The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines developmentally appropriate practice as “methods that promote each child’s optimal development and learning through a strengths-based, play-based, approach to joyful, engaged learning.” A developmentally appropriate curriculum is rich in content and offers wide-ranging and diverse experiences and activities to promote the learning and development of all children. It is designed to invite children to think deeply about what interests them and builds on their prior knowledge. The NAEYC Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) Position Statement offers guidelines for developmentally appropriate practices, including the implementation of a developmentally appropriate curriculum.
Why Implementing Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Matters
- NAEYC DAP aligns with Head Start Program Performance Standards requiring developmentally appropriate early childhood curricula (45 CFR §§1302.32 and 1302.35). The Head Start Multicultural Principles for Early Childhood Leaders include DAP, too. Principle 4 says: Addressing cultural relevance in making curriculum choices and adaptations is a necessary, developmentally appropriate practice.
- Low-quality early childhood settings do not reflect DAP principles, and African American boys are disproportionately enrolled in those settings. Teacher-initiated activities combined with harsh discipline are characteristics of these learning environments.
- To promote Black excellence, African American boys need exposure to books and images that have characters who look, act, and think as they do. These texts encourage and empower action in their own lives and the lives of others around them.
- African American boys are often perceived as older than they are (referred to as adultification), and, as a result, they don’t receive the nurturing and protection children deserve . African American boys often do not have opportunities to grow and learn in developmentally appropriate ways.
- African American boys deserve meaningful and robust boyhoods, full of joy, wonderment, leisure, and play. Play is a vital part of well-implemented curricula. By reimagining African American boyhoods in early childhood programs and communities, education staff (e.g., teachers, home visitors, family child care providers) can:
- Create life-affirming spaces where Black boys’ actions and emotions are not perceived as threatening
- Inspire Black boys to inquire, play, and explore new ideas, and create space for gender non-conforming boys by breaking down stereotypes of Black masculinity .
It is important to have time to be reflective and intentional to implement a curriculum that shows knowledge of child development, individuality, and contexts where learning happens.
Adapted from First School: Transforming PreK–3rd Grade for African American, Latino, and Low-Income Children, the questions below help you think specifically about African American boys in your program. Use your reflections to individualize your approach and refine your curriculum implementation.
- What assumptions or incorrect guesses am I making about a child’s ability to learn or not learn based on my own past experiences or experiences teaching children?
- How am I individualizing teaching practices or home visiting practices to meet the learning needs of every child I work with?
- How do I promote parents as each child’s most important teacher?
- How do I link curriculum to African American boys’ experiences at home in ways that promote a sense of identity, belonging, and family engagement?
- How does my home-based curriculum promote parents as the most important teachers and foster positive parent-child interactions?
- Are African American boys in my classroom, family child care home, or home visiting caseload meeting their learning goals? If not, what support do I need to increase learning gains? How would I teach a young Barack Obama in my class given his identities and natural talents?
- How can I design learning experiences that celebrate African American boys for all their beauty and brilliance?
- How do I incorporate cultural perspectives that consider various aspects of the African American identity into my teaching or home visiting practices?
- How do I select and share identity-positive books, songs, and materials with African American infants, toddlers, and their families?
- What meaning and importance does the curriculum have for African American boys, while still meeting the intended learning goals?
- How do I make time for African American boys to discover, practice, play, and share their learning?
- How does new learning relate to African American boys’ prior knowledge?
- What do the African American boys in my learning environment already know? What are they able to do? What are they interested in knowing and doing? What can I learn from observing African American boys in my setting (e.g., classroom, family child care home, home visits, group socializations)?
Practices that Promote Implementing Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum
NAEYC recommends that while a curriculum might look different across programs, depending on learning settings and program philosophy, there are essential elements to all curricula. Below are some of the essential elements and ways you can support school readiness for African American boys.
Embrace a philosophy about joyful learning and opportunities for play that foster learning new skills in active and social ways.
- Be responsive and open to African American boys expressing verve — or lively, active play and engagement. At table-top activities for toddlers and preschoolers, allow children to stand or sit as they engage in their activity.
- Share in the excitement of joyful learning. Through body language and words, show you are excited to see African American boys learning new skills.
Practice genuineness in your teaching practices.
- Do not assume or force images onto children for the sake of diversity.
- Offer materials but let children lead in how they explore the materials.
Design meaningful learning opportunities that scaffold children’s learning by adding complexity and linking new learning to children’s earlier experiences. Relate concepts to the children’s lives and give them hands-on learning experiences. For early literacy, include pictures of signs or words children see in their neighborhood — such as a stop sign or local grocery store.
Develop activities that foster social, emotional, physical, language, and cognitive development.
- African American boys often thrive in settings that allow them to actively explore and investigate topics of interest .
- Use the concept of windows and mirrors. The curriculum can be a mirror (i.e., seeing ourselves reflected) and a window (learning about others and their cultural ways of being). Offer books where the main characters are African American boys and that promote self-esteem and positive self-identity. During home visits and group socializations, share the website link to Black Boy Joy: 30 Picture Books Featuring Black Male Protagonists.
Assess and adjust one-on-one and group interaction strategies with preschool-age children to guarantee independence and full participation for each child.
- Offer a variety of ways for children to show what they know. Leaning on strong oral and call-and- response traditions in African American culture, modify rules by allowing children to speak without waiting to be called on in some activities.
- Focus on creativity and interpretation of learning experiences such as art, using a process approach that emphasizes individual expression.
Include families’ values, beliefs, experiences, cultures, and languages.
- In group care settings, ask families to share how they engage their infant or toddler during care- giving routines, such as mealtime and preparing for naptime, and integrate these interactions into similar activities.
- Include the oral tradition of African American culture in the early childhood curriculum. Use strategies such as:
- Ask preschool-age children about what they did the day before and suggest they share their stories, draw them, or act them out.
- Ask parents, grandparents, and other family members to record their favorite stories.
- Give opportunities for toddlers and preschool-age children to take part in social pretend play, which improves social skills and leads to longer, more complex stories.
Download the Try It! worksheet and choose one practice to focus on for one month. Use the prompts in the worksheet to thoughtfully plan how you will use the practice. The worksheet includes prompts for reflection after using the practice for one month.
Deepen Your Learning
Use these resources to learn more about developing and implementing culturally responsive curriculums.
- DAP Position Statement
- The Importance of Windows and Mirrors in Stories
- A Culturally Responsive Approach to Implementing Curriculum
- Implementing a Curriculum Responsively: Building on Children’s Interests
Connections to Head Start Standards, Frameworks, and Principles
Many of the Head Start practices outlined below support the school readiness and success of young African American boys. Keep your learning setting in mind when considering how you already implement these practices and how you can more closely align to improve your existing teaching practices.
Head Start Program Performance Standards
Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework
Developmentally appropriate practice supports children’s development and learning across all ELOF domains. Check out the ELOF Effective Practice Guides for information about domain-specific teaching practices that support development and learning, from birth to 5.
Multicultural Principles for Early Childhood Leaders
Implementation of the following multicultural principles honors the cultural diversity of children, families, and communities served in Head Start programs:
- Principle 1: Every individual is rooted in culture.
- Principle 4: Addressing cultural relevance in making curriculum choices and adaptations is a necessary, developmentally appropriate practice.
- Principle 8: Multicultural programming for children enables children to develop an awareness of, respect for, and appreciation of individual and cultural differences.
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning
Last Updated: June 16, 2023