What does it mean to teach “the whole child”?
When we think of education, the first thing that may come to mind is academic achievement or cognitive learning such as a child’s ability to read, write and do math. It is important to remember the other domains such as physical and social/emotional development and not to focus only on academic skills.
Physical development in the preschool years involves large muscle strengthening through activities like jumping, kicking balls, pushing and pulling objects and using the trunk to support the body. Without trunk strength, it is extremely difficult for a child to hold himself comfortably and still in a chair or sit up and pay attention for any length of time on the carpet to listen to a story or other instruction. Fine motor skills, which lead to a child’s success with writing and other school and life functions, are improved by exposing children to opportunities like opening jars and snack bags, pinching cotton balls with tweezers, buttoning a doll’s dress and playing with play-doh. As fingers develop strength, they become more able to hold a pencil and apply appropriate pressure for writing.
Developing social and emotional skills in preschoolers is absolutely crucial. We must help children learn how to empathize with others and show compassion, share and take turns, manage emotions like anger and sadness and see things from another person’s point of view (a skill which develops in older 4 and 5 year olds. Younger children’s brains are “egocentric” and unable to think of things from any point of view other than their own. They can’t help it. It’s just their nature.)
If we are to teach the whole child, we must intentionally provide a setting in which all learning domains are nurtured. When this happens, children are well-rounded, happy, successful and ready to face their world.