Learning environment

Academic growth soars in a whole-child learning environment

A holistic approach to education can empower children to succeed in school and beyond. When teachers are involved in all areas of student development and create strong connections to help them achieve their individual goals, children thrive. But what does it mean to educate the whole child, and how does this have a positive impact on academic growth?

In early childhood education, the focus on the whole child ensures that a student will develop a positive attitude towards learning, says Polly Smith, kindergarten teacher at Pilgrim Lutheran School, a private school. PreK-8 on the north side of Chicago.

“A young child’s first introduction to school should be fun. I want students to love coming to my classroom every day and for that to turn into a love of learning that they will carry throughout their school years,” says Smith. “An environment that emphasizes the whole child brings fun and fulfillment in a play-based environment to best meet the needs of the child.”

When all aspects of a child’s development are recognized and encountered, they feel nurtured and understood. If they have the ability to pursue their own interests — and learn on their own schedule — during kindergarten and kindergarten, it sets them up for continued success year after year, she says.

“When a child’s needs are not met or they are subjected to arbitrary testing standards at an early age, school will not only not be seen as enjoyable, but it can damage their self-confidence. “, she adds. “A child who sees himself as unsuccessful in the early years of school may find it difficult to overcome this mindset later on.”

Photo credit: Pilgrim Lutheran School

At Pilgrim Lutheran School, teachers appreciate that each child is unique and expect them to learn individually. “All children are different and we know that children develop biologically at different rates. It’s certainly the same when it comes to learning styles and timelines,” Smith says. “We have basic literacy and numeracy skills that we look for, but recognizing that all children progress differently is an important part of our philosophy of teaching every child at Pilgrim.”

A peek into Pilgrim’s kindergarten classroom reveals the many opportunities students have to explore and apply learning through play.

“You might see students asking their friends about their favorite colors, modeling a math lesson we did the night before. Or kids building with magnetic tiles, trying to make their creation bigger than the adults in the room, using problem-solving, math and engineering skills,” Smith says. “Students have many opportunities for movement in their learning, including multi-sensory experiences, and this helps solidify the concepts we introduce in a variety of ways. »

When children can apply what they learn individually and through play – a language they all understand – they gain social-emotional, collaborative, critical thinking, listening and relationship skills that serve them as they grow. progress through kindergarten and through their elementary years.

Foster academic and personal growth beyond early childhood

The focus on whole child development is not just for the early years at Pilgrim Lutheran School, but is an integral part of every classroom throughout the elementary and middle years.

“Whole-child care allows us to meet students where they are academically and prepare them to grow,” says Paula Raabe, who teaches upper-grade math at Pilgrim . “Through challenge and encouragement, students can level up with confidence and with the tools they need to succeed. This approach can even prepare a student for success in school and in life, as it helps children develop skills in collaboration, problem solving, and stress management. »

Parents who remember learning math through rote memorization might be surprised to learn how a whole-child approach focuses on each child’s maturity and cognitive growth by teaching concepts, not on memorization and numerical manipulation, says Raabe, who has been called the “best math teacher ever” by students and parents.

“When math is taught from a conceptual approach, allowing students to explore and discover, I can meet them where they are and help them grow to a new level of understanding,” she says. . “When math education focuses on the whole child, you’ll see hands-on diagrams and manipulations used regularly to develop concepts and help students with thinking and solving.”

Photo credit: Pilgrim Lutheran School

Beyond the individualized approach of academics, students at Pilgrim Lutheran thrive in an environment that supports their social, emotional, and spiritual growth. Children attend weekly chapel services and are encouraged to develop their personal faith and participate in community service projects to find a positive place for themselves in society. Students also benefit from an on-site social worker, who teaches weekly social-emotional learning (SEL) classes at each level – and helps students deal with big feelings, improve communication skills, and deal with difficulties. friendship conflicts.

Ultimately, children who learn in a holistic environment among teachers who care deeply about all aspects of their individual growth will gain skills they can use universally.

“Every grade level, every field of study, uses group work and collaboration,” says Raabe. “Whether they are thinking about a STEM project or listening and sharing their knowledge in a literary discussion – even participating in clubs and sports – when students’ needs have been recognized and met, they are perfectly positioned to succeed in school, college, career and life.”

Learn more about the Pilgrim Lutheran School at pilgrimchicago.org.