12.17.15 NLS BLOG: Number 5. Knowledge of Specific Ages and Stages of Development is the Key to the Best Learning Environment

Knowledge of specific ages and stages of development is the key to the best
learning environment

Setting the Stage: Understanding the Importance of Ages and Stages

“Parents and teachers who think that the child is so plastic that he can be made over by strenuous pressure, have failed to grasp the true nature of the mind. The child may be likened to a plant, but not to clay. For clay does not grow. Clay is molded entirely from without. A plant is molded from within through the forces of growth. Intelligent guidance begins with the concept of growth. To understand a child whether in infancy or in the school years, one must become acquainted with the gradients of growth which determine the trends and patterning of behavior (Gesell, 1946).”

Child development, indeed, can be likened to the life cycle of plants. My husband and I planted for the first time the plant, gladiola. We had 12 corms and decided to plant six on the very top tier of our front courtyard. Two weeks later, we would plant the other six on the courtyard level; that way, according to the planting instructions, we would extend the blossom period.

As we watched for the plants to grow, I noted that two shoots came up – at different heights, whereas the other plantings did not. I wondered if squirrels or chipmunks ate the corms. As the days progressed, I watched, amazed, at how the later planted corms begin to sprout as the upper tier just began to show their way. As I reread the planting instructions, it was necessary to provide a 3-4 inch foundation for those sprouts growing 4-6 inches tall; otherwise, they would fall. It dawned on me, gladiolas are like our children: they might be “planted” at the same time; however, they grow when they are ready. In addition, there are many times during their growth they need support and a foundation so they don’t fall over.

Similar to the gladiolus, early stimulation sets the stage for how children will learn and interact with others throughout life. There is a complex interplay between nature and nurture as how a child develops is based not only on the genes she is born with but the experiences she has. Children vary in their rates of development, as they all do not stand, walk, or walk at the same time. However, all children go through the same sequences in growth, but at their own individual pace. The process of child development is continuous and ongoing as well as unique to that child.

The focus for the parent and teacher is to watch and make observations as children reach a certain stage of development. The child has an inner need to seek out certain kinds of experiences and pursuits at certain times in her life. It is the responsibility of all the child’s stakeholders to meet each child at her own level and take her learning form that point. The power of knowing the ages and stages of development sheds light on how the needs of all children can be met more effectively.

Dr. Karlen Senseny
National Lecture Staff
Gesell Institute of Child Development