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What does it mean to Educate the Whole Child?

Otis in his little stick house at How we Montessori September 2015

When a school or educational system claims to 'educate the whole child', what exactly does this mean? It sounds like a good thing right? It's quite a well used term that is being used increasingly but many would say it's something Montessori schools have been doing for over a century. Sadly it doesn't seem to be a mainstream approach. 

"It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive. Dr Montessori studied not only the physical development of children, but also their intellectual and social development. She conceived and evolved the method of educating the “whole child”." 

As a parent I really want to know and understand what this means in a practical sense. Here is my little break down of what teaching the whole child means. I think there is something all parents can learn from this approach. 

Whole body learning through movement. Maria Montessori knew that knowledge, learning and movement were interconnected. "Mind and movements are part of the same entity'". From the child in the floor bed to the classroom there is no expectation for children to be confined or restrained. Movement - thoughtful, purposeful movement is encouraged. We think how our children can learn from building the pink tower to walking the line. At home I feel like we need to respect the child's need for movement and allow them to learn through this movement. For us at home with a four year old this often means taking learning outside where gross motor movements are more easily accepted but also provide assistance for the child to refine his movements inside. 

Learning through all senses. Learning through all senses really engages the whole body. We know by isolating the senses we refine the senses and prepare the child for future work. I know Montessori developed specific sensorial material however there is a practical application to this in the home. Stimulate and refine their senses! At home there is a lot of scope for us to use our sense more in learning - think more sound, touch, taste, smell!! 

Whole of brain learning. Learning that engages the whole brain, the left side (intellectual) and the right side (creativity/arts). In all classes the selection of materials ensures that both the left brain and right brain are engaged. As children can select the materials they wish to work on children can freely move from left to right activities in addition to materials that would work both sides of the brain. At home I think we have this covered - we have lots of scope through our toys and materials for working both sides of the brain. Having free access to art materials really assists with this.

Promotes wellbeing of the whole child. Physical movement/education, nutrition, character development, spiritual development, mindfulness, physical and emotional safety. The Montessori curriculum encompasses all aspects of the child's wellbeing including social and emotional intelligence. Nurtures the whole child. At home we have a focus on living an active and healthy lifestyle through movement and nutrition, we focus on yoga, meditation and relaxation but emotional intelligence may be one I need to look into further. 

Looks at the child as an interconnected whole/being. The child is connected to their family, school, community, culture, environment. Learning about their culture, the culture of others, history, geography - they can really get a sense of belonging but also a respect for others. Children are or can become actively engaged with the world around them, their community, their environment and the nature that surrounds them. This can lead to respecting their environment and respecting others. At home we try to give the children a sense of their own culture through family traditions, respect and knowledge of our locality and create strong connections through family. 

An understanding that learning doesn't start and finish at school. Looking at the child's whole experiences. Children are learning all the time and our educational methods need to respect this. What children do at home is influenced by activities as school and vice versa. It's nice to have some cohesion between home and school. Great communication with educators and parents is essential. Otis' teacher recently asked if he had any interests they could pursue at school. Caspar's teacher recently sent us a link to a program that he could (if he wanted) try at home before they introduce it at school. Learning experiences throughout the child's whole life have equal value. A visit to the museum over the weekend may lead to a full explosion into the world of dinosaurs at school and a Montessori educational system can respect this. Take home message is to maintain strong communication with educators and be free to explore concepts brought home from school. 

In summary children are whole beings, not numbers. Montessori takes a holistic approach to education. Educating the whole child means thinking about each student as a human being in full, and not limiting the scope of education only to a narrow focus on core subject areas.

Looking at whole of child education has been thought provoking for me. Please feel free to leave a comment if you feel you can add to my understanding of what whole of child education looks like. I'd love to turn this into a conversation!

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