What Does Research Say About Early Childhood Education?

Understanding and applying research findings from early education to classroom practice is an important step in achieving effective child outcomes. Program administrators, educators, and researchers can find clear examples of educational research findings that inform classroom practice. Basic theoretical principles of child development and learning form the foundation for quality early childhood programs.

The Need for Early Childhood Curriculum and Assessment Guidelines
Theoretical Principles of Child Development and Learning
Early Childhood Guidelines
Next Steps: Determining Appropriate Content
Conditions Necessary for Change
Activities for Teachers
Activities for Parents and Community Members
Applying Curriculum Guidelines and Questions in Evaluating a Program’s Curriculum
Applying Assessment Guidelines and Questions in Evaluating a Program’s Assessment Procedures
Important Early Childhood Resources
Books, Audio, and Videotapes

S. Bredekamp, R.A. Knuth, L.G. Kunesh, and D.D. Shulman
NCREL, Oak Brook, 1992

Early Childhood Education (ECE) is the term frequently applied to the education of young children from birth through age 8. Although early childhood education has existed since the creation of kindergarten in the 1800s, the last decade has seen a tremendous amount of attention devoted to the subject of early education for young children.

The first national goal focuses directly on the early childhood years: "By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn." We believe that from the time of birth, all children are ready to learn. However, what we do or don't do as individuals, educators, and collectively as society can impede a child's success in learning. For example, if we do not provide adequate health care and nutrition for our youngsters, those children entering the public schools will already be behind their healthier, properly fed peers. The current educational practices of testing children for kindergarten entry and placement, raising the entrance age to kindergarten, adding an extra "transitional" year between kindergarten and first grade, and retaining children in preschool, kindergarten, or first grade are attempts to obtain an older, more capable cohort of children at each grade level. These educational strategies suggest that current curriculum expectations do not match the developmental level of the children for whom the grade is intended. In effect, these strategies blame the victims, the children, rather than confronting the real problem--an inappropriate curriculum.

The focus of this program, therefore, is to address curriculum and assessment issues related to the education of young children and discuss ways schools can change to become ready for children. Information that follows has been excerpted from position statements and guidelines developed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) for appropriately educating young children, ages 3 through 8.

The Need for Early Childhood Curriculum and Assessment Guidelines

The decade of the 1980s saw numerous calls for widespread school reform, with changes recommended in teacher education, graduation requirements, school structure, and accountability measures. With the advent of the 1990s, school reform finally took on the essential question: what to teach (Rothman, 1989). Critiques of prevailing curriculum content and methods, and calls for sweeping change were issued by such national organizations as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1989), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1989), the International Reading Association (1989), the National Council of Teachers of English (Lloyd-Jones & Lunsford, 1989), the National Commission for the Social Studies (1989), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (1990), the National Association of State Boards of Education (1988), the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (1989), and others. The early childhood profession, represented by the NAEYC, entered the educational reform debate by issuing influential position statements defining developmentally appropriate practices for young children (Bredekamp, 1987).

These reports reflect a growing consensus that the traditional scope and sequence approach to curriculum with its emphasis on drill and practice of isolated, academic skills does not reflect current knowledge of human learning and fails to produce students who possess the kind of higher-order thinking and problem-solving abilities that will be needed in the 21st century. Past success in improving basic skills in the "3 Rs" has not been matched by success in improving reading comprehension, writing fluency, or math problem-solving ability. In addition, it is evident that our schools are failing to produce future generations with even a working knowledge of the natural, physical, and social sciences, much less the kinds of minds that will create new knowledge in these areas. Specifically, these national organizations call for schooling to place greater emphasis on:

  • Active, hands-on learning
  • Conceptual learning that leads to understanding along with acquisition of basic skills
  • Meaningful, relevant learning experiences
  • Interactive teaching and cooperative learning
  • A broad range of relevant content, integrated across traditional subject matter divisions

At the same time, these national organizations unanimously criticize rote memorization, drill and practice on isolated academic skills, teacher lecture, and repetitive seatwork.

These national organizations also have raised concerns about the negative effects of traditional methods of evaluation, particularly standardized paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice achievement tests. There is increasing recognition that curriculum reform must be accompanied by testing reform. National organizations are now calling for more performance-based assessments that align with current views of curriculum and more accurately reflect children's learning (Fair-Test, 1990; Kamii, 1990; NCTM, 1989; NAEYC, 1988; Bredekamp, 1987; National Commission on Testing and Public Policy, 1990).

While NAEYC's previously published position statements provided clear guidance about how to teach young children, they were less specific on what to teach. In implementing developmentally appropriate practice, teachers and administrators must make decisions about what to teach and when, and how to best assess that learning has taken place.

Curriculum development should take into account the many sources of curriculum:

  • Child development knowledge
  • Individual characteristics of children
  • Knowledge base of various disciplines
  • Values of our culture
  • Parents' desires
  • Knowledge children need to function competently in our society (Spodek, 1988; 1977; in press)

The task of developing curriculum is made more difficult by the fact that these diverse sources of curriculum may be in conflict with one another. For example, the values and priorities of parents and the community are significant factors to be considered in determining what should be learned; however, parents and community will not necessarily agree on all goals. The expertise of early childhood professionals should also influence decisions about appropriate goals for children (Katz, 1989). To some extent, curriculum decisions should represent a negotiation process with parent and community expectations about what is taught influenced by professional expertise about how to teach and when content is appropriate.

Theoretical Principles of Child Development and Learning

The following are theoretical principles of child development and learning that are critical in developmentally appropriate practice (DAP). These principles are based on the work of Piaget, Vygotsky, Erikson, and others.

Principle Practice
Children learn best when their physical needs are met and they feel psychologically safe and secure. DAP respects children's biological needs. For example, children are not made to sit and attend to paperwork or listen to adult lectures for long periods of time. DAP calls for active play and periods of quiet, restful, activity. The environment is safe and secure where everyone is accepted.
Children construct knowledge. Knowledge is constructed as a result of dynamic interactions between the individual and the physical and social environments. In a sense the child discovers knowledge through active experimentation. Central to experimentation is making "constructive errors" that are necessary to mental development. Children need to form their own hypotheses and keep trying them out through mental actions and physical manipulations - observing what happens, comparing their findings, asking questions, and discovering answers - and adjust the model or alter the mental structures to account for the new information.
Children learn through social interaction with other adults and other children. A prime example is the parent-child relationship. The teacher encourages and fosters this relationship as well as relationships with peers and other adults by supporting the child in his or her efforts and later allowing the child to function independently. The teacher's role is one of supporting, guiding, and facilitating development and learning.
Children learn through play. Play provides opportunities for exploration, experimentation, and manipulation that are essential for constructing knowledge and contributes to the development of representational thought. During play, children examine and refine their learning in light of the feedback they receive from the environment and other people. It is through play that children develop their imaginations and creativity. During the primary grades, children's play becomes more rule-oriented and promotes the development of autonomy and cooperation which contributes to social, emotional, and intellectual development.
Children's interests and "need to know" motivate learning. Children have a need to make sense of their experiences. In a developmentally appropriate classroom, teachers identify what intrigues their children and then allow the students to solve problems together. Activities that are based on children's interests provide motivation for learning. This fosters a love of learning, curiosity, attention, and self-direction.
Human development and learning and are characterized by individual variation. A wide range of individual variation is normal and to be expected. Each human being has an individual pattern and timing of growth development as well as individual styles of learning. Personal family experiences and cultural backgrounds also vary.

Early Childhood Guidelines

An important contribution to the field of child development and early childhood education was the creation of "Guidelines for Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum and Assessment in Programs Serving Children 3 through 8". The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) jointly developed these guidelines to assist teachers and supervisors to:

  1. Make informed decisions about appropriate curriculum, content, and assessment;
  2. Evaluate existing curriculum and assessment practices; and,
  3. Advocate for more appropriate approaches.

The early childhood profession believes that curriculum and assessment should be based on the best knowledge of theory and research about how children develop and learn with attention given to individual children's needs and interests in a group in relation to program goals. It is important, therefore, to clarify the definitions of these important terms.

Curriculum is an organized framework that delineates the content children are to learn, the processes through which children achieve the identified curricular goals, what teachers do to help children achieve these goals, and the context in which teaching and learning occur.

Assessment is the ongoing process of observing, recording and otherwise documenting the work children do and how they do it, to provide a basis for a variety of educational decisions that affect the child.

Assessment is integral to curriculum and instruction. In early childhood programs, assessment provides a basis for: 1) planning instruction and communicating with parents; 2) identifying children with special needs; and 3) evaluating programs and demonstrating accountability.

For making decisions about developing or selecting curriculum content for young children, or assessing children's progress, NCREL recommends "Guidelines for Appropriate Curriculum and Assessment in Programs Serving Children Ages 3 Through 8" (NAEYC & NAECS/SDE, 1990). The Guidelines, rephrased as questions, appear in Section 4 of this guidebook.

Next Steps: Determining Appropriate Content

Learning and development are so individualized, it is not possible nor desirable to establish uniform age-appropriate expectations. However, it is possible to identify parameters to guide decisions about the appropriateness of curriculum expectations.

The framework that follows is useful for determining age-appropriate curriculum content. This framework reflects the cycle of human learning--movement from awareness, to exploration, to inquiry, to utilization.

  • Awareness is broad recognition of the parameters of the learning--events, objects, people, or concepts.
  • Exploration is the process of figuring out the components or attributes of events, objects, people, or concepts by whatever means available; it also is the process whereby children bring their own personal meaning to their experiences.
  • Inquiry is the process of developing understanding of commonalities across events, objects, people, or concepts. At this point, children begin to generalize their personal concepts and adapt them to more adult ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Utilization is the functional level of learning, at which children can apply or make use of their understanding of events, objects, people, or concepts.

To learn something new, children must become aware, explore, inquire, use, and apply. This process occurs over time and reflects movement from learning that is informal and incidental, spontaneous, concrete-referenced, and governed by the child's own rules to learning that is more formal, refined, extended, enriched, more removed in time and space from concrete references and more reflective of conventional rule systems.

Model of Learning and Teaching

What Children Do What Teachers Do
  • Experience
  • Acquire an interest
  • Recognize broad parameters
  • Attend
  • Perceive
  • Create the environment
  • Provide the opportunities by introducing
    new objects, events, people
  • Invite interest by posing problem or question
  • Respond to child's interest or shared experience
  • Show interest, enthusiasm
  • Observe
  • Explore materials
  • Collect information Discover
  • Represent
  • Figure out components
  • Construct own understanding
  • Apply own rules
  • Create personal meaning
  • Facilitate
  • Support and enhance exploration
  • Extend play
  • Describe child's activity
  • Ask open-ended questions, such as "What else could you do?"
  • Respect child's thinking and rule systems
  • Allow for constructive error
  • Examine
  • Investigate
  • Propose explanations
  • Compare own thinking with that of others
  • Generalize
    Relate to prior learning
  • Adjust to conventional rule systems
  • Help children refine understanding
  • Guide children, focus attention
  • Ask more focused questions, such as "What else works like this? What happens if?"
  • Provide information when requested
  • Help children make connections
  • Allow time for sustained inquiry
  • Use the learning in many ways; learning becomes functional
  • Represent learning in various ways
  • Apply to new situations
  • Formulate new hypotheses and repeat cycle
  • Create vehicles for application in real world
  • Help children apply to new situations
  • Provide meaningful situations to use learning

Adapted from NAEYC and NAECS/SDE "Guidelines for Appropriate Curriculum Content and Assessment for Programs Serving Children Ages 3 Through 8", (1990).

Conditions Necessary for Change

Experts agree that meaningful change must be systemic. In other words, change must occur in all aspects and levels of the educational system. This system extends far beyond the walls of the early childhood classroom, into the school building, the community, nation, and global society. The term systemic also suggests that change in one aspect of the educational system will affect other aspects as well. To complicate matters, each of these aspects also may be in the process of change. Thus in the change process, all those involved must continually communicate and take note of the whole educational system, evaluating current plans within the context of the changing whole. We have identified several important conditions necessary for systemic change in early childhood education.

  1. We must focus on how children develop and learn in order to meet their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical needs. This calls for early childhoodeducators to have a thorough understanding of child development, and be able to implement that knowledge in all aspects of their classrooms.
  2. The primary school must have the support of the entire community, including the elementary and secondary school staff. Developmentally appropriate practice includes smooth transitions from one grade to the next, so teachers must work together to insure common curriculum and assessment practices that provide continuity throughout the child's academic career.
  3. Parents must be encouraged to take active roles in the education of their children. Measures must be taken to involve them in all aspects of their child's growth and development in school, allowing them to be partners in their child's education. This necessitates open communication, problem-solving, and collaborative decisionmaking between and among administrators, teachers and parents.

Activities for Teachers

The examples of excellence in this program clearly show that in successful schools, teaching is a multidimensional activity. One of the most powerful of these dimensions is that of "teacher as researcher." Not only do teachers need to use research in their practice, they need to participate in "action" research in which they are always engaging in investigation and striving for improved learning. The key to action research is to pose a question or goal, and then design actions and evaluate progress in a systematic, cyclical fashion as the means are carried out. Below are three major ways that you can become involved as an action researcher.

  1. Use the questions found at the end of this section to evaluate your school's early childhood curriculum and assessment.
  2. Implement the models of excellence presented in this program. Ask yourself:
    • What outcomes do the teachers in this program accomplish that I want my students to achieve?
    • How can I find out more about their classrooms and schools?
    • Which ideas can I most easily implement in my classroom and school?
    • What will I need from my school and community?
    • How can I evaluate progress?
  3. Form a team and initiate a research project. A research project can be designed to generate working solutions to a problem. The issues for your research group to address are:
    • What is the problem or question we wish to solve?
    • What will be our approach?
    • How will we assess the effectiveness of our approach?
    • What is the time frame for working on this project?
    • What resources do we have available?
    • What outcomes do we expect to achieve?

Activities for Parents and Community Members

The following are activities that individuals and groups can do with early childhood programs.

  1. Serve on early childhood committees to identify early childhood needs and resources and ways you and your group or agency can support developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood.
  2. Consider ways that schools and community members can work together to provide:
    • Materials for a rich early childhood learning environment (e.g., real literature in print and audio form, computers, manipulatives for learning)
    • Opportunities for children and teachers to learn out of school
    • Opportunities for adults to serve as role models, tutors, aides, and experts
    • Opportunities for children to become involved with and contribute to the community
  3. Promote school and community forums to debate the national education goals:
    • Invite your local television and radio stations to host school and community forums.
    • Have "revolving school/community breakfasts" (community members visit schools for breakfast once or twice a month, changing the staff and community members each time).
    • Gather information on the national education goals and their assessment.
    • Gather information on alternative models of schooling.
    • Gather information on best practices and research in the classroom.

    Some of the important questions and issues to discuss in your forums are:

    • Have we reviewed the national education goals documents to arrive at a common understanding of each goal?
    • What will students be like who learn in schools that achieve the goals?
    • What must schools and communities be like to achieve the goals?
    • Do we agree with the goals, and how high do we rate each?
    • What is the reason for national pessimism about their achievement?
    • How are our schools doing now in terms of achieving each?
    • Why is it important for us to achieve the goals?
    • What are the consequences for our community if we don't achieve them?
    • What assumptions are we making about the future in terms of Knowledge, Technology and Science, Humanities, Family, Change, Population, Minority Groups, Ecology, Jobs, Global Society, and Social Responsibility? Discuss in terms of each of the goal areas.
  4. Consider ways to use this program guidebook, Meeting Children's Needs, to promote understanding and commitment from school staff, parents, and community members to implement developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood settings.

Applying the Curriculum Guidelines

Developing curriculum or deciding whether a particular curriculum is appropriate for a specific group of children is a complex task that requires consideration of many variables. To facilitate the task of using the Curriculum Guidelines, NAEYC and NAECS/SDE have rephrased each of the guidelines as a question. They suggest that a curriculum committee, composed of six to eight teachers review a proposed curriculum by subjecting it to these questions. (Because continuity of philosophy and practice across the early childhood continuum within communities also is of major importance, NCREL recommends that curriculum committees include administrators; parents; Head Start, child-care, and preschool providers; and community members on the curriculum committee.) An approved curriculum would be one for which a group of early childhood professionals and lay persons could agree in the affirmative to each of the following questions.

Questions to ask in evaluating a program's curriculum:

  1. Does it promote interactive learning and encourage the child's construction of knowledge?
  2. Does it help achieve social, emotional, physical, and cognitive goals?
  3. Does it encourage development of positive feelings and dispositions toward learning while leading to acquisition of knowledge and skills?
  4. Is it meaningful for these children? Is it relevant to the children's lives? Can it be made more relevant by relating it to a personal experience children have had or can they easily gain direct experience with it?
  5. Are the expectations realistic and attainable at this time or could the children more easily and efficiently acquire the knowledge or skills later on?
  6. Is it of interest to children and to the teacher?
  7. Is it sensitive to and respectful of cultural and linguistic diversity? Does itexpect, allow, and appreciate individual differences? Does it promote positive relationships with families?
  8. Does it build on and elaborate children's current knowledge and abilities?
  9. Does it lead to conceptual understanding by helping children construct their own understanding in meaningful contexts?
  10. Does it facilitate integration of content across traditional subject matter areas?
  11. Is the information presented accurate and credible according to the recognized standards of the relevant discipline?
  12. Is this content worth knowing? Can it be learned by these children efficiently and effectively now?
  13. Does it encourage active learning and allow children to make meaningful choices?
  14. Does it foster children's exploration and inquiry, rather than focusing on "right" answers or "right" ways to complete a task?
  15. Does it promote the development of higher order abilities such as thinking, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making?
  16. Does it promote and encourage social interaction among children and adults?
  17. Does it respect children's physiological needs for activity, sensory stimulation,fresh air, rest, and nourishment/elimination?
  18. Does it promote feelings of psychological safety, security, and belonging?
  19. Does it provide experiences that promote feelings of success, competence, and enjoyment of learning?
  20. Does it permit flexibility for children and teachers?

Applying the Assessment Guidelines

As with curriculum decisions, assessment decisions should reflect the consensual opinion of early childhood professionals, lay persons, and assessment experts. To facilitate this process, NAEYC and NAECS/SDE have rephrased their assessment guidelines as questions. Evaluation of current or proposed assessment procedures and/or instruments should result in affirmative responses to all of these questions.

Questions to ask in evaluating a program's assessment procedures:

  1. Is the assessment procedure based on the goals and objectives of the specific curriculum used in the program?
  2. Are the results of assessment used to benefit children, i.e., to plan for individual children, improve instruction, identify children's interests and needs, and individualize instruction, rather than label, track, or fail children?
  3. Does the assessment procedure address all domains of learning development--social, emotional, physical, and cognitive--as well as children's feelings and dispositions toward learning?
  4. Does assessment provide useful information to teachers to help them do a better job?
  5. Does the assessment procedure rely on teachers' regular and periodic observations and record-keeping of children's everyday activities and performance so that results reflect children's behavior over time?
  6. Does the assessment procedure occur as part of the ongoing life of the classroom rather than in an artificial, contrived context?
  7. Does the assessment rely on demonstrated performance during real, not contrived activities, for example, real reading and writing activities rather than only skills testing?
  8. Does the assessment rely on multiple sources of information about children such as collections of their work, results of teacher interviews and dialogues, as well as observations?
  9. Does the assessment procedure reflect individual, cultural, and linguistic diversity? Is it free of cultural, language, and gender biases?
  10. Do children appear comfortable and relaxed during assessment rather than tense or anxious?
  11. Does the assessment procedure support parents' confidence in their children and their ability as parents rather than threaten or undermine parents' confidence?
  12. Does the assessment examine children's strengths and capabilities rather than just their weaknesses or what they do not know?
  13. Is the teacher the primary assessor and are teachers adequately trained for this role?
  14. Does the assessment procedure involve collaboration among teachers, children, administrators, and parents? Is information from parents used in planning instruction and evaluating children's learning? Are parents informed about assessment information?
  15. Do children have an opportunity to reflect on and evaluate their own learning?
  16. Are children assessed in supportive contexts to determine what they are capable of doing with assistance, as well as what they can do independently?
  17. Is there a systematic procedure for collecting assessment data that facilitates its use in planning instruction and communicating with parents?
  18. Is there a regular procedure for communicating the results of assessment to parents in meaningful language, rather than letter or number grades, that reports children's individual progress?

Questions to ask in evaluating screening/diagnostic procedures:

  1. Are screening test results used only as a first step in a systematic diagnosticprocedure for identifying children with special needs rather than to deny children entrance to a program or as the sole criterion for assignment to a special program?
  2. Are the screening tests used reliable and valid for the purpose for which they are used? Are the technical adequacies of standardized measures carefully evaluated by knowledgeable professionals?
  3. Are parents informed in advance when children are screened? Are the purpose and procedures carefully explained to parents and are parents permitted to stay with their child if desired?
  4. Is the screener knowledgeable about young children and able to relate to them in a positive manner?
  5. Does the screening procedure involve concrete hands-on activities rather than paper-and-pencil tasks?
  6. Does the screening procedure lead to systematic diagnosis of potential handicapping conditions or health problems for the children for which this is warranted?
  7. If a comprehensive diagnostic process is recommended after screening, have the key conditions warranting the implementation of the process been delineated and documented for the parents in writing in language they can understand?

Questions to ask in assessing program evaluation procedures:

  1. Is the program evaluation procedure congruent with all other stated principles of curriculum and assessment?
  2. Does the program evaluation summarize and quantify the results of performance-based assessments of children's progress conducted by classroom teachers?
  3. Does the program evaluation incorporate many indicators of children'sprogress, rather than standardized, group-administered achievement test scores?
  4. Does the program evaluation address all components of the delivery of the program instead of being limited to measuring outcomes for children?
  5. Is sampling used in situations where the administration of a standardized achievement test is mandated?

Important Early Childhood Resources

Position Statements

Brededamp, S. (Ed.). (1987). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. (ex. ed) Washington, DC: NAEYC.

National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. (1987). Unacceptable trends in kindergarten entry and placement. Unpublished paper. Available from state education agencies and NCREL.

National Association for the Education of Young Children, & National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. (1990). Position statement on guidelines for appropriate curriculum content and assessment in programs serving children ages 3 through 8. Young Children, 46(3), 21-37.

National Association of State Boards of Education. (1988). Right from the start. The report of the NASBE task force on early childhood education. Alexandria, VA: NASBE.


NAEYC Publications are available from NAEYC, 1834 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20009-5786. Phone 1-800-424-2460 or 202-232-8777, Fax 202-328-1846.

Achievement Testing in the Early Grades: The Games Grown-Ups Play. (1989, C. Kamii, Ed.).

Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children. (1989, L. Derman-Sparks, and the A.B.C. Task Force).

Beyond Self-Esteem: The Development of the Self System. (1989, N. Curry, & C. Johnson).

The Case for Mixed-Aged Grouping in Early Childhood Education. (1989, L. G. Katz, D. Evangelou, & J. A. Hartman).

The Child's Construction of Knowledge: Piaget for Teaching Children. (1983, G. E. Forman, & D. Kuschner).

Contructivist Early Education: Overview and Comparison with Other Programs. (1990, R. DeVries, & L. Kohlberg).

Developmental Screening in Early Childhood: A Guide. (1985, rev. ed., S. J. Meisels).

Emerging Literacy: Young Children Learn to Read and Write. (1989, D. S. Strickland, & L. M. Morrow).

More Than the ABC's: The Early Stages of Reading and Writing. (1986, J. Schickedanz).


American Association of School Administrators (AASA). Audio Workshop Professional Development Series. (1991). Transforming primary schools to improve student learning: Philosophy and strategies for developmentally appropriate education. Arlington, VA: AASA, 1801 N. Moore St., Arlington, Virginia 22079


Sulzby, E., & Gardner Communications (1988). Emergent literacy: Kindergartners write and read. Bloomington, IN: Agency for Instructional Technology, Box A, Bloomington, Indiana 47402-0120, 800-457-4509. VHS videotape (30 min.) plus teacher's guide and student workbook, $150.


In early childhood, assessment is the process of observing, recording and otherwise documenting the work children do and how they do it, as a basis for a variety of educational decisions that affect the child, including planning for groups and individual children, and communicating with parents. Assessment also is used to determine the extent to which an instructional strategy or program is working.
An organized framework that delineates the content children are to learn, the processes through which children achieve the identified curricular goals, what teachers do to help children achieve these goals, and the context in which teaching and learning occur.
Developmental Appropriateness
The concept of developmental appropriateness has two dimensions: age appropriateness and individual appropriateness.
Age appropriateness
Human development research indicates that there are universal, predictable sequences of growth and change that occur in children during the first 9 years of life. These predictable changes occur in all domains of development-physical, emotional, social, and cognitive. Knowledge of typical development of children within the age span served by the program provides a framework from which teachers prepare the learning environment and plan appropriate experiences.
Individual appropriateness
Each child is a unique person with an individual pattern and timing of growth, as well as individual personality, learning style, and family background. Both the curriculum and adults' interactions with children should be responsive to individual differences. Learning in young children is the result of interaction between the child's thoughts and experiences with materials, ideas, and people. These experiences should match the child's developing abilities, while also challenging the child's interest and understanding.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1989). Science for all Americans: A project 2061 report on literacy goals in science, mathematics, and technology. Washington, DC: Author.

Bredekamp, S., & Rosengrant, T. (Eds.). (in press). Reaching potentials: Appropriate curriculum and assessment for young children. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Bredekamp, S. (Ed.). (1987). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children form birth through age 8. (ex. ed.). Washington, DC: NAEYC.

FairTest (National Center for Fair and open Testing). (1990). Fallout from the testing explosion: How 100 million standardized exams undermine equity and excellence in America's public schools (3rd edition). Cambridge, MA: FairTest

Gabarino, J. (1989). Early intervention in cognitive development as a strategy for reducing poverty. In G. Miller (Ed.). Giving children a chance: The case for more effective national policies. (pp. 23-26). Washington, DC: National Policy Press.

International Reading Association. (1989). Literacy development and prefirst grade. Newark, DE: Author.

Kamii, C. (1982). Number in preschool and kindergarten: Educational implications of Piaget's Theory. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Katz, L.G., & Chard, S. (1989). Engaging children's minds: The project approach. Norwood: New Jersey: Ablex

Lloyd-Jones, R., & Lunsford, A.A. (Eds.). (1988). The English Coalition Conference: Democracy through language. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (1988). Position statement on standardized testing of young children 3 through 8 years of age. Young Children, (43) 3, 42-47.

National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. (1987). Unacceptable trends in kindergarten entry and placement. Unpublished paper.

National Association of Elementary School Principals. (1990). Early childhood education and the elementary school principal. Alexandria, VA: Author.

National Association of State Boards of Education. (1988). Right from the start: The report of the NASBE task force on early childhood education. Alexandria, VA: Author.

National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools. (1989). Charting a course: Social studies for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: Author.

National Commission on Testing and Public Policy. (1990). From gatekeeper to gateway: Transforming testing in America. Chestnut Hill, MA: Author.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1989). Curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.

Rothman, R. (May, 1989). What to teach: Reform turns finally to the essential question. Education Week, 1(8), 10-11.

Shepard, L.A., & Smith, M.L. (1988). Escalating academic demands in kindergarten: Some nonsolutions. Elementary School Journal, 89(2), 135-146.

Spodek, B. (1977). What constitutes worthwhile educational experiences for young children. In B. Spodek (Ed.). Teaching practices: Reexamining assumptions. (pp. 1-20). Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Spodek, B. (1985). Goals and purposes of educational programs for 4- and 5-year-old children. Final report of the Commission on Appropriate Education. Unpublished document.

Spodek, B. (in press). What should we teach kindergarten children? Educational Leadership.

Teale, W.H. (1988). Developmentally appropriate assessment of reading and writing in the early childhood classroom. The Elementary School Journal, 89(2), 173-184.

Teale, W., & Sulzby, E. (Eds.). (1986). Emergent literacy: Writing and reading. Norwood, NJ: Ablex

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1981). The genesis of higher mental functions. In J.V. Wertsch (Ed.). The concept of activity in Soviet psychology. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe

Copyright © North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer and copyright information.

What Does Research Say About Early Childhood Education? Bradekamp, S., Knuth, R.A., Kunesh, L.G. and Shulman, D.D. ED/North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCREL). 1992. English.

Last Reviewed: November 2008

Last Updated: October 7, 2014