Making Families Grand: What is developmentally appropriate anyway? |

Making Families Grand: What is developmentally appropriate anyway?

When most of us were kids preschool and kindergarten were primarily about playing and learning to get along with other children. It was often the first experience we had with formal group care and learning to read was still far off in first grade. As times have changed and we now all have our own children it may be a little mystifying to know what they should be learning and how they should be learning it. To answer this question for early childhood professionals we often ask ourselves, “Is it developmentally appropriate?” But what does that even mean?

When we talk about something being developmentally appropriate it means that we take into account general knowledge of child development, growth, and learning and knowledge of the individual child, their unique experiences and circumstances. When we, as parents or teachers, are being developmental appropriate it means we recognize that one type of teaching does not fit all children. It also means we know what a child at a given age can typically do and how that might look differently for our child. If an activity or toy is developmentally appropriate than it provides just enough challenge to promote learning.

I have found that a lot of families, teachers, and early childhood professionals struggle with what exactly it means to be developmentally appropriate when we are working and playing with children. We hear so many different things about what our children should be doing at any given age. The well-meaning neighbor asks why your twelve-month-old isn’t talking yet. A friend posts on Facebook that their four year old is reading. The kindergarten teacher seems surprised that your five year old can spell their name. With all of the messages we receive about children and parenting it can be hard to even figure out what is normal, let alone what is developmentally appropriate.

It is important to remember that the activities and toys we provide for our children are developmentally appropriate if they provide some challenge, but not so much challenge that your child grows frustrated and not so little challenge that they are bored. Your child is the best one to tell you if something is developmentally appropriate or not. Now they won’t say it with words, but if they seem really interested in an activity, like learning letter sounds, and they want to keep working at it, then it is developmentally appropriate for them. Young children are naturally curious and eager learners and supporting their learning in a way that is developmentally appropriate is all about reading their cues!

To learn more about what is developmentally appropriate for your young child, check out the Colorado Early Learning and Development Guidelines at Or to find a check list of developmentally appropriate school readiness skills check out

Source: Copple, C. & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs 3rd Edition.

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