Cascade Heights Public Charter School

Whole Child Development - Why we do what we do

Child development should inspire lifelong learning across different spaces and communities.

Research suggests that “whole child development,” not routine or standardized classroom based learning, empowers children as creative and engaged citizens who can strengthen the wellbeing of a whole society. It is crucial, then, to nurture their creative abilities to express themselves, understand others, and navigate complex amounts of information so that they can confidently solve the problems of a world that’s changing faster than ever. The question is how to make such an approach both systemic and sustainable.

Whole Person

Socio-emotional, physical, creative, and cognitive capacities are deeply intertwined and equally important in ensuring a child’s wellbeing, learning, and growth. (That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone studying or supporting children’s learning.)

Nobel laureate James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, has shown that the non-cognitive skills emerging in early childhood are among the strongest predictors of adult outcomes. And Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, has continued to emphasize the crucial role that soft skills play in character formation and building on persistence, curiosity, and even grit – the “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” according to psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth (

The development of these qualities, which rely on an individual’s self-worth and self-control, critically outperform any other positive measures of children’s long-term outcomes, whether academically or intellectually.

The most impactful way of supporting such skills is associated with helping children feel in control of their learning process. This can be done by talking with children about the best approach to a particular task and having them describe the strategy they intend to test, for example, or asking the child to consider what could go wrong and how they might improve a task if completing it again.

Using relevant playful and experimental activities in the classroom require the teacher not only to encourage the learner to plan, monitor, and evaluate his or her own processes, but also to support the learner with tools like story-boarding, mind maps, and narrative structures.

Whole Communities

(High profile institutions) are grounding their pedagogy in approaches that integrate the resources of a strong, local community. They remind us that healthy human development is often achieved through a child’s interactions and experiences in a stimulating environment.

The schools that are most effective take children to museums and art galleries, use the local environment, including local parks, and invite members of local business, sports, or arts communities to play active roles in children’s experiences.

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© 2015 George Lucas Educational Foundation • All rights reserved.

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