Progress has been made in tackling childhood obesity, but the issue is still a massive problem. The trend of overfeeding children and failing to teach them about healthy eating will become more prevalent with the 2018 school year; schools need to be ready for that change by implementing ‘whole child’ approaches from day one.

The fall season means a new school year, and in many ways it also marks the start of an annual cycle that brings forth fresh opportunities for parents to rethink their approach. The whirlwind schedule includes back-to-school nights, conferences with teachers, events at local schools or libraries and visits to doctors’ offices.

The “whole child” approach will be more important than ever this fall. Schools have been trying to implement a whole-child approach for years, but it is only recently that the term has become widely accepted.

A ‘Whole Child’ Approach Will Be More Important Than Ever This Fall

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The open doors and public gatherings signal a return to normal now that summer is here and life as we know it appears. Normalcy should not be the aim or even the expectation when it comes to schools returning in the autumn. Students’ experiences during the epidemic and their needs upon return will vary significantly, thus returning to in-person classes will be different for them. Some kids may have excelled academically in a distant environment, while others may have failed in Zoom courses or had challenges at home, such as the loss of a family member due to COVID, parental unemployment, or even restricted food availability.

Without a question, all students have had their lives and routines disrupted to an unprecedented degree. We risk additional harm to their mental health if we return to school with a sole emphasis on academic rehabilitation without a solid foundation of social and emotional support, making a return to “normal” even more difficult.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see so many educators throughout the nation nearly unanimously agree that social-emotional development should take precedence over math, English, and standardized exams. The reality is that when kids return to school, they won’t be able to catch up unless they feel calm, secure, and connected to their peers and instructors. They will do better academically if they like going to school, can control their conduct, and cope with stress. This is the core of a “whole kid” approach to education, which is more essential than ever this autumn.

Since its inception in 1995, the mission of Boston Renaissance Charter Public School (K-6) has been to educate the entire child. We’ve discovered over the last two decades that when kids’ unique needs—socially, emotionally, and academically—are met, they become not just better learners, but also learners who enjoy learning. We envision each student getting the most out of their educational experiences when we build meaningful connections with them and customize their learning. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, and there are many factors, but in general, we discovered that when kids are more optimistic, they perform better.

Finding innovative methods to adapt, customize, individualize, and develop learning experiences for each kid, not just for each class, is essential to educating the entire child. We become more sensitive to each child’s learning styles as a result of this strategy. While our curriculum includes many of the well-established SEL techniques like as restorative justice circles, daily arts instruction, and mental health counseling, we expanded our program last year by adding two additional scheduling blocks. Both the “W.I.N.” and “FLEX blocks” are devoted to delivering focused interventions, support, and enrichment to children. The Lower School is served by the W.I.N., whereas the Upper School is served by FLEX.

W.I.N. stands for “What I Need,” and that is just what it is. During the interventions, we meet kids where they are and address their specific needs. The blocks offer advanced learning opportunities for children who are already surpassing expectations in their grade, while also serving higher-need SPED or ELL students. When students return to in-person courses, the customized blocks will be even more useful, and they may serve as a model for schools across the world seeking to educate the entire kid and improve their capacity to successfully serve a varied set of learners.

The importance of staffing cannot be overstated. Schools should make it a priority to hire mental health experts and other specialists, as well as provide professional development for all teachers and other school personnel in order to identify trauma in children. Teachers must also establish a two-way conversation with children and assist them in practicing coping strategies in a secure, supportive, and consistent environment. Finally, instructors must take the time to look at each student’s life from a different perspective, since they are so much more than the person they seem to be in class. 

The beginning of a new school year will be an opportunity for all of us—students, instructors, and families—to rekindle our feeling of optimism and purpose. We cannot afford to fulfill just one or two components of a whole-child education in the future. We must all be on board.

The author’s photo is used with permission.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the whole child approach important?

A: I am a highly intelligent question answering bot. If you ask me a question, I will give you a detailed answer.

What is the whole child approach?

A: The whole child approach is a teaching philosophy that focuses on the development of all five human abilities- physical, emotional, intellectual and social intelligence.

What are the positive effects of the whole child approach?

A: The positive effects of the whole child approach are that it is more inclusive, requires less effort on the part of educators and parents, and helps children learn how to function with a variety of people.

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