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A Whole Child Approach to Early Childhood Education

Sep 19, 2023    |   ECE Theory & Philosophy

As early learning professionals, we know that understanding each child and family’s unique needs, strengths and perspectives enhances our ability to provide effective learning experiences. This integrated approach, which considers the many parts of a child’s life and environment, is also known as the Whole Child model of learning.

In this article, Good2Know shares information about the Whole Child Approach, along with some suggestions for applying it in your early childhood care and learning program.

Introducing the Whole Child Approach

Every person develops within the context of a variety of environmental and relational factors. These include community, culture, life at home, learning environment, and more. A Whole Child Approach views each child’s learning, growth, and developmental progress in light of the many aspects of a child’s life and the interactions among each child’s life experiences.   

Whole Child educators take an integrated view of child development by considering academic development, physical and mental health, social-emotional and cognitive development, and sense of self. They view each child and family holistically, in order to effectively identify and support each child’s unique strengths and needs.  

Benefits of a Whole Child Approach 

A brief from WestEd explains the benefits of the Whole Child Approach: “When schools adopt a whole child approach, they see a wealth of improved outcomes for students, including improved attendance, engagement, physical and emotional health, and academic performance.” 

As educators, we know how important it is to develop meaningful relationships with each child in our care. The Whole Child Approach provides tools for meeting children where they are and for developing meaningful relationships with each child.  When we know who each child is, where they come from, and what their needs are, we can identify the types of support and resources that are most helpful, relevant, and supportive.

Incorporating a Whole Child Approach into Practice 

While the Whole Child Approach might sound complex, it actually aligns closely with the work that many early learning providers already do to create a welcoming, relationship-based learning environment. 

The Chan Zuckerberg Foundation explains, “A whole child approach to education is one that honors the humanity of each teacher and student, and is critical to equitably preparing each student to reach their full potential. This starts by creating environments of belonging and connection for students and adults to engage and thrive.” 

Below are some specific opportunities to utilize a Whole Child lens in your classroom. 

  • Create time to connect with children one-on-one to facilitate deeper connection and relationship-building. With older children, ask them about their lives at home, their families, and what kinds of things they do on the weekends. This can be done in short moments throughout the day. These conversations will help children to feel valued, while also helping you to get a better understanding of each child’s culture and the communities they are involved in outside of school. 
  • Incorporate opportunities for children to learn about the importance of nutritious food and regular movement. Positive experiences with healthy food and physical exercise in early childhood can create a strong foundation for healthy habits as children get older. 
  • Observe children at play to ensure that they are engaged and challenged by the various materials that you have available in your learning spaces. Talk with them about what kinds of things they enjoy, and then try to incorporate them into your classroom environment. Playful exploration with peers in the classroom creates opportunities for rich learning, growth, and development. 
  • Regularly share resources with families to support them in caring for their children. These might include developmental information, activities to support at-home learning, information about local family-friendly events, and more. Talk with parents often to find out what kinds of resources and information they are interested in receiving to find out how to best support their child’s needs.  
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