Early childhood educators have long recognized the importance of teaching to the whole child – understanding that all learning domains are integrated for children: cognitive, social, emotional, physical, language and creativity. Sometimes K-12 education becomes so focused on academic learning that the “rest” of the child takes a backseat to academic knowledge.
All domains are integrated. The impact of a challenge in one domain radiates across the other domains. When you consider how poorly you think when you are physically sick, you realize that it is much more difficult to be clear or definitive. If you have had an argument with a partner, your emotions are typically high and can influence your perspective on other things that may be completely unrelated. If you have lost your voice, just figuring out how to communicate becomes the priority and all other aspects of your daily life seem less significant.
Accepting the interrelated nature of these domains, particularly in the learning of primary children will create a much stronger foundation for success, both for the learner and the teacher. Experienced primary teachers have discovered that when you can involve children physically in the learning process, they are much more likely to grasp the concepts. For example, doing people math problems, where the children physically move as part of the math problem, or creating people patterns where the children are put in an order based on different characteristics like long sleeve, short sleeve, or patterned shirt, plain-colored shirt and the remainder of the class must figure out the pattern and/or insert themselves where appropriate. The physical involvement generates increased interest, attention and involves the brain in ways that a worksheet would never accomplish.
Children often arrive at school bearing the burden of emotional or psychological experiences from events at home that are their primary concern as they start the day. Knowing how to help and allow them to process their feelings, whether they need solitary time journaling or an interesting activity for diversion, creates a culture that respects and addresses these emotional and psychological needs. Once they have adequately transitioned to the classroom environment, they are now much more able to direct their attention to learning. The same is true if they have arrived in the classroom without breakfast or without having slept the night before. It is unreasonable to expect a child to be “ready to learn” when they are hungry or exhausted. While these situations are less than ideal, it falls to the classroom teacher to meet their needs to the best of their ability. This is another part of teaching the whole child.
In teaching kindergarten through third grade, and frankly even far beyond that age, remembering that multi-sensory activities are the most successful, will substantially increase learning and retention. Planning activities that engage children across domains; physically, emotionally, socially, cognitively, creatively and linguistically, are always the best choice. Developmentally appropriate authentic projects, collaborative learning, learning centers, hands-on field trips and community-focused experiences all address the learning needs of the whole child. The result is vastly increased engagement, motivation and ownership of the learning process!