14 Easy Ways to Create the Whole Child Approach in Your Classroom

This is the third article in the “Creating the Classroom of Your Dreams” series. This series will uncover a multitude of concepts for teachers to implement that will create a well-functioning, parent-inclusive classroom. Check out article one HERE and article two HERE.

Teacher Talk can be absurdly abstract or downright cryptic to those outside the education field, so using the expression “Whole Child Approach” may cause a listener to say, “that doesn’t tell me a thing!”

But if one really considers it, the Whole Child Approach is exactly the approach parents always try to take! We don’t think of our child as a series of isolated physical, mental, and emotional attributes, but as a thinking, feeling, moving, loving, individual person with individual needs, cares, and desires. Usually, we can count on our healthcare providers to do the same—we want them to think of our child beyond the obvious physical needs, hoping they consider the motivations, interests, dislikes and loves of our children.

In a similar way, teachers using the Whole Child Approach look beyond the child’s academic and physical needs in the school setting to consider personality, social and cultural experiences, past school history, place in the community, among many other aspects of the child’s life.

Using the Whole Child Approach often begins with building a community within the classroom so each child feels known, safe and valued, then extending that community to the school at large, through parent and school staff involvement, and finally to the outside community at large. The Whole Child Approach is a tool to prepare the child for becoming a responsible member of the global society—a step towards thinking globally in terms of a more peaceful, inclusive and positive place to live.

My particular interest resides in Montessori education, in which the Whole Child Approach is a philosophical foundation, but I believe every school should be committed to the Whole Child Approach.

Here are 14 Easy Ways to Create the Whole Child Approach in Your Classroom:

  1. Ensure each student feels safe in every way at school.
  2. Create a complete and well-rounded curriculum, including attention to physical education, music, art, great literature, second languages, and interaction with nature.
  3. Offer a variety of strategies for each aspect of the curriculum that target individual skills, abilities, and challenges—each individual is encouraged to grow academically at her own pace, whether her needs require more time or less time, and whether she needs extra support to progress, or extra freedom to reach her potential.
  4. Teachers should act as guides and collaborators, rather than authoritarians—they use questions rather than commands; they use exploration rather than lecture; they engage students to take personal responsibility but offer continued support as student and teacher strive for excellence together.
  5. Ensure there are a variety of assessment protocols—the school does not rely only on standardized assessments (tests) to check progress, but uses portfolios, teacher observations, individualized conferences with students, and student self-reflections among other assessment strategies.
  6. Make a wide variety of materials and strategies for using those materials available to all students.
  7. Integrate practical life skills, such as cooking, care of the classroom environment, budgeting, animal care, cursive writing, care of the planet, and so on into the school day through a variety of different strategies, including classroom jobs.
  8. Engage students in healthy lifestyle practices, and ensure teachers are appropriate models of healthful eating and living. Students participate in service projects in the school and the greater community.
  9. Incorporate technology in moderation–students need the tools for communication and understanding national and world issues, but technology is just one of many strategies for gaining broader knowledge.
  10. Respect for other cultures and beliefs–there is diversity in the student body, staff, available literature, and field trips.
  11. Positive and proactive classroom management is used–teachers are organizing procedures, activities, and furniture to support positive behavior. Disruptive behavior is managed in a calm, positive manner, and seeks a peaceful resolution. Group punishment is NEVER incorporated.
  12. Invite parents into the classroom regularly and are welcome observers and volunteers.
  13. Commit to long-term improvement strategies and practices (staff meets regularly, teachers are lifelong learners, board members are engaged members of the school community, as are parents.)
  14. Fully integrate language and math throughout the curriculum, as well as present it in daily directed lessons.

Schools practicing the Whole Child Approach will demonstrate most if not all these attributes—along with another crucial element…a classroom and school culture that is pleasant, comfortable, and safe in every way for its students and staff. There is a hum of learning, an openness to individual differences, respectful courtesy between students, staff, and their corresponding peers, and civil discussion. This is the positive atmosphere we all want to work and learn in—the place kids love to go to every day!

According to information regarding the Whole Child Approach found here, there are five main tenets that summarize the Whole Child Approach, making it more adaptable and concise:

Whole Child Tenets

  • Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
  • Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
  • Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
  • Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

Source: www.wholechildeducation.org/about

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Deb Saygers Hobbs is a Lower Elementary teacher at Battle Creek Montessori Academy. She has a bachelor degree in Music, a bachelor in Language Arts and Elementary Classroom, a masters in Elementary Literacy Studies, and certification in pre-K through elementary Montessori. She has been teaching nearly three decades in music, traditional, and Montessori classrooms.