If you have recently visited a quality preschool program, you probably noticed that the classrooms have a lot of bustle and noise, that children are up doing things, talking, playing, and exploring. Such a classroom environment differs from the old grade-school images of a teacher doing a lot of talking at a blackboard while children sit and listen quietly at their desks.

Research and experience tell us that to be effective with young children, teaching practices need to be “developmentally appropriate.” What this means is simply that educators need to think first about what young children are like and then create an environment and experiences that are in tune with children’s characteristics.

Early childhood, after all, is a time of life quite different from adulthood, and even from the later school years. Children 3-6 learn far better through direct interactive experiences than through just listening to someone talk. They learn extraordinary amounts through play and exploration. And the younger the children are, the more what they learn needs to be relevant and interesting on the day they learn it, not just in the context of some future learning.

Based on such knowledge about what children of this age are like, good preschools design their program to fit them. I t works a lot better than trying to redesign children!

A developmentally appropriate program is age-appropriate. But that’s not all. To make the program a good place for every child, classroom environments and activities should relate to the community and the families involved. Your child’s preschool should be eager to learn as much as they can about each child’s family, cultural background, past experience, and current circumstances. With this knowledge they can work to create a program that fits the children and the families they serve.

Adapted from Family Friendly Communications by Diffily & Morrison, NAEYC