“Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child open up himself to life”

– Maria Montessori

What Maria Montessori said in the early part of the last century is more relevant today in the 21st Century because academic excellence alone can no longer assure success and happiness in life and career. Holistic development through education from the early stage of a child’s life has become more important today than in the last century.

Holistic development essentially means the development of intellectual, mental, physical, emotional, and social abilities in a child so that he or she is capable of facing the demands and challenges of everyday life. These abilities are vitally important for success in professional fields of work.

Every child is unique. He or she has her unique personality traits, interests, preferences, values, attitudes, strengths, and weaknesses. The educational curriculum must be able to help every child find his or her unique place in the world in alignment with the uniqueness that he or she has. In order to achieve this, the holistic development of a child is of utmost importance.

What is holistic development?

Holistic development is a comprehensive approach in learning which aims to develop multiple facets or abilities of a human brain. Conventional educational and learning systems aim at the development of intellectual capabilities only. But holistic growth aims at the development of physical capabilities, intellectual abilities, cognitive or mental abilities, emotional abilities, and social skills.

Physical capability development includes:

  • Development of gross motor skills – such as walking, running, climbing, etc. Gross motor skills involve the movement of the whole body.
  • Development of psychomotor abilities – these refer to a very wide range of fine motor movements that occurs in response to conscious learning from five senses – mostly from sight, touch, and hearing. For example – painting, cutting of vegetables, making a clay model, typing on a computer keyboard, medical surgery, driving, writing, etc.

Intellectual capability and cognitive ability development include:

  • Development of the abilities to learn from information and experience this involves learning from data and information; learning from doing an activity, etc.
  • Development of abstract thinking abilities understanding and thinking about concepts, ideas, principles, and objects which are non-verbal or not physically present.
  • Development of comprehension abilitiesability to understand and comprehend written and verbal information.
  • Development of logical and analytical thinking abilities analyzing reasons behind events and situations, understanding the causes behind an event or situation, etc.
  • Development of critical thinking abilities examining concepts, ideas, problems, and issues, etc.
  • Development of creative thinking abilities thinking of newer ways to solve problems; visualization; thinking of new ideas; etc.
  • Development of problem-solving abilities solving problems utilizing various concepts, solutions, etc.

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Emotional ability development includes:

  • Development of intra-personal abilities – this involves self-understanding (understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses, one’s capabilities, etc.) and self-belief.
  • Development of interpersonal abilities abilities to understand others; what others are communicating; building relationships, etc.
  • Development of self-regulation abilities abilities to control and regulate one’s emotions and feelings.
  • Development of empathy the ability to understand and share others’ feelings and emotions.

Social skill development includes:

  • Development of social competencies this involves abilities to interact and communicate with others, working in a team, coordination, and cooperation with others, etc.

Studies have shown that through playful learning experiences, students can acquire broad, dynamic, and interconnected skills rapidly and effectively.

The aim of teachers and counselors in holistic growth is to chart out every child’s individual capabilities and compare their abilities to the norms of a child their age. A comparative analysis and its results along with relevant readings are used to explain how the traits of the child and aspects of his/her environment may interact to influence his/her growth and development.

Holistic development of students seeks to address many factors such as the physical, emotional, spiritual, relational and intellectual aspects. The importance of the holistic approach lies in the fact that it is the children who learn different skills in a stage-wise manner, including walking, running, talking, fine motor skills, etc.

Holistic Development – at a glance
Figure 1: Holistic Development – at a glance

Why holistic development?

Nowadays, most companies or organizations not only consider a student’s overall academic performance but also consider the holistic development of students when they recruit for various jobs. This makes the holistic development of students in schools and colleges very important.

Gone are the days when parents used to spend their entire day with their child. With the way technology is advancing and education methods changing, the parents are now interested in making their children more engaged and involved in almost all facets of learning. Holistic development meaning has attained a lot of importance in parenting.

Right from the very beginning, a child is exposed to a variety of sports and activities that enable him/her to learn new things. This has resulted in a complete change in the way students are taught in schools as well. With the advent of new-age technologies and teaching methods, the overall holistic development of a child in pre-schools has become a necessity. For the same reasons, the holistic development of students at primary and secondary schools has also become crucial.

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Key elements of holistic development

When we talk about the holistic development of a child, we need to understand that it is the overall development that matters. Thus, holistic growth seeks to target child personality development in the following ways:

Cognitive

Cognitive development relates to the brain and its development, i.e., the child’s intelligence. An average brain develops up to 90% of its potential by the age of 5, so children entering preschool are already nearing full development in terms of cranial capacity.

It is a well-known fact that young minds are quicker at absorbing information and noticing as well as adopting certain activities and behaviors. With proper guidance, these fresh minds can master much more. Cognitive development involves thinking, problem-solving, and understanding of concepts and is one of the vital elements of holistic development. It is a very important factor in the holistic development of a child.

Language

Language and speech are integral parts of an upbringing process. Speaking well and articulating are necessary skills in today’s world. Below the age of 5, children capture linguistic abilities fast and bloom well. Since the brain develops rapidly, it is necessary to stimulate sight, sounds, and speech patterns. Children start with small words in their mother tongue and slowly move on to complex sentences. Gradually, the shift is made towards other languages, commonly English or a third language, and is the second most crucial element in the holistic development of the child.

Key elements of holistic development
Figure 2: Key elements of holistic development


Social-Emotional

Bringing up the social and emotional sides of the brain requires students to go through experiences that allow provisions for positive relationships while exercising control of emotions. Trust and security are fundamental parts of this, without which a child may grow up to be unhinged.

A child in his/her developmental years is most vulnerable and requires attention and affection. Security found with trusted adults leads to attachments and a strong foundation for future emotional links as they learn to be confident and secure in their abilities and sense of self. Therefore, as the third most important element of holistic development, it is necessary that teachers and parents maintain a secure and friendly environment for a child to ensure holistic growth.

Jobs in the education sector these days require training of the caregivers so that they can encourage young minds in self-restraint or control over their rampant emotions and understanding of feelings inside. As the brain develops, children are overwhelmed by various new and fluctuating emotions like anger and sadness.

There is a need for assistance in order to teach them to take charge of these emotions. Anger management, dealing with sensitivity, depression, ego, etc. are aspects of healthy social-emotional development. This ensures a child is more open to other forms of development involved in the holistic approach.

Physical

It is common knowledge that children are little balls of unbridled energy. This energy is essential to make the necessary neural connections for overall holistic growth. Thus, exercise and movement of any form lead to increased blood flow in the body.

With increasing blood flow to the brain, the child becomes capable of acquiring new information and concepts. It is the development of the gross and fine motor skills that enable a child to be healthy and fit. Not only that, children learn to be more aware of their sensory understandings and recognize their implications to implement well in the future.

In conclusion

What children require today in schools is not just academic lessons. A schooling system that helps a child understand his or her self, emotions, and mental duress while teaching him or she how to build up healthy and functional relationships as well as develop resilience and team spirit is the true form of education.

Such a system boosts the morale of a student so that they can go on to achieve greater heights in their careers while becoming upstanding citizens of the society who contribute to the growth and development of the country. Hence, the holistic development of students is very important right from the beginning of school-going years.

School leaders and teachers must ensure that the school curriculum is integrated with various co-curricular activities to ensure the holistic development of students. School leaders and teachers may take expert advice from career counselors as they understand the skills required for future success in work life.

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