While Maria Montessori wasn’t the first to understand the importance of Educating the Whole Child, she was, in my opinion the first to develop this understanding of seeing the child as “a whole” most deeply.
Montessori’s philosophy of educating the whole child stems from the understanding that a child and his/her development is more than teaching them and expecting them to embrace a rote kind of learning. It is the understanding that children are naturally curious and eager to learn.They can engage in self-directed learning through a supportive and intentionally prepared learning environment where they can grow with guidance in all areas of their existence!
Unfortunately, rote learning and sitting still in classrooms is the kind of learning that we see in most mainstream education today, but for Montessori children, there is so much more! Montessori learners are given opportunities to inquire about the “how” and “why” instead of just memorizing information. When we teach beyond rote learning, we are making the primary goal of education for our children to develop the skills necessary to lead a productive, joyful and fulfilling life.
“The essential thing is to arouse such an interest that it engates the child’s whole personality.”
– Maria Montessori
Because the Montessori approach to learning is founded in peace, Maria Montessori strongly felt that for us to encompass a peaceful society, the whole child had to be considered. The “whole child” is in reference to the child’s physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual being. This means that a child is respected and seen as a fully developed human who with time, will learn so much by being placed in environments or spaces that encourage joyful, intentional and purposeful learning. Since children learn in many different ways, accounting for a child’s physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development, helps to foster growth in ways that encourage a more well rounded child. When we give children opportunities to engage their intellect through “whole life learning activities,” we allow the child to become a problem solver who thinks for themselves and is stimulated creatively.
We have listed some important things to remember as you are contemplating your role as your child’s guide and how you can best honor the education of the “whole child.”
When we Educate the Whole Child:
We see the child as INTERCONNECTED to the people, places and things in their world
Whole child education appeals to a child’s natural curiosity and shows him/her the purpose behind the learning. Things like exploration in cultural subject areas such as science and social studies as related to their family or community brings value, understanding and excitement to an area of study.
Since children are connected to their families, homes, schools, culture, and community, learning about the people and places that create these connections can bring a sense of belonging, understanding and respect for others. When we strive to give our children opportunities for growth and learning in areas of cultural awareness, we are appealing to whole child education.
We understand that learning actually takes place through MOVEMENT
Children need to move! In Montessori environments, we understand and encourage purposeful movement and do not expect a child to sit still or work at a desk without being able to move for long periods of time. Whole body learning comes through movement! From the very beginning of life, children learn from making connections between their mind and body which means that opportunities in brain development through the activities they experience are paramount!
From the time infants are born they have an innate need to move. They stretch, turn over, crawl, walk and then run all without being coaxed. I know as parents we feel we teach them these things, but truly they do it all themselves. By providing opportunities in a safe learning environment, growth is inevitable! Montessori even believed that infants shouldn’t be swaddled but free to move their arms and legs. She suggested toddlers should have a floor bed which allows for them to be able to get up and move about just as adults do. By doing these things, it actually aids in developing good sleep patterns for your little ones as well as giving them opportunities to develop through movement and independence.
I know this can be difficult to understand especially since we have been taught to swaddle babies, hold them all the time and keep toddlers in cribs. But allowing for them to move freely and safely in their environments is where the learning magic happens! :) Keep in mind that as we provide opportunities for children to move they are developing important patterning connections between their left and right brain and bodies which are essential for proper growth.
Not only do children need to be able to move around their homes and in their classrooms with purpose, they need time outside to develop gross motor skills, too. We live in a time where children are placed in front of screens a lot and probably more so since experiencing a pandemic, which means children of all ages are spending way too much time indoors. Being outside is a child’s happy place and a huge playground for development and learning!
We put the EMOTIONAL HEALTH OF THE CHILD at the forefront of learning
Celebrating the uniqueness of each child is at the forefront of Montessori whole child education. We guide softly, encourage calmly and appreciate a child’s individual nature, worth, talents and gifts. By putting a child’s emotional health first, we are helping to raise children who are driven, passionate, convicted, sure footed and aware of their own personal value.
In a Montessori environment, we incorporate positive discipline into daily living and promote emotional health through practices of love, kindness and boundaries. Instead of emphasizing “no”, we focus on acknowledging the correct way to do something. For example, if your child is climbing on the kitchen table you can say, “I think you will be much safer if you keep your feet on your chair.” Rather than resorting to “No, get off the table”. We also recognize a child’s feelings and value their opinions as members of our family and classrooms. Becoming well versed in positive discipline techniques is a win win. We will talk more about this in another principle so stay tuned for that.
As we recognize the child as a fully formed human being, we place value on their efforts instead of predisposed answers to educational questions. Children in Montessori environments gain confidence and a sense of independence as they meet their own needs through work and play. This also motivates the children and helps them develop decision making skills. As we grow to understand the true purpose behind learning, not only do our children feel joy but we can experience that as well.
We create a HEALTHY LIVING LIFESTYLE for the child
I think we all can agree that a healthy lifestyle is paramount for our children. But a healthy living lifestyle is more than just eating right and exercising although both are very important. As we nurture the whole child as it pertains to health, we also focus attention in areas such as emotional safety, mindfulness, and character development.
In schools and home classrooms, focusing on an active lifestyle through regular exercise and teaching our children about nutrition and involving them in that process is key. Mindfulness and character development are achieved through the part of the curriculum referred to as “Grace and Courtesy” where children are taught how to be polite, kind, understanding of others and how to effectively communicate their feelings.
We know that children learn through all of their SENSES
Children learn best when given opportunities to learn through their senses. This kind of learning engages the whole body. Maria Montessori developed specific materials for the classroom that helped refine the senses through work with things such as the Pink Tower, Broad Stair, Knobbed Cylinders, Color Tablets, Smelling Jars, Sound Cylinders and the Geometric Cabinet to name a few. She showed students that by isolating one of our senses we could heighten and develop that sense for learning different things.
While the materials Montessori developed are beautiful and I have loved using them in the classroom, there are so many activities that can be done to help develop and allow children as they participate in sensory learning in the home without purchasing and using formal Montessori materials. Our homes are a natural classroom and playground. The opportunities for growth and learning are optimal there:)
The essential thing is to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality.
Maria Montessori – The Absorbent Mind
I have spent many years of my life learning about what it truly means to educate the whole child and then many more years putting that learning into practice. I’ve done this mainly simultaneously, so that means I have been growing right along with my children, my students and now my grandchildren. It is as much a process for the adult as it is for the child. Which honestly, I take a lot of comfort in. If our goal is growth and learning while on this Earth, I’m pretty sure when it comes to educating the whole child, I’ve been learning a lot!
My growth and learning as a parent and guide never seems to end and that is ok! I’m guessing because you are reading this post that you are growing and learning right alongside your children and students, too. Maria Montessori reminds us that, “learning is not something that ends at grade 12 or at age 18; it is a lifelong quest for personal fulfillment.”
Reaching all areas of a child’s development may feel a little overwhelming but always try to keep in mind that our journey is just as it should be. Don’t get discouraged or worry about the outcome, just keep educating yourselves and trusting in the process of being a teacher guide as you lead your children in whole learning education. I have no doubt that your child and students will flourish under your guidance and encouragement!
Education of even a very small child….does not aim at preparing him for school but for life.
– Maria Montessori