A “whole child” education prioritizes the full scope of a child’s developmental needs as a way to advance educational equity and ensure that every child reaches their fullest potential. A whole child approach understands that students’ education and life outcomes are dependent upon their access to deeper learning opportunities in and out of school, as well as their school environment and relationships.
Shifting toward a whole child education has far-reaching implications if education systems are to promote children’s learning, well-being, and healthy development. This includes designing learning environments to support the whole child; developing curriculum, instruction, and assessments for deeper learning; preparing educators for whole child practice; and changing policy and systems to support the whole child.”
“The ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) describes the whole child approach as “an effort to transition from a focus on narrowly defined academic achievement to one that promotes the long-term development and success of all children.”
According to ASCD, the whole child approach ensures that “each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged,” and adopts an overarching goal of the long-term development and success of all children. This approach develops and prepares students for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow, enabling them to be responsible members of the global society.
Teach for America describes it like this, “The whole child approach together with social and emotional learning (SEL) aim to build skills and foster behaviors to accelerate students’ progress and help them navigate through life.” When teachers take into consideration the multiple ways children develop, schools create a stronger environment in which children flourish, building skills and behaviors that stay with a child into adulthood.”
“In a nurturing learning environment, the relationship between student and teacher is one of mutual respect and appreciation: all students feel valued and teachers are aware of how developmental needs affect learning. Teachers and students work together to set academic goals as well as goals for personal growth. In addition, students develop holistically by focusing on responsible decision-making, long-term skill improvement and building interpersonal relationships.
Teach for America reports that studies have found that SEL and the whole child approach result in higher academic achievement, graduation rates and attendance. At the same time, suspension and disciplinary incidents go down.
When a child’s school experience is primarily focused on academic achievement, the emphasis is on high test scores and grades. All activity is geared toward meeting the standards.
However, an environment where the whole child remains in focus is more conducive to academic achievement than a classroom in which the singular goal is meeting national or state standards. Students who learn about themselves, how to build relationships, how they manage emotions, and why it is important to develop a respect for other cultures and races are more ready to learn. Other important and life-long classroom skills, like solving problems, setting appropriate personal goals and learning to communicate effectively contribute to student success.”
“Four Ways Schools Can Support the Whole Child” from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley discusses ways that schools can best promote child development and nurture the emotional, academic and artistic possibilities in all children.
Research from UC Berkley shows that from a scientific perspective, “The brain’s capacity develops most fully when children and youth feel emotionally and physically safe and when they feel connected, engaged, and challenged.” Positive emotions open up the mind to learning while negative emotions reduce the brain’s ability to process information and learn.
The article states, “Adversity — poverty, abuse, neglect, or housing and food insecurity — produces toxic stress that affects learning and behavior.” Positive relationships, including student-teacher trust, awareness and empathy from adults who understand and listen to children, can help lessen the effects of even serious adversity.
When schools foster a supportive environment that promotes strong relationships among staff, students and families, they create an atmosphere that encourages learning. And, when students are actively involved in the management of their own learning in meaningful ways, they stay connected and engaged. Combined with direct instruction, student-directed learning helps students learn real-world skills.”