Moving Beyond the Concept of the “Whole Child”
When early childhood educators talk about “educating the whole child,” we are looking beyond isolated skills, such as math and literacy, and taking a much broader view of children’s growth and learning. We emphasize support for children’s social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development and attend to the “soft skills” that we know will ultimately serve as key determinants of children’s success.
So what do I mean by going “beyond” something that is already “whole?”
While there are many advantages to considering the whole child—and the progression of learning for the whole year that each child will be in a specific classroom—we as educators often fall short of thinking in terms of a child’s whole life. Even when we talk about “success at school and in life,” we don’t always consider how development might play out long-term. For example, abilities and dispositions such as independence, initiative, and questioning authority are often viewed as less desirable traits in children than compliance and getting along.
I don’t mean that we should abandon the important work of educating and nurturing the whole child or the assessment of children’s development and learning. But I do believe that we should embrace the idea of how much bigger any individual person’s life is than the “whole child” who arrives in a classroom each day over the course of a school year.
Think of it like planning a trip.
It’s the teacher’s job to travel alongside a child for a brief part of the child’s journey through life—for example, from one state to the next. But for a family, they think about their child’s entire life—for a figurative trip around the world. They are “in it for the long haul.” They know there will be many stops and starts along the way. Sights. Events. Mountains and valleys. Roadblocks and detours. Both smooth sailing and rough seas. Not just for the upcoming year but for all those to come.
Since the COVID-related school closures that began in March 2020, we have been able to achieve a much deeper, richer appreciation of the relationship between home and school. We have broadened our view of what we think of as appropriate “home” work, and we have seen firsthand how children are not just members of our classrooms but also members of families; of communities; and, indeed, of society; people who are both affected by and contribute to these entities.
How do we carry these lessons into the future?
I believe we can begin by repeatedly asking ourselves whether the environments we are creating and the experiences we are planning will not just support the whole child for a whole year, but also help promote the long-term development of contributing members of families and communities. We can chart a course for a lifetime of wonder and fulfillment.