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“Ages and Stages” & “Yardsticks”: Two insightful and practical guides to children’s developmental stages

by Sarah Hruska-Olson Olson.Sarah@MacPhail.org

Most of us in ECM work with children of many different ages and developmental stages.  Our students may range in age from newborns to eight-year-olds.  Those of us who teach in other MacPhail departments like Community Partnerships may work with an even broader range of ages, including upper elementary students, adolescents, and adults of all ages.

“Ages and Stages,” by Karen Miller and “Yardsticks,” by Chip Wood are two wise and helpful resource books to help us make some sense of the many developmental stages we encounter in our classrooms.  The authors are able to share some helpful guidelines about developmental traits for every age, while still emphasizing the importance of each child’s individuality. 

Each book is divided into sections that are easy to read in small increments.  Both authors come from strong backgrounds in developmental teaching that span decades.  Each writer’s respect for children and understanding of every child’s unique developmental needs is immediately apparent.  It is inspiring to read the introductory sections of “Ages and Stages” and “Yardsticks” but it is also possible to quickly reference a 10-20 page section of either book to gain some quick, practical reminders and knowledge about a particular age group.

“Ages and Stages” is particularly helpful for those of us who work with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.  Karen Miller divides the chapters in her book into chapters on babies aged 0-6 months, babies aged 6-12 months, toddlers, 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, and 6-8 year-olds.  Since I am teaching many parent/child baby music classes this year, I found the baby chapters to be especially useful.  Each chapter contains tips on social emotional development, relationships with other people, typical behavior, gross and fine motor development, language development, cognitive development, and musical development. 

Embedded in each of these categories are simple, creative activities that are easy to incorporate into our music classes.  For instance, Miller recommends a game called “target practice” for 2-3 month old babies: “Hold a toy that makes an interesting noise over a child’s head when the child is lying on the floor.  Jiggle it to get the child to bat at it.  (The child will also enjoy kicking at this.)” This small activity could easily be done with bells, shakers, or other ECM instruments and props.  Miller explains how the activity promotes fine motor development.  (It also helps social and musical development!)

In the section on music for young babies, Miller writes:

“Babies enjoy music from the very beginning…. Live singing while being held is a wonderful gift for a baby.  The child feels the vibrations of your body as she hears the sounds.  She is learning part of the human repertoire.” 

It is very validating to read that a child development expert of Miller’s caliber considers music to be such an important category of learning that it warrants its own section in each chapter of her book alongside categories like language and motor development.  In her summary of the 0-6 month chapter, Miller writes about the importance of creating relationships with parents.  She is speaking to an intended audience of infant caregivers, but the message is relevant in our ECM setting as well:

“The importance of working closely in a mutually respectful relationship with parents cannot be overstated…Earning a parent’s “basic trust” is as important as gaining that from the infant.  Do everything you can to strengthen the parent/child bond, helping the parent appreciate what a wonderful, unique individual their child is.”

In addition to inspirational passages like the one above, Miller’s book is full of more practical information, like when infants typically learn to hold their heads up, how six-week-olds smile at faces or objects placed a foot away, and how to help older babies learn to touch one another in a safe and gentle way.  The chapters on each age are similarly formatted.  Each chapter is only about twenty pages long, making it fairly quick to read up on a particular age group you may be working with.

I purchased the 3rd edition of “Yardsticks,” by Chip Wood after learning about it in Responsive Classroom training.  Chip Wood has revised his developmental guide to include more cultural information about African American and Latino students.  Even as he outlines the impressive research behind his guide, Chip Wood cautions the reader to keep in mind the limitations of all generalizations about child development.  Wood points out that no two cultures are exactly the same and the cultural context is another important factor to consider in addition to developmental stages.  In his thought-provoking chapter on developmental considerations, Wood outlines the four key principals about child growth and development

1.  Children’s physical maturation, language acquisition, social and emotional behavior, cognition, and ways of approaching the world follow reasonable predictable patterns.

2. Children generally go through predictable stages in the same order, but they will not all go through them at the same rate.

3. The various aspects of development do not proceed at the same rate.  This is perfectly normal.  A youngster who matures quickly in cognitive areas may mature slowly in physical and social ones.

4. Growth is uneven.

Wood means for his general guide for each age from 4-14 to be understood in the broader context of these four considerations.  Like Miller, Wood stresses the wonderful, unique individuality of each individual child even as he shares general characteristics for each age. 

Each age from 4-14 is given a chapter about ten pages long.  Each chapter has a few descriptive paragraphs and useful charts on physical, social-emotional, language, and cognitive growth patterns.  Wood describes what these developmental stages may look like in the classroom and makes developmentally appropriate curriculum suggestions. 

Wood’s book is very helpful and practical for those of us who work in school settings.  It may also bring smiles of recognition to parents as they read about the typical characteristics for their own children’s ages.  My teenager even enjoyed looking his own age up in the book.

For anyone who is interested, I will leave my copies of “Ages and Stages” and “Yardsticks” in the ECM office for people to look at.  I used staff development money to order my copy of “Yardsticks.”  It was quite affordable.  “Ages and Stages” belonged to my Mom but I believe it could also be purchased at a fairly reasonable price.

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