Kids & Company Blog

Understanding how children at different ages learn

My name is Sarah Pumphrey and I've been working with children in their early years for the past 13 years.  I worked overseas as a teacher in England and China then continued my career in the childcare sector here in Toronto.  While working at Kids & Company, I've worked as a Preschool ECE, Assistant Director, Centre Director and now Curriculum Director for Toronto and the GTA.  In 2017, I completed the Master of Education program in Developmental Psychology at the University of Toronto.  I'm very interested in how children learn through play and also differentiating care and education for children with varying abilities.

I sat down and answered some burning questions below:

How is learning facilitated over different age groups in a childcare setting?

At Kids & Company, we believe play to be the most important factor in setting the stage for learning to occur. For all of our age groups we focus on learning through experience by setting out a variety of engaging activities and allowing the children to explore the materials in a child-directed way.

Our program is derived in the same way for all of our age groups.  We observe the children’s interests and take into account how they are spending their time and for older children what they are talking about.  In this way, we let the children guide us in creating new learning opportunities for them.  For example, if an infant is engaged in crawling after a ball and tries rolling it on different surfaces we may plan an activity where they have the opportunity to roll balls down varying inclines.  By focusing on the children’s interests, this creates a high level of engagement in our program.


Infants primarily learn through exploration of their surroundings.  They especially enjoy sensory activities where they are able to experiment with different textures, sounds and tastes.  We also teach infants through song and music which piques their interest and allows us to relay information in a fun and memorable way.  I have often observed infants approach children to feel their hair in a gentle way.  This is an example of an infant learning through touch in a developmentally appropriate way and also very sweet for us to observe!


Toddlers are at an age where they begin to display what we consider to be typical play behaviours.  They will sit down with a material and mimic ways they have observed others interact with the item and also start to engage with it in novel ways.  The teachers in our toddler classrooms focus on interacting with the children during these experiences and encourage them to continue to manipulate the material and at times test the limits of that item.  Depending on the verbal abilities of the toddler, the teacher may decide to use non-verbal or verbal cues during this play interaction with the child.


In our preschool classrooms, a lot of evidence that the child has learned is demonstrated through what they create (i.e. a piece of art work), through verbal communication (i.e. telling another child a new experience that occurred during their weekend) and through play.  It is often clear what the child is interested in as they are competent with different modes of communication at this age.



Newborn to 4 months - Play is primarily directed by parents, as infants are limited in their skills. Play involves a lot of face-to-face games, such as “PEEK-A-BOO.” Infants develop the ability to track and eventually grasp objects.

4 months to 8 months - Babies begin to engage in sensory-motor play, which involves exploring objects through different senses, particularly their mouths! “Joint attention” emerges, meaning the ability for a child to understand the parent is looking at what he is looking at.

9 months to 12 months - Babies start to move and engage in exploratory play. Symbolic play also emerges around 12 months, meaning children begin to understand that one object symbolizes another. (For example - a toy car represents an actual car).

12 months to 36 months - As language develops so does symbolic play. Children are able to use one object to symbolize another unrelated object. (For example – they can pretend that a block is flying spaceship). Children engage in parallel play with other children, meaning they play alongside each other rather than with each other.

3 years to 5 years - Children engage in cooperative play, which primarily involves lots of pretend play whereby children make up and play out imaginary scenarios together. Turn-taking occurs.

5 years and up - Children are capable of playing games together that involve an agreed upon set of rules.


How do we use our proprietary programs to foster growth and development?

We are happy to offer different proprietary activities, including our Alpha-Mania and Mini Master programs, to our Toddler and Preschool age groups.  We facilitate these programs in small groups similar to how we deliver our play-based program.  To begin, children are typically invited to a small group circle during which the mini-lesson on the letter of the week or a piece of art takes place.  These small group learning experiences are fun and interactive; the children are given several opportunities to contribute their thoughts and comments.  Following this, a variety of learning experiences are set out for the children to take part in if they choose, usually including an art activity, fine motor activity and a musical/gross motor activity.  We have found that by providing activities to the children on the same topic in varying ways, it serves to solidify the children’s knowledge on the letter or piece of art.  Through these lessons, we often introduce novel information which the children can then generalize to other situations in their lives whether it be at child care or at home.

When I was a Preschool teacher at our Islington location in Ontario, I had a child in my class who was engrossed in our weekly Mini Master program.  He loved the artist Michelangelo and was inspired to produce his own art based on the work of this Master for lengthy periods of time.  After we finished the Michelanglo unit and moved onto another artist, he approached me and told me, “I prefer Michelanglo!”  This showed me that not only had he enjoyed the past month of Mini Master lessons, but that he developed the ability to judge what art work he preferred, which I found amazing for a child of 4 years of age!

What are the different learning styles and how do our teachers cater to each of them?

As explained on the Education Corner website, there are four main styles of learning.  From an early age we often notice children display a preference for a specific mode or modes of learning.

Visual learners acquire knowledge optimally through observing images or a skill being demonstrated for them.  These children usually visualize and recall images when learning through play.  Visual learners usually prefer an uncluttered environment so they can focus on the visual stimuli involved in their learning experience.  At Kids & Company we post the children’s work on a limited amount of bulletin boards in the room to avoid having a visually busy environment.

Auditory learners prefer information to be delivered through music and sounds.  This is a mode of learning we are constantly catering to in our program.  Teachers plan songs that they will teach and practice with the children daily.  Additionally, we often use songs to facilitate the transition from one activity to the next, for example, a tidy up song to signal to the children it’s time for the play to stop and cleaning to begin.  We also use song to guide children through daily routines, such as a simple song about walking to toddlers making their way down the hallway to the playground.

Some children’s strongest learning style preference is verbal, which occurs through spoken or written word.  We facilitate multiple small group circles in each of our classrooms during the day.  This is our opportunity to teach new information to the children and extend upon their interests.  Having a small group of children involved in the circle allows for each child to have the chance to contribute their thoughts or ask questions.  For toddlers this may be through a word they relate to the topic.  Preschoolers love to ask questions and often help to answer each other’s queries during this time.

Lastly, some children learn best through touch and doing an activity independently.  Rather than listening to how to complete a task, these children remember best by working on something in a hands-on manner.  We link the children’s interests to our planned gross motor and movement activities, which are usually pursuits that kinesthetic learners prefer.


Sarah is the Kids & Company Curriculum Director for Toronto and the GTA.  She is very interested in how children learn through play and also differentiating care and education for children with varying abilities. Connect with her at!

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