Pyramid of Learning

“Where do I begin?”

This question often comes about when thinking of ways to support our children. Many of us benefit from having structure or general guidelines; the “Pyramid of Learning” is a source for that. The Pyramid of Learning is an illustration that depicts a general idea of our children’s foundational skills, and what other skills build upon those. This information is useful, as it helps breakdown skill sets into underlying characteristics and helps prioritize what to address.

The Pyramid of Learning

The Pyramid of Learning was developed by occupational therapist Kathleen Taylor and special educator Maryann Trott. They utilized the Sensory Integration theorist, Jean Ayres’, concepts to display the foundational skills that support academic learning.

The Pyramid of Learning
The Pyramid of Learning

This illustration outlines the foundational skills at the bottom of the pyramid, and the skills that are supported by the foundational skills on the tiers above. Once the bottom tiers of the pyramid are adequate, the tiers above can be more efficiently developed. Addressing the skills in this order is known as utilizing the bottom-up approach.

The Pyramid of Learning Tiers

The very bottom box in the illustration is the central nervous system, which most closely supports the second tier.

The second tier identifies our children’s sensory systems:

  • Olfactory (smell)
  • Visual (vision)
  • Auditory (hearing)
  • Gustatory (taste)
  • Tactile (touch)
  • Vestibular (balance)
  • Proprioception (knowing where their bodies are in space)

The third tier depicts their sensory-motor development:

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

The fourth tier depicts perceptual motor development:

  • Auditory language skills (hearing and speaking appropriately)
  • Visual-spatial perception (identifying what is seen in space)
  • Attention center functions (maintaining attention to tasks)
  • Eye-hand coordination (when they use what they see to guide the movement of their hands)
  • Ocular motor control (locating and fixating on something in their environment)
  • Postural adjustment (adjusting their posture to maintain balance)

The fifth/top tier depicts cognition intellect:

  • Academic learning
  • Daily living activities (such as eating, toileting, bathing)
  • Behavior
  • This means that the quality of our children’s sensory systems (the second tier) is closely linked to adequate functioning of their central nervous system (the first tier).

Our children’s ability to plan their own movements, use both the left and right sides of their body efficiently, along with other sensory motor development characteristics (the third tier), depend on the quality of their vision, touch, proprioception, and other sensory systems (the second tier).

Their ability to use their eyes and hands in a coordinated manner, their ability to adjust their posture for balance, and other perceptual motor development characteristics (the fourth tier), depend on their ability to plan their own movements, and other sensory motor development characteristics (the third tier).

Their ability to attend to formal, academic learning, eat, bathe, toilet, and perform other cognition intellect characteristics (the fifth tier), depend on their abilities to adjust their posture for balance, and coordinate their eyes and hands together, and other perceptual motor development characteristics (the fourth tier).