Education Insight: Developing the Whole Child
Schools That Teach More Than Facts and Figures
By H.M. Cauley
Without a doubt, academics form the core of any school’s mission,and they’re often the first thing parents analyze when selecting a new school for their child. But at many metro Atlanta schools, studies in such subjects as reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies are just the foundation of a well-rounded curriculum. At these schools, teachers aim to educate the “whole child” by focusing on the development of a student’s mind, body and spirit— teaching him how to interact with the outside world, and instilling the skills and confidence necessary to continue to grow and learn throughout his life.
Here are just a few of the different types of schools and philosophies that aim to educate the whole child, going beyond facts, figures and tests to help students grow into happy, healthy and responsible adults.
A Hands-On Approach
The concept of embracing a student’s whole development is key to Montessori education, focusing as much on students’ social, physical and emotional growth as on academics. Students learn at their own pace, through hands-on exploration, and also learn life skills like responsibility and respect for the environment.
At Arbor Montessori School in Decatur, more than 300 students, from toddlers to eighth-graders, are embraced as learners as well as developing personalities. “We look at each child holistically,” says Head of School Jan Deason. “That means from the time they’re little, teaching them social graces and social expectations. That starts from the largest subject areas down to interacting with others. We stress an appreciation for what others before us have done.”
The approach is the same at Johns Creek Montessori School of Georgia, which teaches students from 15 months to age 6. Even at such young ages, the Montessori philosophy plays a key role in helping students develop independence and self-discipline, which helps academics come more easily, says Director Denise Harold.
“We teach them to take care of themselves and their immediate surroundings,” Harold says. “They develop a sense of ‘I can do what I need to do when I need to do it,’ and that gives the brain more bandwidth. At the same time, being able to answer their own needs gives them more energy for learning.”
Research supports the theory that building an independent, confident person with the skills to learn translates into a student who does better academically as well as socially, she adds.
“Children have an amazing ability to concentrate and a curiosity and desire to learn,” she says. “Our job is to remove the obstacles from their paths. And when we do, the child fares better.”
While not a Montessori school, The Children’s School, an independent elementary school in Midtown Atlanta, also focuses on hands-on learning to help teach students valuable life skills. Rather than having students memorize facts out of a textbook, this experiential approach involves students working collaboratively on projects that provide lessons in multiple subjects at once.
In one such project, students researched and interviewed homeless veterans, and then designed and hand-crafted different multimedia pieces of art representing the idea of home. The project culminated with the entire fifth grade class visiting the Veterans Empowerment Organization, which works to provide housing and other services for homeless veterans, to present the veterans with the works of art the students had created.
The project helped teach students design, cooperation, and service to others, says Christy Robinson, director of extended day and summer learning for The Children’s School.
“What’s really important in terms of how we view the education of the whole child is a sense of play, passion and purpose,” Robinson says. “And those principles intersect in our different programs.” That approach helps students learn “many of the basic skills children need to grow into successful adults,” she adds.
Stressing Service to Others
Woodward Academy, with campuses in College Park and Johns Creek, seeks to serve the whole child with a well-rounded curriculum that balances rigorous academics with opportunities for its 2,700 students, from preschool through high school, to develop interests in the arts, athletics and community awareness.
“While we have a prescribed curriculum and a commitment to academics, we are also working to see that students develop their physical bodies and an understanding of themselves through character and faith,” says Woodward President F. Stuart Gulley. Toward that goal, Woodward requires its high school students to participate in community-service projects that develop their sense of social awareness. Students must perform 20 hours of service a year in order to graduate, and the school offers a variety of service options, including a chapter of the Boys & Girls Club of Atlanta located on campus. “We also work closely with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and a school in Zambia that is part of our international effort,” Gulley says.
“Everything Is Interconnected”
For the 1,160 students at Atlanta International School, serving others is just one facet of the school’s International Baccalaureate model, which strives to prepare students for life in an increasingly global world.
“Students have an opportunity to pick things that are most compelling to them and to develop not only themselves but service to others,” says Jessi Heneghan, an upper school counselor. “That’s very important for developing them as a full person, as well as connecting them to the local and international community. It’s so important that we devote time during the school day to do it.”
The school’s approach varies by grade level, from Pre-K through 12th grade.
“In the primary grades, each different area of learning has a personal development piece,” Henghan says. “That may be developing critical thinking that requires self-awareness and awareness of the community. But it’s not a separate lesson—it’s interwoven, so we consider how it plays into a math, geography or English lesson.”
This approach, Heneghan says, is a natural extension of how we grow and process information.
“It’s not just teaching math or science,” she says. “It’s also about creating a community and contributing to others. Everything is interconnected. Here, students can practice that and see what the real world is like. It’s a natural extension of who humans are. That’s really how we learn.”
For More Information
Arbor Montessori School
Atlanta International School
The Children’s School
Johns Creek Montessori School of Georgia