Outline the concept of holistic development

What does holistic development mean?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines holistic as:

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

So, in the same way that holistic medicine treats the whole body not just the injury or illness, holistic development is concerned with the development of the whole child. Holistic development is focussed on the physical, emotional and psychological development of a child rather than on them learning one specific skill or piece of information.

For information about how Forest School can support holistic development, you may be interested in our article Explain how holistic development is facilitated through Forest School.

How can I support holistic development?

Child development can be split into four broad areas: physical development, cognitive and language development, emotional and social development and moral and spiritual development. It’s important to recognise children as individuals and to support them to learn and develop at their own pace.

Physical Development

Physical development is the way in which a child gains control over their physical actions, in particular, muscle movement and coordination. Physical development will usually follow a sequence even though the age a child develops may vary.

Motor skills are the motions that are carried out when the brain, nervous system and muscles work together. Motor skills can be split into two categories, gross and fine.

Gross motor skills are the bigger movements, for example for walking, running and climbing.

Fine motor skills are small, precise movements, for example using cutlery, writing or tying up shoelaces.

Providing children with the opportunity to participate in a range of physical activities will support their physical development. Sports and games will help develop gross motor skills and activities such as drawing, crafts and playing musical instruments will support the development of fine motor skills.

Sensory Development

Physical development also includes sensory development. Everything that humans do involves using one or more of the senses. It is through the senses that children discover the world. Sensory development is the process of developing the five basic senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates a child’s senses.  Examples of sensory play include sand, rice and water play, finger painting and playdough. Including sensory play in sessions will support sensory development.

Cognitive and Language Development

Cognitive development is the development of the mind, the part of the brain responsible for processing information, memory, problem-solving and decision making.

Providing children with a stimulating environment and a range of toys, resources and activities will support their cognitive development. Asking children questions and offering choices will encourage children to think for themselves.

Language development is the development of skills needed to communicate. Language development is about more than just talking, it covers all the different ways a child may communicate including spoken words, written words and gestures.

Language development can be split into two categories, receptive and expressive.

Receptive refers to the ability of a child to understand the communication of other people.

Expressive refers to the ability fo a child to communicate their own thoughts and feelings to others.

Talking with and responding to children and reading books and telling stories are generally considered the best ways to develop a child’s language skills.

Emotional and Social Development

Emotional development is the development of the ability to recognise, express and manage feelings and the ability to have empathy for the feelings of others.

Social development is the gaining of the knowledge and skills needed to interact with other children and adults and to establish positive and rewarding relationships.

Positive self-esteem is critical to emotional and social development, look for opportunities to praise behaviours and actions. Show your feelings to encourage the development of empathy for others. Ask children how they are feeling and talk them about what has made them feel that way, validate their feelings.

Children learn through what they see and experience. Modelling appropriate social behaviour will give children a clear is of acceptable behaviour in different situations. Giving children regular opportunities to play and interact with children and adults of all ages is one of the best ways to support social development.

Moral and Spiritual Development

Moral development is the development of the ability to understand and differentiate between what is right and wrong and the understanding of consequences for their behaviours or actions.

Modelling appropriate behaviours and encouraging acts of kindness will help children develop moral guidelines. Help children to understand the reasons behind rules and discuss with them why one behaviour is preferable to another. Make sure your response to conflict situations is calm and at a level that the child can understand.

Spiritual development does not mean the development of a particular faith but refers to the development of reflective thought and concerns questions such as “what is the meaning and purpose of my life?” and “what is my future?”.

Support children to develop their own beliefs and opinions by exploring the beliefs and opinions of a range of other nationalities, religions and cultures. Provide opportunities that encourage children to think and talk about their experiences.

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