As her parent, you can observe your child’s development stages while providing varied and stimulating experiences that support her as she matures. In addition, you can enhance your child’s learning through personal contact and connection just by being present with her.
As a way of understanding your child’s natural learning patterns, and to guide her in all aspects of learning, I have identified seven basic pathways for whole learning that relate to child development stages and provide your baby with seven different kinds of learning experiences. When you intentionally offer stimulation and experiences in all seven pathways, you give her the opportunity to develop in a whole, balanced, and integrated way.
“When you intentionally offer stimulation and experiences in all seven pathways, you give her the opportunity to develop in a whole, balanced, and integrated way.”
Even though she may have strengths in certain pathways, your child benefits most by using all seven. Creating these experiences does not have to be complicated, expensive, or time-consuming. When you are aware of the pathways, you can use them as tools in the course of your daily activities. To reinforce your baby’s sensory pathway, simply take a moment to point out the smell of the bread at the bakery, the taste of an apple, or the color of flowers. To stimulate her movement pathway, wiggle her toes while holding her in your lap, or make sure that she has some time to move her body every day.
The pathways are easy to categorize, to remember, and to use. The basic building blocks are physical, emotional, and mental development. Your baby develops physically through her sensory and movement skills. She develops emotionally by interacting with herself and others and by expressing herself through communication. Mentally, she learns by developing her cognitive and creative skills. Exploring nature integrates all three of the building blocks—physical, emotional, and mental—to develop your whole child. Your baby learns naturally in the course of biological maturation and child development stages, but she needs your love and guidance to intentionally provide experiences for her to maximize her learning potential.
“The pathways are not isolated or distinct. They overlap; they are interdependent; they work together and complement each other.”
The pathways are not isolated or distinct. They overlap; they are interdependent; they work together and complement each other. For example, your baby’s sensory and motor skills are integrated; they develop simultaneously while reinforcing each other. When your baby sees a toy on the floor and picks it up with her hand, she uses hand-eye coordination—a combination of visual and movement skills.
Through your child’s development stages, you will notice that your baby focuses on specific areas at different ages. For example, in her first year she concentrates on sensory and motor development. During her second year, her language and cognitive skills grow at a faster rate. In her third year, she develops more sophisticated creative skills and refines her existing skills in other areas. Throughout her first three years she develops increasingly higher levels of social skills. She also uses the naturalist pathway during these years, integrated with all the other six pathways.
“When you accept your child’s unique self and recognize her level of development, you can be less concerned about stages of slow growth, and you can support her optimal learning potential by helping her grow to her next level.”
Your child’s development stages follow a biological course that is chronological and sequential: she naturally rolls over, crawls, and walks in predictable stages. However, even though her natural process of development may be similar to that of all babies, she also has her own individual progression that follows a wavy line with ups and downs. She may have one area of development that seems to lag, while another area accelerates. Then she may hit an explosion of unexpected growth in the pathway that seemed to be developing more slowly. When you accept your child’s unique self and recognize her level of development, you can be less concerned about stages of slow growth, and you can support her optimal learning potential by helping her grow to her next level.
Your baby may have unique gifts with a tendency to have a preference to use certain paths throughout her child development stages. You can help her by recognizing and nurturing those gifts and by using her preferred learning pathways. You can provide experiences for other ways of learning to help her balance and integrate other paths. For example, she may excel at cognitive skills, such as problem solving and building with blocks. By offering large building blocks and bigger toys, you give her the chance to play in ways that she enjoys while developing her motor and sensory skills. My grandson, Zo, is very physical. By capitalizing on his enthusiasm for movement, Mari, his mother, guides him to learn through the other pathways. For instance, she gives him chances to interact with his friends through physical play in order to help him develop his social skills.
To study the qualities of a home environment that support young children’s learning and their child development stages, Robert Bradley and Bettye Caldwell developed the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment (HOME) inventory. The results of their study show that children whose home environments were rated as conducive to mental development scored higher on achievement and school-readiness tests. In their study, they evaluated homes according to the criteria of providing developmental toys and a variety of stimuli, encouraging language development through books and games, showing warmth and affection, maintaining an orderly environment, and avoiding violence. This study affirms for me that a variety of experiences, combined with the support of a loving caretaker, can optimize a child’s learning.
Development of all the pathways strengthens your baby’s foundation and broadens her potential for learning. As you become familiar with these pathways, you can get creative and discover your own ways of incorporating them into your baby’s daily routine.
Learn more about each individual pathway by exploring the Play section!