Developmentally Appropriate

Target Skills at the Appropriate Developmental Level

Skills develop in a fairly predictable order.  For example, you can’t throw a ball until you have the ability to pick it up.  You can’t pick it up until you can coordinate the movement of your fingers.  

In Active Learning it is important to understand the developmental sequence of skills and provide activities that require skills the learner has.  This way the individual will feel success and use that skill to learn something new. Higher level skills will develop naturally as foundational skills solidify. Always offer activities at the child’s developmental level; you may adapt with materials to make the activity age appropriate. Slowly provide new experience to foster growth.

A teacher uses hand-under-hand technique to show a young man a drum.
A teacher uses hand-under-hand technique to show a young man a drum.

Using hand-over-hand to “show” a child how to do something should be avoided! If the child allows you may want to model some movements using hand-under-hand techniques.

When we target skills at a higher level than the child is currently functioning, we begin to see confusion, frustration and resistance from the child. Often these responses are interpreted as “behavioral challenges” and if we persist in pushing the child to do things above his/her developmental level, they will likely become problematic. We have to be good playmates, allowing the child to take the lead and playing at his/her level. 

Adrianna and Aunt Cindy Playing

Description: This video is designed to show you what happens when a typical 2-year-old child, who has no identified disabilities, is presented with tasks that are at a developmental level that is far above her functioning level.  This girl has typical vision and hearing, with no identified learning problems. Her aunt, who is on the staff at the Penrickton Center for Blind Children, has created this video specifically to demonstrate what happens when a task is not appropriate for a child’s developmental level.

Developmentally Appropriate Activity

Zain Playing with Balls

In this video we see Zain, who has not developed the ability to grasp, playing with a variety of balls on his wheelchair tray. He is able to move the balls and proceeds to push the balls from his tray. Later in the video, the activity is changed slightly. Balls are used that have holes in them so he can get his fingers inside them and smaller balls that are more graspable are provided. Also, containers are placed near the tray so he can bring the balls back up to his tray. Additionally, plastic stars that connect are added to the mix that have been connected in the shape of a ball. This provides him the opportunity to use both hands to take things apart, a skill that is just slightly above his current developmental level. He may not be able to perform this skill for a long time, but he has exposure to the materials that come apart and can be put together.

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Daniella Wants to Throw

In this video we see another example of a mismatch of activity to developmental level and skills. Daniella is being asked by her teacher to select a tactile symbol and give it to her to make a choice, but Daniella only throws the symbol. It is easy to assume that Daniella is just being difficult, however, developmentally Daniella needs to throw. There are a variety of things you can do to provide opportunities for a child to throw and repeat by securing the objects with an elastic on a Position Board or Activity Wall, throwing to knock over objects while outside, or throwing against a barrier or into containers. After a time, the child with have learned all she can from throwing and begin to try other movement schemes to explore objects. Later in this video you will see her having this opportunity to practice throwing in a safe environment with a variety of materials.

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Bryan and the Drum

The best activity, if not matched to a child’s developmental level, will not work. In this video we will see Bryan. When bored, Brian will bang his head. When given a table top mobile meant to work on grasp and release, all Brian knows to do is bang on it. So the activity is changed to playing with a drum which allows him to use the banging movement to achieve a different effect from banging his head. Notice the pleasure he takes in this activity. An Elastic Board is also placed on is tray, so he can attempt grasping which a developmental skill similar to banging.

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Need to Learn More about Typical Development?

If you can, talk to your Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Speech-Language Therapist, Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, Orientation and Mobility Specialist, and/or Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing about your child’s developmental levels. If they have done an assessment, they should be able to explain where you child is developmentally and what skills typically develop next. You may want to get a copy of the Functional Scheme which can help you assess what skills you child has currently across nineteen areas of development. You may also want to check out some of these resources to learn a bit more about typical development if you don’t have access to the Functional Scheme or other developmental checklists. It is important to note that if your child has a vision or hearing loss, physical challenges, or cognitive challenges there may be differences in how these skills develop. Check with your therapists who can help you understand more about your child’s specific develop and needs.

Below are some resources on other websites that you may find useful:

Gross Motor

Kid Sense website chart of gross motor skills from birth thru 6 years of age.

Fine Motor

Kid Sense website chart of fine motor skills from birth thru 8 years of age.

Oral Motor

PDF showing oral motor skills from birth thru 5 from Super Duper Handy Handouts.

Social and Emotional Development