An Holistic Approach to Education

This is Part One of a series of posts discussing holistic homeschooling.

Holistic Education

Let me start by saying that this post feels a good deal heavier than what I normally write. I promise to return to my regular back to basics style next post. But quite a few people have expressed an interest in the approach to education we take in our home, especially as we have moved on from unschooling– at my son’s own instigation I should add. I felt that I couldn’t adequately explain our approach without a little background knowledge so please bear with me. I promise not to hold it against you if you skip this post and come back next week 😉

 

So here goes…


Traditional education- at least in the sense that it exists in the modern Western world- is focused on academics. What can we learn? How can we test it?  Someone, somewhere sat down and decided that one particular body of information was so vitally important that it was to be institutionally imparted to each person. Occasionally another someone shakes it up a little but the gist remains the same. This is regardless of the individual’s unique personality, interests, goals, background,  community and values.

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We each have our own unique view of the world and our place within it

And a lot of this information really is important and useful. I don’t know about you,  but I do find a use for reading, writing, algebra, geometry and so on in most days. If not most days, at least most weeks. So a focus on the 3Rs is important.

But it is not the only learning of value. What about the 3Hs – head, heart and hands? This is where holistic education differs from traditional education. As Satish Kumar points out in this video, we are not just a vessel for our minds. We are also our emotions, our actions and perhaps most importantly,  we are our relationships.

We are the relationship between our mind, our emotions, our body, and our spirit. That fundamental ‘thing’ that makes us ourselves, whether we attach a religious meaning to it or not. We are the relationship between ourselves and our families, our homes and our communities. We exist as the relationship between ourselves and our food, our clothes, our pets, our world.

Holistic education seeks to develop each aspect of the child, as well as their relationships with the world around them. It isn’t enough to teach them the biology of how a plant grows. They need to experience it and learn with their hands and their hearts as well.

Along with recognising the relationship between people and the environment, we also need to recognise the relationships between subjects. Maths doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is intrinsically linked to science for example. It is a part of our everyday lives. The same holds true for the other subjects, so it doesn’t make sense to treat them as stand alone entities. Bringing learning to our children should take a transdisciplinary approach. Forget half an hour of English followed by an hour of maths drill and problems. This reductionist approach removes meaning from learning and learning becomes a chore rather than a joy.

This isn’t some wishy-washy hippy approach to education, although given what I just wrote you could be forgiven for at first thinking that 😉 Instead , holistic education is a realisation that we aren’t just educating our children to pass a test.

We are educating our children to be their best selves. We want them to enter adulthood with an understanding of themselves and their relationship to the world around them. We want them to be confident in their interactions, mindful of their impact, passionate for their future. We want children who are well-rounded individuals capable of great compassion and thoughtful influence. We want them to be not only capable of making a living, but of really living. We want our children to be able to take care of themselves and of others. We want more for them than just proficiency in the 3Rs.

Holistic education, with its focus on the WHOLE CHILD, provides such an education. This education may take the form of Montessori Education, Waldorf Method or Reggio Emilia Approach. Perhaps it’s enquiry-based learning or project-based learning  It may be a combination of approaches, or look entirely different. Especially in the homeschool there is a lot of room for individuality in this approach.

Regardless of the method it is implemented by, holistic education is always “a philosophy of education based on the premise that each person find identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace.  Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning.”  (Ron Miller). In a nutshell,  we are talking about a whole child, systems approach compared to the reductionist, compartmentalist vision of the world we are usually exposed to.

This is a big topic and I’ve only scratched the surface here. For more info, I suggest reading these pages and definitely check out the video I linked to above.
An intro to the theory
What is holistic education
Methods for implementing holistic education

In Part Two of this series, I will give you a look into the practical side of holistic education, and show you how it is evolving in our home.

Happy Homeschooling x

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11 thoughts on “An Holistic Approach to Education

  1. Thanks for sharing. I definite agree about the importance of learning with context, association, and perspective. You are right about the traditional system falling short because it teaches concepts in a vacuum. While I’m not necessarily considering a non traditional education for my children, this post inspires me to remember the importance of filling in those blanks and working on making connections at home so their education is well rounded.

  2. Oh this is a wonderful post, so well written and informative. I am very much looking forward to how you are implementing this. It seems exactly where we were a wile ago but for many reasons have lost. I am waiting eagerly for your next post in the series.

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