“Mommy, do you believe in Santa Claus?” asked my 9-year-old.
“I believe that Santa Claus is real for the people who celebrate Christmas. I believe in the idea of Santa,” I replied.
That satisfied her for the time being, and she agreed, Santa is real for her friends. This, from the same child who wrote a letter to Santa when she was 4 years old.
So what does believing in Santa Claus have to do with Early Childhood Education and this blog? Plenty! As educators, we sometimes say things that we think other people want us to say, or because we want to align our beliefs with a colleague’s. When this happens, it’s just like saying we believe in Santa. In our heads, we know Santa isn’t real, but in our hearts, we want to believe in the idea of a Santa Claus and what he represents.
Here’s what Santa looks like in early childhood education:
Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)
Do you really believe in DAP, or are you just saying that you do?
Over the past few months, I have had a staggering number of conversations with center directors, teachers, and colleagues about DAP and the lack of understanding so many caregivers have about what it is and what it looks like. See my September post describing DAP experiences in early childhood programs.
This is a conversation worth re-visiting. The term DAP is pervasive in Early Childhood Education. When I ask most teachers to describe what they do, I usually hear them tell me what they think I want them to say, or what they think they believe (hello Santa!). It almost always involves a statement about DAP, in some way. But when I listen to these same teachers describe various experiences in their programs, they are anything but DAP. I tend to hear about excruciatingly long circle times, teacher directed activities, and little choice for children. When asked to describe DAP, these same teachers can give me somewhat of textbook definition.
So why is there such a discrepancy between what so many teachers say they believe and what they actually do?
I think this is complicated. DAP has been researched and talked about in our field for so many years, teachers have been trained to say it’s so. It’s like saying dark chocolate is good for you.The more you say it, the more you think you believe it.
The bigger issue is that for many teachers, it’s hard to believe in something that you can’t quantify. Sure, we explain what DAP is in technical terms. But if all of our personal school experiences were whole group, mostly teacher directed, and offered few choices, then we don’t have an inner compass of experience to guide us. If we have not spent a significant amount of time observing or working in a setting that is DAP, then we have no concrete examples of how to structure our own programs. If our only knowledge of DAP comes from workshops or trainings or staff meetings where the facilitator talked at us about DAP, then we still have no reason to internalize what it is and what it looks like.
That training we’ve all had, the one(s) that tell us what DAP is, and maybe even provides examples of what it looks like, chances are, it was a teacher directed training and did not model DAP practices for us (said the trainer). Or maybe the training did have DAP elements in it, with examples of what it looks like, some hands-on experiences, and an explanation, but it was late at night when you took the training- you were tired and unfocused – or maybe your attendance wasn’t voluntary, so the message didn’t get through. Or maybe, you’ve heard the word DAP so many times, you’re already convinced that you get it and you’re doing it, so you weren’t open to trying something different (so said the trainer).
So, how do we get to the place where what we say we believe is actually what we do? How do we really sync what we believe about how children learn and what that environment and experiences should look like?
Step 1: Set aside everything you’ve been told to believe.
Step 2: Disregard everything you heard in all of those trainings you’ve attended. (Really, said the trainer!)
Step 3: Forget about what you THINK everyone wants you to believe or say or do.
Step 4: Find a place for quiet reflection. Take time to really think about this, and answer this one question.
What do you believe?