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The Whole Child: A Well-Rounded Approach to Education

What is Whole Child education?

While learning basic academics is important, many educators are starting to realize that ignoring the personal aspects of students—cognitive, physical, emotional, and intellectual development—can impact their success in school. The approach of fostering these qualities in children is called educating the Whole Child.

Whole Child education means “ensuring each child, in each school, in each community is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.”

The idea is that by nurturing a child’s comprehensive needs, they will be better prepared for “the challenges and opportunities of day and tomorrow.”

ASCD believes that fostering the Whole Child is a collaboration between parents, students, families, schools, and communities.

What are the tenants of Whole Child education?

The aspects of the Whole Child, identified by the ASCD, include:


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

Research confirms that students do better in school when they are emotionally and physically healthy. They miss fewer classes, are less likely to engage in risky or antisocial behavior, concentrate more, and achieve higher test scores.

Schools and communities committed to educating the whole child create an environment that promotes the learning and practice of healthy lifestyles. This includes healthy menus at school, regular recess, physical and health education, school counseling, and intramural programs. Schools and communities collaborate to increase access to health care for children and their families.


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

Feeling safe at school translates into higher academic achievement, increased student well-being, and greater engagement. Children who don’t feel safe can’t concentrate on their studies, don’t connect with their classmates, or don’t go to school at all.

Schools and communities committed to educating the whole child work together to ensure the physical, social, emotional, and academic safety and security of students and adults. They consistently assess comprehensive safety issues to foster effective conditions for learning.


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

Substantial research shows that students who feel both valued by adults and a part of their schools perform better academically and also have more positive social attitudes, values, and behavior. Plus, they are less likely to engage in drug use, violence, or sexual activity.

Schools and communities committed to educating the whole child engage students in the learning process and provide opportunities that connect them to the community. Students who are engaged and connected to their schools demonstrate increased academic achievement, attendance rates, and participation in activities.


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

In addition to improving students’ academic performance, research shows that supportive schools also help prevent a host of negative consequences, including isolation, violent behavior, dropping out of school, and suicide.

School and communities committed to educating the whole child connect students with caring adults throughout a student’s school career through a variety of positive relationships. These relationships reinforce academic achievement and social, civic, ethical, and emotional development.


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

To succeed in college, other postsecondary education, and the workplace, students need higher-level thinking, communications, and problem-solving skills as well as knowledge of the world and its people. These are all products of a curriculum that challenges students to work harder as they investigate a wide range of real-world subjects.

Students engage in a broad spectrum of activities in and out of the classroom. Districts and communities committed to educating the whole child work together to prepare young people for success in higher education, employment, and civic life by providing meaningful learning experiences and opportunities to demonstrate achievement.

How Do I Support Whole Child education for My Student?

PBS has some great tips on approaching a Whole Child approach for your child:

—Show them that they are valued. Unless children have a basic sense of self-worth, it’s very unrealistic to expect them to embrace the challenges of learning and problem solving. Some are using “emergent learning” strategies, where the teacher and children seek out answers together. The teacher continues to make plans but adjusts them as she pays attention to the children and finds out what is particularly interesting to them. She is also constantly looking for problems to present to the children so they can propose their own solutions.

—Get out of the classroom/house. Field trips are excellent opportunities to learn because they encourage and stimulate the child’s sense of wonder and curiosity. One way to maximize the effectiveness of field trips is to emphasize hands-on experiences. Allow plenty of time for the children to make their own observations and ask their own questions.

—Involve the family. It is very important to keep the family informed about all the thinking skills the children are using in order to reassure them that their children are really learning something. Encourage family members to visit your classroom, to look at the “experience boards” and newsletters, and to come to slide shows illustrating the children’s adventures. These are all excellent ways to keep the family informed about the value of this kind of learning.

Read more tips on how to support Whole Child education for your student.

Starr Sackstein has some helpful tips on preparing your child for life after secondary school:

—Allow students to be accountable for their actions. By midway through senior year, you shouldn’t be contacting home every time an assignment is missed. Talk to the student about his/her behavior and tell them the consequences of their choices and stick to it.

—Teach them to channel and deal with stress effectively. Routines are essential but they need to set them on their own.

—Model the behaviors you want them to develop; admit your own need for help and self-correct visibly.  Adolescents need to understand that adults make mistakes and there is no harm in it, it’s actually useful and positive.

Read more of Starr’s tips here.

The director of whole child programs at ASCD, Sean Slade, says:

“It is an approach that does not see youth as empty vessels to be filled with narrowly defined content knowledge, but as individuals who each have great potential to grow and develop socially, emotionally, physically, mentally, and civically as well as cognitively.”

The arts are also important to round out students’ education and lead to academic success. Read why here.

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Lauren Martin

Lauren Martin

Lauren Martin is a Writer for Learning Liftoff. Previously, she has written for nonprofits as well as marketing agencies. She's covered environmental issues, women's rights, world poverty, and animal rights. With a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism from Ithaca College, Lauren enjoys interviewing families about their experiences with online education.

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