Maren Schmidt: Educating the whole person |

Maren Schmidt: Educating the whole person

As we look toward new education, we see that our constant testing for facts and measuring academic skills has robbed children of rich and meaningful learning experiences.

For deep learning, we need to involve the whole person — mind, body, heart and spirit.

Human potential cannot be quantified. As we study history and explore human achievements — as well as our disgraces — we begin to see a limitless ability to experience and change our lives and world for better or worse.

As we guide our children, and nourish and protect their complete beings, we must model the self-discipline, vision, passion and conscience that form the core of true learning and self-discovery.

To determine if our children are following paths of optimum development, we must observe our children involved in self-chosen meaningful activities. As our children follow a path of authentic learning and self-awareness four attributes emerge:

• The child's love of being involved in purposeful activity.

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• The child's ability to concentrate profoundly on tasks, with children as young as 3 consistently focusing on self-selected activities for an hour or more, and older children concentrating upwards of three hours.

• The child's inner discipline to choose one behavior over another.

• The child's enjoyment of being around others seen in joyful work, mutual aid, and cooperation.

The main signs of healthy human development for all of our lives can perhaps be summed up in these four observable behaviors. We need to watch our children, while becoming self-aware of our own behavior.

In our new education, we must create special environments for our children to exercise their free will. Human beings self-construct by working with the materials — tools, people, ideas and nature — that are in our environments. The adult's job is to create conditions to assure the child's success in finding personally meaningful activities.

These special, adult-prepared environments should engage the whole child, as well as be attractive and purposeful to the adults working with the child.

For the body, this special environment should have physical and self-discipline challenges. For the mind, perception and mental puzzles. For the heart, passionate interaction with life, and for the spirit or social being, a struggle with matters of reason and free will.

In our new education, we must model the qualities that are at the center of self-discovery and deep learning. How can we expect our children to develop self-discipline if we lack it ourselves?

How can we expect our children to have a vision of a better world if we aren't looking and growing in a positive direction? How can we expect our children to be passionate about their lives if we don't embrace our own? How can we expect our children to develop a conscience of the spirit if we lack a commitment to reasoning, choice and action?

Our new education creates a situation that engages the whole person — child and adult, parent and teacher. This is not a particularly easy place to create, but it can be done with the intersection of vision, passion, self-discipline and conscience.

Kids Talk TM deals with childhood development issues. Maren Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has over twenty-five years experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is author of Building Cathedrals Not Walls: Essays for Parents and Teachers. Contact her at or visit Copyright 2010.

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