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Unsure about whether holistic education or the traditional approach is right for your child? This guide outlines the key differences between the two and how holistic education measures up when it comes to developing your child’s academic ability early.

The key difference is that holistic education nurtures the whole child.

In a holistic learning environment your child will develop more than academic skills. Emotional development, cognitive ability, social skills, and imagination are also taken into account. Holistic education inspires children’s natural curiosity and stimulates a love of learning that lasts a lifetime.

It might help to define the word ‘holistic’. The Cambridge Dictionary terms it as:

dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part.

In terms of education this means seeing all aspects of learning as interconnected topics that can be explained only by reference to a bigger picture. Holistic education is concerned with the joy of learning in itself, not simply as a means to pass tests.

The areas you’ll notice the biggest differences between holistic and traditional education are:

Let’s look at each area in more detail.

1.     Not your average classroom

Can you remember the classrooms of your early years?

It’s likely you sat at a desk facing the teacher and studiously copied facts from the blackboard. Times table drills and repeatedly writing the letters of the alphabet formed a large part of the school day because rote learning (memorising facts through repetition) was the norm.

Lessons focussed on results and you might have been sorted into groups based on your academic performance. Early on you probably felt that a competitive streak was necessary to succeed and that the teacher’s word was law.

A holistic classroom is different — it’s dynamic.

For a start, desks aren’t organised facing the teacher. In fact, for some subjects learners may not be in a classroom at all. The focus is on the subject, which the teacher encourages children to discover and explore.

In a traditional classroom, children are expected to sit quietly at their desks. They face the teacher and passively repeat what they’re taught.

In a holistic setting, the look of the classroom adapts to suit the children and the topic they’re learning that day. Group activities could take place on squishy bean bags on the floor. Or children might work as a team on a creative project at a large table. Fresh air is always on the curriculum and teachers will often take lessons outside to encourage physical activity and stimulate learners’ senses.

You might not hear a pin drop in a holistic classroom, but excited chatter fills the room as children play and learn together. It’s vital in early years development that classrooms support children to learn in a way that’s natural to them.

What if my child is easily overwhelmed?

One of the great things about holistic education is that it takes learners’ individual needs into account.

Classroom design can have a surprising effect on a learner’s concentration and motivation to learn. Neurodiverse children may also struggle with excessively noisy or visually stimulating classrooms.

While collaborative play is part of the day, holistic classrooms are also designed to maximise calm and focus. From colour scheme and carpets to the shape and texture of furniture or educational murals, classrooms are harmonious spaces designed to inspire and relax.

Teaching children how to regulate their own emotions is part of delivering a rounded education. With that in mind, our Edinburgh classroom has a Mindfulness Area where children can process tough emotions. Taking time to feel difficult emotions and talk about them with an empathetic teacher helps children feel seen. They’re able to process emotions instead of bottling it up, which leaves them feeling calmer and confident in their ability to overcome challenges.

2.   Lessons that foster life-long learning

Lessons look different in holistic education.

Instead of focussing on memorisation and passing tests, teachers take individual learners’ needs into account and tailor lessons to suit them. In this case, our learners are children. And what do kids love? To play!

Children possess bags of curiosity. Play-based learning stimulates their imaginations and ignites their natural curiosity to learn more.

Playing and exploring are also two key characteristics of effective learning. When children are given the space to take the lead, explore, and make mistakes without fear of ‘getting it wrong’, they start to take charge of their own learning and make discoveries by themselves.

Holistic learning is active, traditional learning is passive.

Active, dynamic lessons engage the learner’s brain. Collaboration, discovery, and play are essential aspects of holistic learning that mean children learn for life instead of temporarily memorising information to pass tests. Holistic learning links subjects together which makes it easier to learn new topics.

There are no worksheets or tests. Instead of putting pressure on children to perform, holistic teaching emphasises the joy of learning with play-based activities.

Examples of play-based learning are:

Can play-based learning support learning academic skills?

The short answer is, yes!

Research from Harvard University shows that play is essential for children’s development. Cognitive function, social skills, and emotional intelligence grow rapidly as a result of play.

Plus, play-based learning is an enormous support to developing academic skills. When children engage all five senses and have fun they understand and retain information better.

If your child feels deflated by their progress in traditional education, a holistic setting that takes the pressure off finding the ‘right’ answer might give them the motivation they need to catch up.

How can play help children learn academic skills?

Play is more developmentally appropriate for young children than sitting at a desk learning by rote.

A combination of games and physical activity enhance children’s understanding of abstract concepts like maths and help them retain information quicker. Even better, play can incorporate more than one subject at once, helping children to quickly build a ‘web of knowledge’.

Here are some examples of how play-based learning can be used to inspire curiosity about academic subjects:

Maths: Children learn mathematical concepts like counting, sorting, and pattern recognition by throwing a certain number of bean bags into a hoop, grouping coloured counters together, or singing rhymes like Three Blind Mice.

English: Instead of reading a story children might be encouraged to act out a scene. In addition to engaging their imagination, role playing a story can help them understand the plot and characters. Creating their own play based on the story they’re learning literally brings it to life.

Science: Going for a nature walk allows children to make hands-on discoveries. They can learn about concepts such as gravity by watching leaves fall from a tree, for example.

History: Making historical scenes from Lego gives children a creative way to articulate what they’ve learned about a subject. This is particularly beneficial for kinesthetic learners.

Play is a joyful activity and a central part of every human’s childhood. Introducing academic subjects in a fun way that aligns with the learner’s interests is crucial in developing a lifelong, positive relationship with learning.

3.   Kind and caring teachers

In traditional learning, children are prepared to pass exams. Focus is put on passing tests, outcomes, and getting the answer right.

When the sole focus is intellectual ability, children can quickly feel deflated by perceived ‘failures’.

A key difference that sets holistic education apart from traditional education is that teachers focus on the joy of learning rather than getting an answer right. Children are encouraged to explore their interests and self-confidence is built by teaching them that ‘mistakes’ are natural and part of the learning process.

Teachers get to know children as individuals, discovering their strengths, weaknesses, and hidden interests. They are sensitive to the needs of each learner and can tailor lessons accordingly. Empathy is a key: when a teacher takes time to understand a child as an individual they learn how to treat themselves and others with sensitivity and kindness.

Holistic education recognises that each learner is unique. If a child feels overwhelmed, they can take a break and work at their own pace. It’s an approach which recognises that traditional learning methods won’t suit everyone. From the moment a child sets foot in their classroom, the teacher’s focus is on building their confidence, nurturing their unique talents and skills, and fostering an enthusiasm for learning.

While a holistic teacher plans and oversees lessons, children are encouraged to take charge of their learning early on. It’s been shown that the more autonomy learners have over their studies the higher their concentration and motivation.

Praising effort over outcomes

Another key difference between holistic and traditional education is that teachers focus on effort instead of outcomes.

When you show that effort is equally important, children are less afraid of making mistakes. It’s also widely understood that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment. Consistent praise develops confident learners who engage more with their teacher and classmates.

That’s why we use Classroom Reward Systems. Praising a child’s efforts shows them that you’re paying attention. Praise feels good to everyone, but especially children who will feel joy and pride in their efforts.

As a child grows in confidence they will be more likely to ask for help or vocalise their opinion on a topic, too. In terms of academics, praise gives children the motivation to keep trying.

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4.   The holistic approach in a nutshell

In a nutshell, holistic learning is interested in how children learn. This means an approach that’s centred on creative play, learning by doing, and exploring.

It’s easy to say, “But where is the learning?” when you enter a holistic classroom and only see kids crafting scenes out of tissue paper.

Yet look a little deeper and you’ll find children who are nurtured to:

In short, holistic learning develops the ‘whole child’. Furthermore, the space and support they are given in their early years helps them grow into healthy, happy, successful adults.

Holistic Learning at Lydia’s Tuition

Children flourish when they feel seen and supported.

If your child is struggling at school they might benefit from a teacher who sees their unique contribution to the classroom. At LS Tuition we see every child as an individual and understand that all learners face different challenges — we’re also adept at spotting hidden talents.

We’ll meet your child exactly where they are in their learning journey with:

If your child comes home from school feeling deflated or worries about being left behind, we can help them see the ‘big picture’, boost their confidence, and fall in love with learning again.

The first step is as easy as booking a call.

Perhaps this article has sparked your curiosity? If so, read our blog to learn more about holistic education.

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