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        The Developing Child

        Students explore the stages of development children experience from birth the age five including brain growth, language development and what shapes their views on right and wrong.

        Lesson Summary


        In this lesson, students learn about the changes that occur in children as they grow. In the Introductory Activity, students brainstorm and use online resources to explore the stages of development children go through from birth to age five. In the Learning Activity, students explore video segments from the PBS program The Human Spark to learn about brain growth, language development and how children’s views of right and wrong can be shaped by others. In the Culminating Activity, students reflect upon their own process of development and how they acquired their skills and knowledge.


        Students will be able to:


        • Describe important child development milestones from birth to age five;
        • Discuss the developing human brain;
        • Describe how the development of humans compares to that of animals and discuss the role of language in children’s development;
        • Explain how authority figures can influenc echildren’s perceptions of right and wrong;
        • Discuss what has shaped their own skills and knowledge.


        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        Two 45-minute class periods

        Media Resources

        The Developing Brain Video

        Language Development Video

        Learning Right and Wrong Video

        Web Sites

        Child Development and Parenting
        This section of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities Website provides information about child development, including the following:



        Important Milestones Fact Sheets from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

        (Note: Print out enough copies so that each group of 2-3 students has one of the seven fact sheets. If possible, when conducting this lesson’s Introductory Activity, divide the class into at least seven groups before assigning these fact sheets so that each of the fact sheets can be distributed to at least one group. For example, at least one group should receive the “end of 3 months” fact sheet, at least one should receive the “end of 7 months” fact sheet, etc. It is fine if more than one group gets the same fact sheet. Instead of making printouts, you can have students access the information directly on the Web.)

        Before The Lesson

        Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

        Optional.Print out the Child Development Milestone Handout and cut out each item along the dashed lines. Make enough copies so that each pair of students has at least one item on the sheet. (There are 33 items on the sheet.) This handout can be used in the Introductory Activity.

        Print out the “Important Milestones” fact sheets from the CDC website. (See the Materials section for details.) Print out enough so that each group of 2-3 students has one fact sheet. Note: Instead of printing out the sheets, you can have students access this information on the Web.

        Create a timeline in the classroom with the following points marked off:

        Leave enough space between each of the points on the timeline, so that students can affix their “Child Development Milestones” strips of paper in the appropriate spots.

        Part I: Introductory Activity

        1. Explain that today’s lesson explores child development, the biological and psychological changes that occur in children as they grow.

        2. Display your timeline (birth to 5 years) in the room. (See “Before the Lesson” for details.)

        3. Ask students to brainstorm different things that children do at different stages in their development. Write each item down on a separate strip of paper. For additional items, use the items on Child Development Milestone Handout.

        4. Hand students the strips of paper with the events that they brainstormed. Optional: Also hand students the items from the Child Development Milestones handout.

        5. Ask students to place the events on the timeline. Encourage students to discuss and debate where the events should go.

        6. Use the chart below for a general guideline of where events from the Child Development Milestones handout could be placed along the timeline. (This information is based on information from the CDC website.)

        7. Discuss the developmental milestones listed on the timeline. During the discussion, explain that children develop at different rates and there is a wide range of what is considered to be “normal” development. Even though a milestone might be listed as happening by a certain age on the timeline, that event could occur earlier or later depending on the child and still be considered part of healthy development. Something that is worth pointing out to your students is, in general, children will be able to perform the tasks listed in the 3 month category before they can do the tasks in the 7 month category and will be able to perform the tasks in the 7 month category before they perform the tasks in the 1 year category. For example, a child will “begin to babble” before he/she is able to “babble chains of sounds,” which he/she will be probably do before saying “mama” or “dada.”

        8. Ask students to work in pairs and explore the “important milestones” information on the CDC website. Either have students access the information directly on the Web or hand out printouts of the milestone fact sheets to students. (Hand out one fact sheet for each group of 2-3 students.) See the “Materials” section for details and to download the fact sheets. Assign students to the following 7 groups:

        • 3 months
        • 7 months
        • 1 year
        • 2 years
        • 3 years
        • 4 years
        • 5 years

        9. Ask students to explore the important milestones that occur in their assigned age group. Ask each group to summarize their findings and present the information to the group.

        10. After the groups have shared their findings,review the timeline with students and ask students to rearrange and/or add items to the timeline, based on the new information they have just learned. If there are still items from their brainstormed list that they are not sure where to place on the timeline, ask the students to conduct additional resource to find out the information.

        Part II: Learning Activity

        1. Ask students to hypothesize when most of the growth of a person’s brain happens - before birth or after birth?

        2. Let students know that they will be watching a video from the PBS program The Human Spark which explores how the human brain develops.

        3. Play The Developing Brain. After playing the video, ask the students to discuss whether most brain growth occurs before or after birth. (After birth.)

        4. Ask students to think about how they think the knowledge of human infants compares with that of other animals.

        5. Play Language Development. After playing the video, ask students what Harvard Psychologist Elizabeth Spelke believes about how the abilities of human infants compare to that of other animals. (She believes they are very similar.) Ask students if they agree or disagree with her.

        6. Ask students to discuss what Dr. Spelke says is responsible for the development of uniquely human abilities. (Language. She believes that once children begin to learn and use language they begin to display uniquely human capacities.)

        7. Discuss the statement by Professor Helen Neville at the University of Oregon that children first learn nouns and then learn verbs. Ask students why that might be. (Possible answers: Nouns are things that children can see, touch and/or look at, while verbs are more abstract.)

        8. Ask students to discuss how they think children learn right from wrong. (Possible answers: From their friends, parents and other authority figures, from television, through punishment for doing something wrong andrewards for doing something good, etc.)

        9. Play Learning Right and Wrong. After showing the video, ask students to discuss what can influence a child’s perception of what is right and what is wrong. (Children can be influenced by their peers, parents and others.)

        10. Discuss how the boy in the video reacts when he witnesses the polar bear doing something incorrectly. (He tries to stop him and tells him the “right” way to do it.)

        11. Ask students to discuss how the researcher influenced the girl about how to access the die. (For the first task, when the girl didn’t know how to remove the object, she waited for the researcher to show her and then used the method demonstrated by the researcher. For the second task, the girl was successfully able to remove the die using one method. However, when the researcher demonstrated another technique, the girl then copied that method on her next attempt to remove the die.)

        12. What are some questions that this video makes you think about. (Possible questions: How easily are children influenced by those around them? Does their ability to be influenced by others change as they age? Do the people who have the most influence on them change over the years? For example, are they influenced more by adults when they are younger and more by peers when they age?)

        Part III: Culminating Activity

        1. Let students know that you want them to think about their skills and beliefs and how they acquired them. Ask students to think about and discuss the following:

        • A special skill or talent they have and how they acquired that skill or talent.
        • A core value or belief and how they acquired that belief.
        • The role that others (such as peers, parents, teachers, siblings, politicians, community leaders, etc.) play in helping them make decisions and form opinions.

        2. Ask students to think about the languages that they speak fluently. Ask them how they learned those languages.

        3. Ask students to think about something they learned to do in the past year (drive a car, cook a meal, etc.) and to describe how/where they learned it. Ask students to write down their responses and then share their answers with the class.

        4. Use the responses from questions 1, 2 and 3 above as a springboard to discuss the different ways the students have learned things throughout their lives (in school, at home and in the community). During the discussion, talk about the different things (events, places, books/media, peers,parents, teachers, etc.) which have helped to shape their thoughts and actions.


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