Educating the Whole Child

Our school year is beginning to wind down. Yay! So this is also the time when I begin to think about the coming school year. And while my homeschooled kids take standardized tests to help me assess their overall progress, I also take time to think of the big picture.

After all, a real education is much more than just academics. Indeed, a real education entails educating the whole child.  There are many great thinkers who ascribe to the idea that a real education is more than book learning:

  • Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he has learned in school. – Albert Einstein
  • Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • The primary goal in the education of children is to teach and give an example of a virtuous life. – St. John Chrysostem
  • A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all of its students to become saints. – Pope Benedict XVI

While that all sounds good and true, what does it actually mean to educate the whole person, and how do we go about doing that?

Sitting in a rocking chair and musing over this while waiting for Junior to get sleepy, I envisioned this little diagram (Thank you, Holy Spirit!):

Educating the whole person means cultivating the mind, ennobling the heart, strengthening the will, and nurturing the soul — and all of this ordered towards an ever deepening love for Christ.

Cultivating the Mind means exercising a child’s memory, feeding his/her imagination with good books, and helping the child develop his/her powers of reason. 

Ennobling the Heart means fostering a love for truth, beauty, and goodness.

Strengthening the Will means forming a child’s conscience and helping him grow in all the virtues.

Nurturing the Soul means helping your children grow in love for God through frequent reception of the sacraments, through an ever-deepening life of prayer, and through holy friendships — friendship with those who will draw them closer to God. Holy friendship is something we all should seek for ourselves and for our children, because saints rarely get to Heaven on their own. We all need the support, prayers, and encouragement of other devout souls to propel us on to greater holiness.

Educating the whole person can seem like  pretty formidable task. But the good news is that during the school-age years, much of this can be done within the family homeschool. (I say much and not all, because children do need positive influences outside of the home, especially as they get older)  Moreover, as you can see from the diagram, every facet of a person (mind, will, heart, and soul) touches every other facet. What affects the soul affects the mind, heart, and will. What affects the heart affects the mind, will, and soul. There is a lot of overlap. 

As you think back on this past year and plan for the coming school year, it would be helpful to  take this little diagram and consider the following questions: How have I cultivated my children’s minds, ennobled their hearts, strengthened their wills, and nurtured their souls? And how can I continue to do so through the summer and into the coming school year?

Over the years I have written on several of these topics. This is by no means comprehensive, but here’s some food for thought:

Cultivating the Mind:

Memory, Imagination, and How to Avoid Boredom

Helping Our Children Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Developing Critical Thinking Skills Through Literature

Ennobling the Heart:

The Three Magnets of God

Strengthening the Will:

Painting Kitchen Cabinets, Conscience, and Confession in the Rain

Raising Virtuous Children

The Core Virtues of Spiritual Athletes

Raising Virtuous Children: Four Things You Must Absolutely Do

Free Virtue of the Month Cards

Finishing the School Year Strong

Nurturing the Soul:

Seven Facts About Saints Your Kids Need to Know

The 7 Strands of a Great Religion Program

Beginning a New Homeschool Year: The Two Best Things You Can Do for Your Homeschool

St. Don Bosco’s Secret to Discipline

Praying the Rosary with Children

Stations of the Cross for Children

A Free Confession Prayer Book

May the Holy Spirit guide you as you map out the coming school year!

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