The Benefits of a Whole Child Education

It is probably a safe assumption to assume that parents would like their students to get more out of school than solely the ability to perform well on standardized tests. Parents probably desire an education that readies their children for the workplace of the 21st century and helps teach them how to make a friend, help others, and other various soft skills that do not show up on standardized tests. And yet, standardized tests have created a culture where a schools success is measured on their performance on state tests and that, explicitly and implicitly, puts pressure on the schools to focus their time and effort on preparing students for the standardized tests. When looking for a school you should look beyond the school performance on standardized tests and look at how the program educates the whole child. 

What works best for children? What must we all--educators, families, policymakers, and community members--do to ensure their success? Answering those questions pushes us to redefine what a successful learner is and how to measure success. A child who enters school healthy and safe is ready to learn. A student who feels connected to school is more likely to stay in school. All students who have access to challenging and engaging academic programs are better prepared for further education, work, and civic life. These components must work together, not in isolation. That is the goal of whole child education.--The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (the ASCD), Making the case for Educating the Whole Child.

The idea behind Whole Child Education is valuing those aspects of school that does not show up on a standardized test but are important for a child's development. The ASCD lays out 5 tenets of Whole Child Education.

  • Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.

According to the ASCD, "Research shows that programs offering breakfast at no cost to all children, regardless of income, during the first part of the school day dramatically increase student participation in school breakfast. However, only 9.7 million of the 20 million low-income students who are eligible for a school breakfast receive it."

  • Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.

To understand the importance of a safe environment you can discuss what happens when the safety of the learning environment feels, to a student, unsafe: "Twenty percent of youth report being bullied on school grounds in the past 12 months and nearly 6 percent of students skipped school at least once in the past 30 days because of concerns for their own safety (Making the case for Whole Child Education)."

  • Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.

"66 percent of surveyed students reported being bored in every class or at least every day in school. Of these students, 98 percent claimed that the material being taught was the main reason for their boredom...(Making the case for Whole Child Education)." If a class does not differentiate instruction or allow students to work at their level, then, presumably, at any given time there are multiple students who the class is going too slow for and those who are being left behind. When students are put into groups based on their skills and ability they are (1) engaged because they are able to work at their pace; (2) able to work closely with peers on a common task, standard, or concept; and (3) able to interact with a teacher on a problem that is relevant to them. 

  • Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults. 

Long after a student forgets the specific learning targets in a class the memory of how he or she felt about the teacher will remain: "When asked to identify words or phrases that best described the teacher who had the most positive influence in their life, people in the United States responded with the word caring, followed by encouraging, interesting, personable, and of high-quality (Making the case for Whole Child Education)." 

  • Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

Students need to work at or just above their ability and not all students in a class are in the same place. "Of high school students who have considered dropping out, 13 percent indicate that their reason for doing so was because the work was too easy. Nearly 50 percent of high school students indicate that they are not challenged in most of their classes (Making the case for Whole Child Education)." To read about a method of instruction that remedies the problem, click here.

Amy Fredrickson