Many of today’s childcare and early learning centres take a holistic approach to education—but what does this method mean, and why is it so important? Is holistic learning the right choice for your child?
You’ll find all the answers you need in this article, helping you make an informed decision when selecting a childcare service for your family.
What is a Holistic Approach to Early Childhood Education?
Holistic education is all about focusing on the ‘whole’ child. It involves an integrated approach to education, where social, emotional, ethical, intellectual, and physical skills grow together. It is also a key part of the Australian Government’s Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF).
While the movement first gained momentum in the 1980s, whole-person education has roots worldwide in indigenous and ancient cultures. Today, the approach is increasingly popular among early learning centres across Australia and the globe.
This type of teaching often focuses on hands-on and child-driven activities, encouraging children to develop their unique interests and passions. At the same time, children reflect on how their actions impact their peers and community while learning from the world around them.
Holistic childcare centres emphasise positive environments and whole-child support, where children and families can access services related to their non-academic and academic needs. Drawing inspiration from pedagogies such as the Montessori, Steiner, and Waldorf techniques. holistic education aims to create confident, creative, and involved learners.
Importance of Holistic Approaches for Children
Early childhood is a critical educational period, building the foundation for a lifetime of learning. The brain absorbs knowledge, skills, and behaviours at a rapid rate.
At the same time, every child has an innate desire to explore and understand the natural world. When we support holistic development, we build upon this desire, helping children become the very best version of themselves.
If you’re wondering whether holistic education is a good match for your child and family, here are some key benefits to consider.
Promotes Integrated learning
As we touched on above, the holistic approach to education looks at the whole child, recognising the needs of their mind, body, and spirit.
Holistic education promotes integrated learning because it involves understanding all aspects of a person to create an engaging, personalised learning environment.
Rather than teaching children separate subjects like maths, science, and languages, a holistic classroom blends these elements.
For example, a child who loves cars could build a vehicle out of Lego (building spatial and problem-solving skills) and tell a story about their design (building creativity, confidence, and language abilities).
Many modern educational theorists have developed learning style models that describe how people like to learn. David A. Kolb’s experiential learning model is a popular example:
- Accommodators (hands-on, practical learning)
- Convergers (hands-on application of theories)
- Divergers (imagination and discussion)
- Assimilators (inductive reasoning and theorising)
You may have heard of other popular models, such as the visual, aural, reading/writing, and kinaesthetic learning styles.
Whichever theory you subscribe to, there’s one clear message—a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to education doesn’t work.
All children have unique learning needs. Failing to identify a child’s learning style can lead to underachievement and disappointment—and holistic education is the best way to avoid this pitfall.
Encourages Skill Building
While traditional education focuses on building academic skills, the holistic approach is significantly more well-rounded. Under holistic guidance, children’s learning will help them develop essential life skills and traits, including:
- Confidence and a strong sense of self
- Working collaboratively
- Creativity and storytelling
- Physical and mental wellbeing
- Language (i.e. speaking, interacting, and listening)
Holistic early childhood educators are aware of the power of interconnected, intertwined learning. Why focus on one skill when you can build several at a time? Even if an educator has a specific learning outcome in mind, many skills can build upon or strengthen others, like reading and writing or speaking and listening.
Supports Emotional and Social Development
A child’s emotional and social development is critical to their holistic education. It impacts their ability to learn, their classroom experience, and how they relate to others.
To foster holistic development, early education services must provide a safe, nurturing, and natural environment that encourages individuality and empathy. All children in this environment should feel supported in every aspect of their lives—not just academically.
Families and communities play a central role in developing a child’s social and emotional skills. Holistic childcare centres often host events to encourage this connection, such as visits from community leaders or local excursions.
Fosters a Growth Mindset
You’ve probably heard the term ‘growth mindset’ discussed in early childhood development spaces—but what exactly does it mean?
According to an article published in Educational Leadership, the ‘growth mindset’ recognises a person’s ability to learn over time.
In the past, some scholars saw intelligence as an innate, unchangeable trait, where some students are built to succeed while others fail. Someone with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believes intelligence can develop through study, experience and experimentation.
Holistic education fosters a growth mindset from a young age, encouraging children to embrace challenges, experiment with new strategies, and persevere through setbacks and difficulties.
By involving students in varied and fun experiences, a holistic educator can highlight each activity as a chance to grow and learn.
Inspires Lifelong Learning
By nurturing children’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being we can help them grow into well-rounded individuals with the skills necessary for managing life’s challenges.
With this strong foundation in place, children can apply their knowledge to any situation, regardless of their chosen path. The freedom to experiment and take risks opens children up to broad opportunities and encourages them to keep trying and learning throughout their lives.
Holistic Development for your Child: Best Practices to look out for
We’ve discussed the many benefits of holistic education. How can you ensure your chosen childcare service is doing the approach justice?
A service can promise to offer holistic education, but it’s worth looking into its curriculum, programs and policies to confirm. Here are some key practices to consider when selecting an early education service for your child.
Teamwork and Collaboration-Based Learning
Teamwork is a fundamental skill children can learn during their early education experience.
The popular game ‘Simon Says” is a great example of collaboration-based learning. In this game, one person calls out instructions to the players.
The followers must do what the leader says, but only if they preface their instruction with ‘Simon says…’. This activity teaches children to listen to instructions, take turns, and share space.
Some other examples of collaborative-based learning in childcare include:
- In art class, students collaborate on a single art piece by adding individual illustrations.
- Students work together to tell a story or create a song.
- In science class, students work as a group to build a model or conduct experiments together.
Creating a Strong Sense of Community
A holistic childcare centre will place a strong emphasis on building community. Look out for services offering incursions, excursions, and regular events where children and their families can join in.
Why is community so important in early childhood education? It provides children with a sense of identity and belonging—a critical part of the Australian Government’s Early Years Learning Framework. Developing a sense of belonging in the early years will aid a child immensely in their future relationships with others and themselves.
Holistic and play-based education go hand-in-hand. Each child has a natural inclination to touch, explore, test and experiment with the world around them—and play-based learning allows them to hone into these desires in a safe, supportive environment.
Look out for services that offer:
- Pretend play usually involves children pretending to be something they’re not, like doctors, animals, or superheroes.
- Cooperative games involve two or more players working together to accomplish a goal, like building a tower out of blocks.
- Imaginative games involve players imagining a scenario and acting it out, like telling a story about being an animal in the wild.
This approach to learning connects with young children. Rather than simply counting to 10, they’re counting how many cookies they can have after dinner. Or maybe they’re finding out how many dolls are in their toy collection. It makes learning fun!
Many holistic development services take inspiration from educational theorists like David Kolb, Maria Montessori, and Rudolf Steiner. These approaches all emphasise the importance of learning through real-world experience.
For example, a holistic service might plan an excursion to a local firehouse rather than telling a story about what firefighters do. Your child could see and touch a fire truck, wear a firefighter hat and meet the firefighters themselves, totally immersing them in the learning experience.
Experience learning is hugely beneficial, promoting physical and cognitive development and helping children learn to:
- Grasp concepts better,
- Work on personal development,
- Understand how their learning applies to the real world,
- Solve challenges they may face,
- Connect with adults and other children,
- Realise their role in their community,
- Develop strong social skills,
- Build self-confidence and identity.
A child’s emotional development during their early years is just as, if not more important than cognitive aspects. Teaching a child to recognise and manage their emotions in the early years is the best way to set them up for a happy, healthy life.
Early childhood educators specialising in holistic education will continually check in with children to discover how they feel and think about an activity.
Encouraging children to reflect on their feelings about a task or subject builds self-regulation skills and helps educators accelerate child development and better understand how to serve their needs.