"Developmentally appropriate" describes an approach to teaching that respects both the age and the individual needs of each child. The idea is that the program should fit the child; the child shouldn't have to fit the program!

Preschool teachers look at the "whole child," including intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and creative growth. Of course, every child develops in these different areas at his own rate, and the range of these rates can be quite wide at any given age. A child may, for example, have strong intellectual skills and need more development socially. There are, however, some common developmental patterns that teachers can expect to see.

Through training and/or experience, your child's teacher is familiar with these patterns. She uses this information and her observations of the group to carefully plan activities that are not too simple or too difficult, but that help each child learn and grow. Many developmentally appropriate activities are open-ended, which means they have flexible procedures and there are few right or wrong answers. This way, children at different developmental levels can participate with equal success.

How can you tell if your child's preschool is developmentally appropriate? One good way is simply to watch the children in action. If most of them seem busy and engaged in their own independent activities, rather than bored or frustrated by activities the teacher directs, the program is probably appropriate. You can also speak to the teacher or director about how the curriculum in your child's classroom meets individual needs. Finally, inquire if the program is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). NAEYC accreditation is your seal of approval that the program is developmentally appropriate.

  From Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Preschool but Didn't Know Whom to Ask by Ellen Booth Church. © 1996 by Scholastic Inc.