What Is Whole Child Education?

To the extent that we narrow the purpose of schooling to what can be measured, we fail to engage those sides of children that must be developed in order for them to pull learning from life. We also increase the likelihood that they will be bored, question the value of school, and in many cases drop out.

Instead of starting with the questions “How do we prepare kids to compete in the 21st century global marketplace?” or “What will insure that graduates all have command of basic skills?”, suppose we start by asking what qualities we want to encourage in children as they grow toward adulthood. To develop his whole child approach and book called Educating for Human Greatness, Lynn Stoddard surveyed parents for the qualities they felt an education should seek to develop in their children. They include: initiative, integrity, imagination, an inquiring mind, self-knowledge, interpersonal skills, and the ability to feel and recognize truth on different levels. Alternative approaches, of which this is only one, aim for more than intellectual attainment and getting into a good college.

Drawing on the best holistic approaches and recognizing that children have multiple intelligences, The Whole Child Initiative identifies five kinds of learning that we like to see each child exposed to, every day if possible. They are:

  • cognitive-intellectual activity, associated with the left brain
  • creative-intuitive activity (the arts), associated with the right brain
  • structured physical movement and unstructured, self-directed play
  • handwork, making things that can be useful
  • engagement with nature and community.

They look like this:

Children will thrive if these elements are part of a child’s nurturance at home as well as in school, but this site focuses on school.

A typical, adequately funded elementary school already has art and music instruction, physical education, and possibly some field trips; but these are separate operations. No effort is made to coordinate them or infuse the regular classes with a whole child approach. However, some schools have succeeded in doing this.

See also: Schools That Are Doing It

With thanks for support and encouragement from The Myrin Institute and Orion magazine.