Holistic development, educationally speaking, addresses a variety of student growth areas that schools aim to advance in the educational lifetime of a student. These include not only the intellectual aspects of a child’s also growth, but development of the moral, spiritual, emotional, and physical arenas – all integral to the development of the ‘whole child’. Part of our collective human experience is to attach meaning and purpose to what we experience. Our minds and hearts work in concert with each other to enable us to think through decisions and have the ability to feel how decisions impact ourselves and others around us. Critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity are vital skills to develop in students as they grow to make decisions that affect not only their own lives, but impact our society. All of this together, make co-curricular activities vital in developing students holistically.
In pre-adolescence, a child’s brain is developmentally at its greatest capacity for learning, making this a crucial time for discovery, growth, and exploration. Conversely, during adolescence, the brain is also pruning synapses that aren’t cultivated or used regularly. It is an ideal time for brain development. Co-curricular activities from a young age offer a vast array of opportunities to grow and strengthen students holistically, providing a chance to cultivate and nurture their intellectual, social, physical, emotional, and even moral or spiritual selves. For example, playing sports after school builds teamwork, physical strength, a spirit of determination, and perseverance. Activities such as robotics, drawing, web design, foreign language learning, playing music, etc. bring out the creative, curious, and critical thinking sides of students.
It is well worth mentioning that balance is also a key component when working to build holistic growth in children. Parents often feel pressure to fill their child’s free time with as many activities as possible. Child psychologists actually suggest more of a balance at no more than 2-3 activities in any given semester or time period. One thing that can be overlooked in thinking about educational development is the vitality of free, imaginative play. Creativity and teamwork flourish during free, unstructured times with friends. It is vital that we keep room in their schedules to cultivate these times.
Many international schools in Bangkok emphasize on the emotional & spiritual components of a child. Developing how we feel about others, ourselves, and the world around us is integral to being ‘whole’ people who can lead fulfilled lives, impacting the world with purpose, meaning and goodness. A key piece of that is granting opportunities for positive relationships to be forged between students and teachers. Student learning increases when an encouraging rapport is built with a teacher because students want to feel listened to and valued as individuals, knowing the teacher cares for them and desires to do what is in their best interest. An emphasis on developing trusted relationships with students is at the heart of many successful teachers. Students respond with educational risk-taking and overall increased learning when a teacher provides a safe classroom learning environment through a trusted student-teacher relationship.
Nowadays, international schools offer a variety of after-school enrichment activities for students, and encourage them to participate in small teacher-student mentoring groups. Students join these small groups, including a trusted teacher and a handful of peers, and are encouraged to share their daily thoughts and experiences in a safe, comfortable environment. Such group activities build rapport and trust between teachers and students, and lead to greater holistic development in the children by providing an outlet for emotional support and social development.
About the Author
Stephen Ladas currently serves as the Assistant Headmaster at the International Community School (ICS) Bangkok. He came to ICS as a High School History teacher, serving two years in that role. After receiving his Master’s Degree in Educational Administration, he moved into secondary school administration for six years. After that, he had the privilege of moving into the role of Assistant Headmaster of the school. He is currently serving in his 12th year at ICS. His wife teaches Elementary Art, and he has three children who have been attending ICS for several years now. They are enjoying life in Bangkok and at ICS.