Peak Potential

Raising global citizens by educating the whole child

Aristotle knew it more than 2,000 years ago: educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. Unfortunately for generations of children, society forgot, leaving educators focused primarily on cognitive skills to the detriment of social–emotional ones. In the 1960s, however, “heart” returned and, as Ochanomizu University’s Prof­essor Emeritus Dr. Yoichi Sakakihara explained, “society, especially in the educational arena, and also the psychosocial and psychological arenas, now knows that social–emotional skills are more important [than previously understood].” Today, educators — and parents — work hard to develop both mind and heart or, in modern parlance, the whole child.

Formal education

Sakakihara, who is also the director of the non-profit, internet-based organization Child Research Net, believes educators — particularly early childhood educators — have been concentrating their efforts on refining methods to nurture children’s social–emotional skills.

How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years is one result of those efforts. A resource document to guide educators, it states: “children grow in programs where adults are caring and responsive. Children succeed in programs that focus on active learning through exploration, play, and inquiry. Children thrive in programs where they are valued as active participants and contributors.”

Rochelle Iino, co-owner and repre­­s­­­­en­­tative director of ABC Inter­national School Tokyo in Moto-azabu, shares this philosophy. The preschool and kinder­­garten, for children aged 12 months to six years, uses the document in addition to the Montessori Method, the Reggio Emilia approach and several other philosophies and methodologies, to inform its pedagogy.

“It reflects our beliefs about how children learn and how their learning should be supported,” she said of the resource. “[ABC International, staff and teachers] use their close relationship with each student, understanding of child dev­­­­elopment, knowledge of each student’s competencies and observations of each child’s demonstrated interests to create provocations or invitations to play,” she added.

Social–emotional development also informs the International Baccalaureate (IB), which includes a primary years, middle years and diploma program. With a mission to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect,” IB World Schools, like the Canadian Academy in Kobe, use a whole-child approach to help cultivate global citizens.

“Our students demonstrate empathy towards others, have a passion to change the world for the better, and show the initiative, passion, and creativity to make it happen,” said Rob Smailes, director of admissions and advancement at the Canadian Academy.

They’re able to do so thanks in large part to teaching methods that value soft skills such as critical thinking, in addition to rigorous academic training, mentorship groups, and the school’s Week Without Walls programme that seeks to encourage personal development as well as foster teamwork and respect for others.

To better prepare its students to be successful in a constantly changing, and increasingly connected world where critical thinking, flexibility and effective communication are paramount, British Columbia (B.C.) has, over the past few years, updated its curriculum. The province, which already scores at or near the top in a strong Canadian education system, made core competencies including social–emotional skills, literacy and numeracy central aspects of the redesign.

Students beyond B.C.’s borders who attend certified offshore schools, like the Bunka Suginami Canadian International School (BSCIS) in Minami-Asagaya, Tokyo, benefit from the revised curriculum.

“The teaching methodology is based on individualized learning, multiple intelligences, and brain-based learning,” Dan Miles, principal of BSCIS, explained.

“The content of our classes is focused on having our students confront some of the real issues and challenges in this world,” Miles explained of the double-diploma program in which students study both the B.C. and Japanese curriculums.

The choice

Not all learning and development occurs inside school walls: from life at home to after-school and weekend activities, helping children develop into healthy, social, global citizens is a fulltime job. Combining physical development and mindfulness, children’s yoga is gaining ground as a healthy mind–body option.

An April 2014 Frontiers in Psychiatry article cited studies which found that practising yoga can help improve academic performance and as emotional balance.

Geneva Hargreaves, a Canadian yoga instructor in Tokyo, has seen these benefits in children first-hand, from improved concentration and thinking skills, to regulation of emotions and improved behaviour. Edmonton, Alberta-based Akiko McLeod, director of programmes for Yoga Ed. — an educational company that strives to change education through the practice of yoga — hears similar stories in school feedback.

“Students are more focused, calm, have improved confidence and social skills,” she said.

Yoga Ed. brings yoga into classrooms via specially trained instructors, who will number 11 in Japan by the end of May. Programmes are adapted to meet a school’s needs, can be done in chairs, and take as little as three to five minutes — a “brain break” as Yoga Ed. calls the mini-sessions.

“Yoga is an incredible tool that children can carry wherever they go and use any­time they need,” said McLeod.

“The ability to understand your state of being and consciously use your body and breath to regulate your feelings and attitudes is one of the important life skills that yoga can teach us.”
– Akiko McLeod

In the quest to nurture the whole child, the role of music is also a powerful one. Often referred to as a universal language, music not only has the power to unite people from disparate cultures just by listening, but scientific research has shown that music education positively affects both cognitive and non-cognitive development
in children.

Music Together (MT), a music and movement programme for children aged zero to eight, brings small children and their parents or guardians together to make music with an MT-trained teacher. Classes involve instruments, rhythm sticks, and singing.

For teachers such as Jonathan Bojarzin, a Toronto-born multi-instrumentalist who’s been involved with MT since 2009, music and play go hand-in-hand. Bojarzin, who teaches classes at Azabu Music Together as well as in a preschool setting at Karugamo English School, is enthusiastic about getting kids, and their parents, to enjoy making music.

Just because a child isn’t actively part­icipating, it doesn’t mean that they’re not absorbing the music and its benefits. As Bojarzin said, “[such children] right now just [need] to take everything in and process the music. They are watching, they are listening.”

Anneliese Nakahara-Knight, a Scottish MT teacher at Azabu Music Together who also runs Alba Music Together in Kunitachi, sees benefits for parents and parent–child relationships as well.

“Seeing an initially shy and serious parent loosen up and get in touch with their silly side, and the joy on their child’s face when their mum or dad dances like a chicken … is truly heartwarming,” she said. “These experiences strengthen the bond between parent and child, and to do that while supporting their musical development is wonderful.”

Indeed, a playful mother or caregiver is just what the doctor ordered. According to Sakakihara, playfulness is paramount to healthy childhood development, be it through reading books, singing or — yes — dancing like a chicken. The message is clear: academics are important, but if our children are to grow into happy, healthy, successful adults — which is something every parent wishes for their child — the whole child needs to be sufficiently nurtured.

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