My inspiration for writing this blog derived from reading a debate
called "Cognitive/Academic Emphasis versus Whole Child Approach" in the book The Pre- K Debates. The above pictures are a great depiction on my view of this issue. When educators began to focus on only one developmental domain children become "overloaded" with that specific domain. View image 1, on the upper left side. In those settings, where one domain is the focus what happens to the other domains? If children are being pushed to work on literacy skills all day but they aren't working on social interactions, problem solving, or gaining interest in making learning their own, what happens to those skills? Does our society then think after a few years we will focus on another skill? To any educator this practice is completely inadequate. Yet, since the 1900's the educational systems in the United States have gone back and forth between the sole, cognitive/academic approach and the whole child approach when educating individuals.
So why is this debate still ongoing?! Go ahead, look at the upper, right hand side image. First, you'll notice more than one child. So as a basic start the "whole child approach" supports social interaction. Then look at the children, they are smiling, they aren't throwing their hands up in the air with sheer frustration, no they are engaged in the learning level appropriate to each individual child. In focusing in on the children further, you'll notice different genders, ethnicity, ages, and potentially, different socioeconomic family backgrounds. This is looking at the WHOLE child. Now, look at the words surrounding the children (I won't type them all out just the key words I am drawn to!) "Love of learning" "problem solving" "scientific reasoning" "language skills" "physical" "mathematical understanding" "empathy" "cooperation" and finally "cognition". I really could have typed each word/phrase because all of those statements (and more) are what children gain through whole child approach educational settings. It's interesting to think that academic emphasis programs have just one, narrow focus. Almost indicating children are only capable of just that "one thing at a time." However, we know that's wrong! Let's go back in time to remind ourselves, what education should be.
Major theorists from the past, Piaget and Vygotsky (who have greatly influenced my educational philosophy) both believed in the "non cognitive influences on cognitive development", aka PLAY! Piaget believed play to be the "vessel" of learning through a multitude of opportunities to interact and explore with various materials and construct his/her knowledge about the world! Vygotsky, claimed "play serves as the primary context for cognitive development: in play, the child interacts with others and can learn from them." Piaget and Vygotsky's approach would look quite different from a "drill and kill" classroom where the teacher lectures and children try obtain information on just one set academic skill. Actually, their belief was almost the exact opposite (as it should be!).
Going into a bit of my philosophy and passion for the whole child approach... I am very fortunate to work in a preschool program that has based its curriculum, assessments, environment, family connections, and philosophy on the WHOLE CHILD. Day to day the focus is on ever developmental domain, not just one. Day to day, children learn through hands on projects that are of interest to each specific child. Day to day children learn through one another and gain learning in cognitive, literacy, math, scientific, social, physical, art skills, etc., while PLAYING! Without teaching to every part of a child we are limiting their ability to grow, as educators we must be "gardeners" there to support, model, extend, and "water" each child's abilities, interests, and skills.