top of page

Holistic Approach to Child Development: The PROE Framework

Updated: Jan 24

Holistic Approach to Child Development_ The PROE Framework (Short) - Pathfinder Health
Download PDF • 1.90MB

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Not only are you responsible for raising another human being, but you're also constantly bombarded with messages about what you should and shouldn't be doing.

There is currently no single theory that accurately depicts all aspects of child development. It can be difficult for parents to keep up with the latest research and understand how it applies to their children. Additionally, every child is unique and develops at their own pace, so what works for one child may not work for another.

Fortunately, you don't have to be an expert on child development to raise a healthy and happy child – Pathfinder Health took the science behind child development and designed 4 straightforward action-oriented concepts – our PROE child development framework. This comprehensive framework is the result of hundreds of hours of work and analysis of 17 developmental theories.

In this article:

Why are the early years so important?

Child development is a combination of both nature and nurture.

Children are born with certain traits and abilities, but they also learn and grow based on a variety of external factors.

The first five years after your child’s birth are particularly crucial to their health, well-being, and the overall trajectory of their life. In fact, 90% of your child's brain develops by age five. This is the time when the foundations for future learning, health, and behavior are established.

Pathfinder Health is here to help you take the fullest advantage of the many developmental opportunities that these early years present.

What is child development?

We’ve discussed the importance of the early years for a child’s development and the benefits of early intervention. Now let's turn our attention to how your child develops.

If you’ve spent much time reading parenting articles (or taken a freshman psychology class), you have most likely encountered one or more theories of child development.

Attachment theory, Piaget, Erickson, and countless others–what exactly do they say? Does one or more of them resonate more with your personal parenting philosophy and inform how you would like to raise your child? What should you do if one or more theories contradict each other? Should you even subscribe to any particular theory at all?

As it turns out, no single theory accurately addresses every aspect of child development, though many give valuable insights into different aspects.

Every child is unique and develops at their own pace and every family is different, so what works for one child and family may not work for another.

Fortunately, it’s not necessary to be a child psychologist or developmental expert to be the best possible parent to your child. But it is helpful to understand certain key areas of child development and how they generally relate to and influence each other.

Once you have internalized the basics described below, you can go forth and apply them with your own child!

The 4 developmental domains

For simplicity, Pathfinder Health divides child development into four major developmental domains:

  1. Movement,

  2. Social and emotional,

  3. Language,

  4. Cognitive

Other sources sometimes divide these developmental domains differently, so don’t be confused if you’ve seen a slightly different version elsewhere.

Each one of these areas is equally important in helping your child reach full developmental maturity.

By understanding the various processes that occur during childhood, you can better support your child as they grow into a happy and healthy adult.


Movement (sometimes referred to as physical or motor development) involves the growth and changes in a child’s body, including physical abilities, coordination, and balance.

It can be further divided into gross and fine motor skills.

Gross motor skills involve the large muscles in the body, such as those in the arms, legs, and torso, and include crawling, walking, running, and jumping.

Fine motor skills involve the small muscles in the hands and fingers and develop as a child learns to control their movements and use their hands and fingers to do more intricate tasks like picking up small objects or writing.

Believe it or not, in the early years, making sounds and the ability to coo or babble is a fine motor movement skill since your children are starting to learn how to use the small muscles to move their mouth, tongue, and jaw.

Social and emotional

Social and emotional development describes interactions with others and awareness and understanding of oneself. This includes skills like developing friendships, cooperation, and identifying and responding to emotions.


Language development is the process of building communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal (gestures and facial expressions).

This includes acquiring vocabulary (both understanding and using words), learning how to put words together to make sentences, and comprehending others’ communication.


Cognitive development involves the way a child thinks, learns, and solves problems. This includes skills such as reasoning, understanding cause and effect, and thinking abstractly.

The PROE framework for understanding child development

Now that you understand these four developmental domains, it’s time to think more broadly about how they work together.

At Pathfinder Health, we have analyzed 17 developmental theories and distilled them into one unifying framework–PROE–to help you understand how your baby and child learns and grows and why certain milestones are so important.

PROE synergistically brings together classic developmental theories with a revolutionary approach geared to help parents and professionals better understand a child’s development.

— Eric M. Flake, MD, FAAP

The Four PROE Concepts

PROE stands for “Play, Relationships, Observation, Experience” — all of the ways that your child interacts with the world around them.

I think the idea of the PROE framework is great! As someone who works with children (SLP, speech-language pathologist) and who has two young children of my own, it encapsulates what I know as a professional to be important for development while being parent-friendly and easy to understand. It simplifies the many different child development theories into an easily accessible format.

— Molly D., Parent


(Supported by cognitive development theory, maturational, and sociocultural theory.)

Play is essential for children's healthy cognitive, social and emotional, and physical development. It allows children to explore their creativity, practice new skills, and develop a sense of self. It also helps them to build social skills and learn how to cooperate with others.

While it may seem like children are just having fun when they play, they are actually doing a lot of learning.

Through play, children can experiment with different roles and try new ways of thinking and behaving. This helps them understand their world and themselves.

Children play in a variety of ways that each promote different types of development.

In pretend play, children use their imaginations to create make-believe scenarios. This type of play not only develops their creative thinking skills, but helps them make sense of the adult world and build emotional knowledge, emotional regulation, perspective-taking, and cooperation with others.

Physical play is any activity that gets kids moving, and it can be as simple as running around outside. Physical play is important because it helps with coordination, balance, and strength, among other motor abilities. Interactive play involves interaction between two or more players and can involve anything from playing catch to making up a story together.

Interactive play teaches children to take turns, share, and cooperate, builds language skills, and helps to build strong relationships through collaboration.


(Supported by attachment theory, psychosocial development theory, and behavioral learning theory.)

Relationships provide the foundation for children to develop a sense of self and others and encourage their earliest communication. Building relationships with others helps kids develop both interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.

Interpersonal skills refers to your child’s ability to interact with others. This includes things like taking turns, sharing, and cooperating. A nurturing relationship with their caregiver is especially important for a child’s social, emotional, and language development. This relationship helps children feel safe and secure and provides them with a sense of trust and stability. When children have strong interpersonal skills, they are more likely to have successful relationships later in life.

Intrapersonal skills involve being able to understand and regulate one's own emotions. This includes things like recognizing one's own feelings, setting goals, and managing stress.


(Supported by Behavioral Learning theory, Social Learning theory, and Attachment theory.)

Children use all of their senses in observing their surroundings and are constantly observing new things that help them learn.

Allowing your child to watch you talk, cook, clean, or work on a project gives them a chance to see how adults interact with their environment. It also provides valuable lessons in cause and effect–as they watch you complete a task, they can begin to understand how their actions can affect their world.

This extends to observing social interactions, which allow them to see how their own emotions can affect others. Children also learn communication skills by observing others’ conversations.

I think this is a concise, helpful way to conceptualize four pillars of child development. It's a helpful reminder to add diversity to my baby's daily schedule, and also reminds me that it's okay (and important) for baby to also observe. We often feel like we constantly need to play with our baby and provide experiences, but the relationships and observation are also important for growth.

— Nicole R., Parent

In addition, observing their surroundings can help children develop important critical thinking skills. As they take in new information, they will start to ask questions and form hypotheses about how things work. This process of active learning will help them grow into well-rounded, inquisitive adults.


(Supported by sociocultural theory, behavioral learning theory, psychosocial development theory, and cognitive development theory.)

Children build knowledge and developmental abilities through their interactions with the world around them.

Try to expose your child to new things and experiences on a regular basis and encourage them to explore their surroundings.

They learn and adapt their thinking with each new experience and develop problem-solving skills that they can apply to other experiences.

They also learn how their actions and bodies impact the environment around them, teaching them self-awareness and cause and effect.

Trying new experiences and taking risks builds confidence, which encourages your child to try more experiences.

Putting it all together: The big PROE picture

Play, Relationships, Observation, and Experience explain how children grow in the four developmental domains described above.

Parents, as non-developmental experts, might think of each developmental domain as a separate, linear progression where a child achieves certain milestones sequentially–they sit, crawl, then walk and they coo, babble, then speak.