Taking all of these diverse conditions into account when educating children about puberty, human sexuality and the prevention of premature pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases can be a monumental task. The overarching goal of any such education is to foster and encourage the continued positive development of each child. It can be helpful to look at meeting these diverse needs through the lens of what Dr. James Comer of the School Development Program at the Yale Child Study Center describes as six developmental pathways—six different areas in which children develop and grow.(22) Dr. Comer intends them as a framework for adults to use in focusing on the whole child’s positive and continual development. When evaluating a student’s behavior, this way of looking at it better enables one to create strategies which promote health and positive self-esteem rather than leaving one stuck thinking only of ways to punish or restrain a child. It is recommended that an adult ask him/herself child-centered questions to come up with solutions. These are questions like: What is this child trying to do? What is this child up against? What is in his/her favor? What has been done and still needs to be done to help or create conditions, relationships and experiences for his/her continuous development? Comer’s developmental pathways incorporate many facets of other child development theories. Here is a brief description of the focus of each of the pathways along with some suggestions of how they can be used when planning puberty and sex education.
pathway describes physical health and well-being. This includes biological development, nutrition, environmental factors which affect children, as well as fitness, coordination and motor skills. To encourage development along this pathway, provide a clear understanding of the natural development of puberty, reinforce positive health-promoting attitudes, and improve children’s decision-making skills. Some classroom activities can help to accomplish this. Talk about sexuality over the lifetime and place puberty on that continuum. Children can create their own lifeline, marking the ages at which significant sexual milestones might occur, and combine these with goal-setting so that they can see how early pregnancy would interfere with reaching their goals. The lessons in
which teach impulse control can be used to refer to the importance of making good decisions about when to have sex or become a parent. They can also reinforce the idea that all impulses and urges do not need to be acted upon. The class can watch the video called, “Looking Good, Feeling Good: Healthy You” and talk about how caring for their changing bodies will help them traverse a potentially troubling stage in life. The class will watch a film on the normal changes (physical, emotional, intellectual and social) of puberty.
pathway focuses on learning and a child’s ability to think logically, to mentally manipulate information and to apply knowledge to environmental conditions [referring to Jean Piaget’s developmental stages in reasoning ability(23)]. To encourage development along this pathway, work towar increasing children’s knowledge about their development. Help them to imagine what the internal structures and changes are that occur during puberty. Classroom activities include: using concrete objects to describe the internal structures of the body, e.g., a pear for the uterus, two almonds for the ovaries and two bendable straws for the Fallopian tubes. [See YNHTI Unit ,Volume V 1988, “Talking With Kids About Sex and AIDS,” for more details on constructing complete male and female reproductive systems.] When referring to charts or diagrams about the inside of the body, help the children to understand and mentally manipulate the information by demonstrating how we can imagine what’s inside. Cut an apple in half and show the inside, making a parallel with charts showing the inside of the human body.
pathway refers to an individual’s self-awareness, feelings of adequacy, acceptance of differences, and ability to handle internal emotions appropriately. This encompasses Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development(24) and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.(25) To encourage development along this pathway, help children to feel good about their bodies and to accept as normal the emotional turbulence which can be a common experience of puberty and adolescence. Watch the video, “Feelings: Inside, Outside, Upside Down.” After class discussion about their own experiences with emotional changes, have students interview an adult about his or her experiences during puberty. The empathy lessons from
can encourage the development of their ability to see things from another’s perspective and can be constantly reinforced when embarrassing situations arise that are related to puberty or wanting to be grown up.
pathway has as its goal the ability to use appropriate language in a variety of settings. It includes receptive and expressive language and the ability to process communications. It operates on the belief that language enhances problem-solving, reasoning and memory skills. It can be used to moderate impulses and thereby helps in developing higher frustration tolerance. Language mastery also leads to the development of critical thinking skills such as thinking ahead to the consequences of an action. Learning the correct names of reproductive body parts and functions, and becoming increasingly comfortable discussing issues of sexuality encourages development along this pathway. It is important to set ground rules for class discussions which can help children feel safe. During the question and answer period following the puberty video, the teacher reads any written questions as they have been written, using slang if that’s what is there. Then s/he supplies the correct terminology while answering the question. S/he can also reword verbal questions. Communicating the message that language is a useful tool for satisfying curiosity about sexuality encourages development and is an important skill in delaying the initiation of sexual intercourse. There are several lessons in
about listening skills. These skills can be reinforced during puberty lessons.
pathway refers to a sense of empathy, the use of communication skills in relationships and the ability to establish and maintain relationships. Understanding that all children may feel embarrassment and discomfort about their body and its changes, and practicing relationship skills encourage development along this pathway. While watching the video about feelings, have the students identify examples of good communication and relationship skills and talk about the consequences of each. Do an activity about the many types of close personal relationships people have in their lives (see sample lesson two.)
pathway focuses on a child’s awareness of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, and respect for the rights of oneself and others. Comer refers to Kohlberg’s cognitive theory of moral development as well as other moral development theorists.(26) Learning to treat oneself and others respectfully even when operating in the sexual arena encourages development along this pathway. Read news stories, children’s books and discuss popular movies they’ve seen which portray relationships where people treat each other in respectful ways. Use the American Red Cross’ African Proverb Posters to create stories which illustrate the themes of this pathway. Have the children role-play situations where they must choose which is the ethical solution or outcome.