.

This is what I call the Cliffs Notes version. Great little book. If you want to start somewhere, start here. You can get all of these books at the National Association for the Education of Young Children website. This is an organization, it's a preeminent organization in early childhood education. It's been around forever and a day. A very long time. What I'm about to share with you is not new information. But unfortunately, somewhere, somehow, it gets confusing. I see misinformation about expectations that we have about children.

I've engaged with conversations with other people about expectations. Expectations that we have that we should raise the bar, and that I think even the terminology here is "the highly proficient student." Well, let me tell you why this is damaging. First off, you have to understand developmentally appropriate practices. DAP is the acronym.

Developmentally appropriate practices is, very first thing, is to know children as individuals. To know who they are, how they tick, what makes them an incredible human being. What they love to do, who they love to play with, when they do play, when they do engage with others, when they do go working on something ... What are they thinking? How are they thinking? What excites them? Those are the things that you have to know. You can't know that when you're doing whole-group instruction most of the day. You have to engage in their experiences and enter their world to have an understanding of who they are.

The second one is you have to have a deep understanding of developmental progressions of learning. That if you don't know what comes first, and then what comes second, then it's very hard to support children, if we understand that skills beget skills. Children need these primary skills, and we build on them.

And too often, if you know my analogy of Jenga, that we are all Jenga, and if we've got kids coming into school with gaping holes. And it may be in the best situations, or the best intended situations. The children come to school and have had very little language exposure, of complex language, of saying "What do you think about that? What do you think will happen? How do you know?" Too often, children come to school with very limited engagement with an adult in terms of language development. That's the precursor for reading and writing.

What do we do? We spend time in our kindergarten classroom being quiet, number one. Second, we do paper-pencil types of experiences, so we do lots of tracing, and writing, and CBC words, and all this stuff. But what children need in order to be proficient readers and writers is they need language. They need to practice talking, talking, talking, talking, talking with one another, with the teacher. I mean, just engaging in rich, meaningful experiences that are surrounded by opportunities for language to occur. To naturally occur. Children need to play with language.

When you don't have a deep understanding of child development, and I'll give you another good example ... Scribbling is a significant part of children's learning to actually write. That is part of the developmental process. When they get to kindergarten, and children come to school ... I've been a kindergarten teacher. They come to school not ever having held a pencil, a marker, so they hold it all different ways. They still haven't developed these fine motor skills.

What do we do? We give them more chances to write, and then we kick in to fine motor skills and development, because a lot of the teachers know that. But do you know that this comes first? (showing arm going up and down) This is painting. This is the motion that we have for painting. And so this skill, or this muscle has to be developed before these can be developed(showing fingers). How many of us actually do painting in the classroom anymore, right?

And so we have to know that when skills beget skills, if they've got gaping holes coming to school, and not having had opportunities for painting, having opportunities for language, having opportunities for rich, intentional play experiences, we stack on expectations that aren't age appropriate. Or developmentally appropriate. And what happens is, eventually, as we continue to stack those expectations, it will topple. And often it will topple as kids disconnecting, kids misbehaving. One of the big things that I see quite a bit is they are off-task. And we're talking about self-regulation or executive function skills. I will have to tell you that, oftentimes, the expectations that we have of children are simply not developmentally appropriate.

I gave you the first one, know individual children. The second one, you know progressions of learning. The third one is to understand, and respect, and respond from a place of honor, the child's culture. We're not talking about race. People like to mix in. Race plays a part of culture, but that's "Who am I within my family unit?" My family unit is a significant part of the partnership that we create with families.

That's developmentally appropriate practices. So many people refer to DAP as the activities we do, the hands-on types of learning. All of those are parts of DAP, but DAP is really understanding early childhood development as an individual perspective, as well as understanding what the research says about brain research.

What I am just infuriated about, is that this document of what children should know within the first few days of school, within the first five days of school, first 15 days of school. All these that they call "reading standards," are nowhere, or at least very inappropriately address these standards. These are Arizona standards. We have Arizona ELA standards. Arizona math standards. And guess what, guys? We have science standards. We have art standards. We have social studies standards. But so often, we're only looking at the first two, ELA and math. There's an indication in this document(referring to Beyond Textbooks) that they are reading standards. And we sat there. I had my group, Alesi Group, go through and try to make the connections to see if maybe they were on the continuum, and I will tell you some are loosely connected to the actual standards, but the vast majority are not. I have said to groups of people who have come to our sessions that the (Arizona) Department of Ed does not support any curriculum, and definitely does not support this one, either. And I know that comes as a shock to a lot of teachers, because I've been in trainings where teachers are like, "What? That's news to me!"

Let me tell you what. This is bad for kids. I will tell you why it's bad for kids. Because if you have expectations of me, as a four, five, and six year old child, because there are four year old children in kindergarten classrooms across the state. You have expectations of me that are not developmentally appropriate. You are setting me up for failure. And I know. I'm a strong believer in having higher expectations, but within proximity. You know what I mean? It's like you want to provide enough challenge that they can actually attain it. Not so high up that, even in the best of situations, there are few children that can actually accomplish this successfully.

What does this do? Okay. It's not good for kids, but what does it do to the teacher? The teacher doesn't have a whole lot of, because I will be quite honest, a lot of our higher ed programs do not have a lot of classes on child development. They don't have courses that actually talk about the progressions of learning. Of how children develop skills. And if you went to school when I did, which was a quite a bit of time ago, I had one child development class. That was it. So that deep understanding, especially now with what the research is saying in terms of brain development, a lot of folks don't have that foundation.

So I'm a new teacher, and I get this document(BT Calendar) that says "Within five days, children should be doing this. And within three weeks, children should be doing this." As a teacher, if I can't get children to do this, what does that mean for me? Does that mean that I'm not a good teacher? And I know that happens, because I've sat in rooms, and I've sat in classrooms with teachers, who have said to me, "I am doing everything that I possibly can, but we can't reach this goal. I have one or two children." And I look at the goals, and ... Seriously, I look at them, and I go, "Because these are not appropriate goals for young children." Do we understand that?

And so teachers then become stressed out, because their perception is that they're not effective teachers. And this, then, if we know anything about how the brain works, if I'm stressed out because I've got a testing coming up. They're now being tested ... More of the same crap doesn't actually create change. This part is what's very frustrating to me. Doing more of the same thing doesn't help. So now, all of a sudden, instead of testing three times a year, we're now testing children every other week. So now the teacher is on constant stress alert.

When the teacher is feeling stressed about helping children meet these expectations, then they're releasing cortisol. The teachers are. And if you know anything about mirror neurons, you understand that the teacher, and who she is in the presence of children, affect the children. Then they start to perceive, "I'm not smart enough. I'm not pleasing the teacher. I'm not doing a good job. I don't even know how to use a mouse." We've got children taking tests, that are five year old children, they're touching the screen because that's the kind of experience that they have at home, maybe with an iPad.

And we've got children taking these very long, over, and over, and over, and over again, and so now we've got this experience of stress associated with school. Instead of just being challenged by the experience of wanting to learn, and getting excited about the experience of learning. And finding joyful opportunities, as we wonder, and we question, we discover. We've created classrooms where everyone is stressed. And then administrators become stressed out, and they're trying to motivate, because we have to meet a certain expectation, but yet, we're not doing it based on what is developmentally appropriate for children.

Our standards, people say to me, "Well, we have to adhere to the standards." Well, yes. I'm a believer in these standards. I have colleagues and friends of mine were a part of the revision of these standards. We believe that children should learn what's in our standards. But the way that we see the "how" is what's significant. When we provide opportunities that are rich, that are meaningful, that children get excited about. Where they, and again, I'm going to use my term...

We use the term "real, relevant, and meaningful." So here we go. Look at what we made(showing a water hydroflask with the terms). Those of you who have been a part of our process, I offer real, relevant, and meaningful opportunities for learning. It's one of those that are like the Hydro Flask. Isn't that awesome? So we're going to start selling these. And I wrote it as an affirmation.

I offer real, relevant, and meaningful opportunities for learning. Concrete experiences that build on prior knowledge, which is the relevance. Meaningful, children have to care about it. And when we create experiences that are real, relevant, and meaningful for children. When we can trust the experience of learning. We can trust teachers and the experience of teaching, and provide support systems, to have an understanding of brain research. Then we can get rid of these ideas that children are supposed ... And like I said, I'm all for goals, and I'm all for standards. But the how we do it is not only significant in terms of understanding what's appropriate, but it's also significant about the climate that we are creating for teachers and for children.

One of the things that Arizona, and I'm just going to say this: Arizona has a very hard time keeping teachers. Finding and keeping teachers. And you have no idea how many teachers I have had conversations with, where they are at the breaking point of leaving teaching. When we have conversations, when I say to teachers, "Why did you start teaching? Why did you start teaching?" Most of us do not answer that question with saying, "Because I wanted to have children sit all day long. And I wanted to test them, ongoing."

We do it because it's a service industry, that we want to give. We want to feel that passion every single day, that brought us and led us to the field to begin with. And we, for whatever reason, have lost that. When I see something like this, that's across our state, and school districts embracing this as a way to help teachers know what children should be knowing throughout the entire school year, I wish that it was based on some sort of research around early childhood practices. And I will tell you, you don't have to know a whole lot about early childhood best practices to know that this is not developmentally appropriate.

I saw this(referring to the BT calendar) a couple of weeks ago, and I had to sit on it for a little while, because if you think I'm passionate now, I was beside myself. Because I get why teachers are frustrated, and I get why we're not reaching goals. That's because oftentimes we don't see a way to get children to meet these expectations without drill and kill, without sitting them for six hours at a time.

Even if you're doing brain breaks, if you listen to any of my talks on movement, and outdoor play, and recess time, brain breaks are not substitution for that. They're a great thing to do, but children actually need to be moving. Ideally, they're moving as they're learning. That they're finding places and spaces in their classroom where they learn best. And that the belief that children should be sitting at a table, or sitting at a desk, and I'm not a fan of desks at all. That that perspective really is an antiquated belief system.

We continue to implement strategies that prepare children for our past, not their future. When we understand that technology, and the way that the world is shifting, at the rate that it is, that we have to recognize that we're preparing children for a future that we don't even understand. We can't even begin to comprehend. So 20 years from now, we have to ensure that children have the foundational skills that they're going to need, and what we know for sure, and what Fortune 500 companies are saying, is they need out-of-the-box thinkers. They need adults to be able to problem solve, and to work collaboratively with others. But if we're not understanding what is best practice for young children, and giving them these real, relevant, and authentic experiences for learning, then we're missing the boat altogether.

I just want to put this out there for the schools that have adopted this(BT): I recognize that a lot of folks have put a lot of money, and a lot of effort, into this, but I can't sit idle and be okay with it. Because teachers need to know that what is being asked is not developmentally appropriate.

Referring to the Facebook Comments:

Dr. Garcia:

I just engaged in a conversation with an administrator, not very long ago, and he said to me, "Well, the shift is slow." And I said, "Well, of course it's slow. Have you ever made a decision in your life to make a change, of a habit, of a perspective, of an approach, that happened overnight?" I would say 99.9% of the time, it takes a concerted effort. It takes intentional practice. And it takes being in a supportive climate and community in order for this kind of change to happen. It requires a consistent commitment from not only the teacher, but the administrators, to understand that that just like any kind of learning, it takes time. And it takes effort. And it takes commitment. And it takes trust. We have lost sight of trust. So this trusting type of experience, we've got PLCs embedded in a lot of schools. I see that as the perfect place to be able to create a trusting climate, where we are supports to one another, to be able to help raise up one another. Too often, our climates in our schools are about competition. We do it with the children. It becomes inevitable that it happens with teachers, about whose test scores are better, or who's a better teacher, or whatever.

We have to start breaking down those barriers, and create a climate of responsivity, of trust, of respect. And to know that I honor who you are and what you bring to your classroom. I honor who you are and what you bring to this group. And that we work on the very skills that we want children to be able to develop. We need to work on the skills of collaboration, of communication, of community. All those things. Of creativity. That it requires that we are proficient to do that, and to understand that we are here for one another as we're trying to create these changes, and to break down the old systems of understanding, or the beliefs of what is not developmentally appropriate for children.

I will ... Oh, Chantel just south ... We were just in Tucson. You're in Oracle. Hey, give us a call! We'll come out! We'll come out and do some training for you all.

I hope ... I've just put this out there because I've been sitting on this, and it's been very difficult for me to meet with teacher after teacher, after teacher, after teacher saying to me, "I'm not able to do this. These are the expectations." And I hear you, and I want you to know that some of these expectations, I think most of them, if you're using this document, is not developmentally appropriate. I will tell you that, and again, this is my go-to ... We made it look like this(Referring to a bound print out of the Kindergarten Learning Standards for AZ). But the standards are available at the Department of Ed website.

If you would like some support in how to implement things in a developmentally appropriate way, or would like for us to come out to your school and talk to your administrator, please contact us. We're here at the Facebook page, but we're also at, and at Alesi Group. Just reach out to us. We are really working hard to support teachers in their classrooms, and administrators understand what the foundational skills that children need for academic success and life success. You all have a good night, and stay connected to us!

(end of transcript)

In the spring of 2015, The Kindergarten Experience was launched with a Social and Emotional Development in Kindergarten conference. The Kindergarten Experience, an extension of The Kindergarten Project, is a series of dynamic professional development trainings, workshops and opportunities that offer a comprehensive lens for evidence-based practices that support the whole child in kindergarten. These identified practices are the foundation for the effective and successful implementation of the Kindergarten Developmental Inventory. Sessions are in collaboration with the Arizona Department of Education and funded through a grant from Virginia G. Piper.

To learn more about the Alesi Group and the professional development trainings they provide, please visit the website at:

Catch the latest in Kindergarten Best Practices by checking out the podcast: The Kindergarten Experience presented by Alesi Group!



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