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The Pyramid of Learning

Pyramid of Learning – Williams & Shellenberger (1996)

What is the Pyramid of Learning?

Williams and Shellenberger developed the pyramid of learning along with the Alert Program, a self regulation program. The pyramid highlights how sensory processing relates to the learning process. It illustrates children’s foundational skills and the hierarchy of skills needed to support academic learning and behavior. The pyramid is important, as it helps breakdown skills into different foundational levels and prioritize what skills to address first in therapy. The process of moving up the pyramid is called a bottom’s up approach. This means that babies and children’s development begins with physical and sensory skills that they must master, step-by-step to move up to higher level skills such as learning, attending, and self-regulating.

The Pyramid of Learning is a way of looking at the whole child. The foundation of the pyramid is a child’s central nervous system, which is closely linked to their sensory systems. Adequate development is built on being able to register and process sensory information from the seven senses (touch, movement, deep pressure, smell, taste, sight, and hearing). If the lower levels of the pyramid for learning are not solid, then your child may have difficulty focusing, completing homework, and learning new information.

Let’s look closer at the levels of the pyramid and the skills that need to be mastered…

Level Two – Sensory

  • Tactile (touch)
  • Vestibular (balance, movement)
  • Proprioception (deep pressure, where body is in space)
  • Olfactory (smell)
  • Visual (vision)
  • Auditory (hearing)
  • Gustatory (taste)

Level Three – Sensory Motor

  • Body scheme (body awareness through movement)
  • Reflex maturity (reflexes, for safety purposes)
  • Ability to screen input (paying attention to sensory experiences that are important)
  • Postural security (confidence in maintaining certain postures to prevent falling)
  • Awareness of two sides of the body (bilateral integration)
  • Motor planning (ability to plan movement)

Level Four – Perceptual Motor

  • Auditory language skills (hearing & speaking)
  • Visual-spatial perception (recognize an object’s physical location as well as the physical relationships between objects.)
  • Attention center functions (maintaining attention)
  • Eye-hand coordination (using what you see to guide the movement of your hands)
  • Ocular motor control (locating & fixating on something in the field of vision)
  • Postural adjustment (adjusting posture to maintain balance)

Level Five – Cognition

  • Academic learning
  • Daily living activities (such as eating, toileting, personal hygiene)
  • Behavior

Mindful Child’s Approach

kids aerial yoga

Sensory processing skills are foundational for learning and regulating behavior. At Mindful Child, our therapists use the aerial hammock as a therapeutic prop to help children develop the skills they need to successfully climb to the top of the pyramid.