Whole Child Supports & Interventions - Digital Promise Research Map

Whole Child Supports & Interventions

How do children learn about themselves and form relationships with those around them?

Introduction

Children learn from social interactions and relationships. Their learning involves gradually internalizing and reproducing patterns, procedures, and beliefs they are exposed to at school, home, and in the community. [i] Learning involves communication, imitation, cooperation, and other forms of social engagement that require interacting with and understanding the perspectives of other people. [ii] Research has found that relationships with parents, teachers, and peers all play a role in the learning process. [iii] These individuals transmit knowledge to children, as well as ideas about the value of education and achievement. A whole child approach to learning is necessary to ensure that all children are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. [iv]

In early childhood, children begin to understand the social world around them and their relationship to others; at this time they develop their identity or self-concept, the abilities, attitudes, attributes, and values that they believe define them. [v] Research shows that children as young as six years of age understand belonging and can tell where they fit and where they don’t fit. [vi] They develop theory of mind, the understanding that other people are separate from them and have their own thoughts and feelings. [vii] This is an element of social cognition, the ways in which we understand people and social interactions, which form the foundation for empathy, relationships, and prosocial behavior. [viii]

The strength of children’s understanding of social concepts like theory of mind is connected to the broader development of their executive functions, the higher-order mental processes that allow them to consciously control their thoughts and actions. [ix] Research shows that the educational goals of social-emotional learning are more attainable when evidence-based approaches are used at school, home, and in the community. (See the Topic Page on Social-Emotional Learning to explore more about this concept.)

The sections below highlight key findings from the research on whole child supports and interventions, describe how environments can support learning, show the importance of relationships between students, caregivers, and teachers, and identify programs that support learning and health.

Key Findings

Environments that Support Learning

Safe and stimulating environments support brain development and enable learning.

Researchers have found that an emotionally safe and cognitively stimulating environment can support the physiological preconditions for brain development and enable learning. [x] In order to have this sort of environment, you need to have basic needs met. These include: sleep and rest; nutrition and low exposure to toxins; physical activity and access to green space; emotional well-being; social relationships; safety; and belonging. [xi]

For youth belonging to historically marginalized groups in the United States and many other countries, developing a sense of self in a context rife with racism and prejudice involves discrimination and impacts psychological health. [xii] Furthermore, growing up with poverty is associated with reduced cognitive achievement and higher socioeconomic status is associated with both better health and cognitive ability. [xiii]However, studies have shown that the negative effects of stress that influence a person’s underlying neural functioning, can be buffered through community and school programs. [xiv]

In addition to emotional and physical safety, an environment that encourages play is also essential to learning. The importance of play in a child’s development is well-documented. For example, play supports the development of intentional, self-regulatory behaviors, like rules children need to follow. [xv] It also allows children to be creative and experiment with identities and research shows that this experimentation results in children displaying levels of higher mental processes and performance beyond what is expected for their age. [xvi] Russian psychologist L.S. Vygotsky, a pioneer in developmental psychology, described play as not simply an indicator of childhood, but rather a crucial factor in development. [xvii]

Play has been shown to have an impact on children’s motivation toward learning because it allows them to develop the complex hierarchical systems of short-term and long-term goals where short-term goals can sometimes be foregone in order to reach long-term goals. [xviii] For example, when a child wants to build a tall Lego tower with a variety of Lego pieces, a short-term goal is to get their Legos to fit together; a long-term goal is to design and build a tall structure that stands on its own. Through play, a child learns that planning a tower ahead of time, and building a stable base first–foregoing their short-term goal of getting the tower built quickly–helps them reach their long-term goal of building a tall tower. The ability to have long-term goals is necessary for long-term learning. Environments that support play encourage children to explore and learn more fully.

How Relationships Affect Children and Learning Outcomes

Positive relationships between children and their caregivers are vital for motivation and engagement.

While it is important for learners to develop autonomy, interpersonal relationships are also fundamental to student motivation and self-efficacy—the belief in one’s ability to succeed in a situation or accomplish a task. [xix] Parents and caregivers are children’s first relationships; beliefs about the importance of schooling and learning are passed to children socially, starting with their caregivers. [xx] These close relationships also lay the foundation for what children believe about their own abilities and self-worth. Children’s feelings of connectedness and relatedness to their parents, as well as teachers and peers, have been shown to play a role in academic motivation and engagement. [xxi]

Engaging with children in play, conversations, imitation, exploration, practice, and other interactions can support brain development and help them learn about the world.

Children need predictable and calm interactions with responsive and loving caregivers. [xxii] They also need safe opportunities to explore and share what they notice. Engaging with children in play, conversations, imitation, exploration, practice, and other interactions can support brain development and help them learn about the world. [xxiii]For example, reading literary fiction with children has been found to improve their theory of mind; examining people’s interior lives can help them understand the perspectives of others. [xxiv]

One program that includes caregivers in its process with the goal of increasing academic readiness in children is called Parents and Children Making Connections—Highlighting Attention (PCMC-A). PCMC-A is unique in that it combines training sessions for caregivers with attention training exercises for children.[xxv] The parent component of PCMC-A was adapted from the Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT) curriculum, and consists of strategies that target family stress regulation, discipline, parental responsiveness and language use, and facilitation of child attention through the integration of child training exercises.

Teacher-student relationships have a significant impact on academic performance and social behavior.

Research shows that relationships with teachers impact students’ academic engagement, social interactions with peers and adults, and behavior, both in that particular teacher’s classroom and in other classes. [xxvi] Warm teacher-student relationships yield benefits, particularly for students with learning difficulties or disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, while conflicts with teachers generate negative outcomes such as academic underachievement. [xxvii] While many individual and interpersonal factors contribute to teacher-student relationships, certain strategies can help foster constructive interactions. For example, teachers can provide positive reinforcement through encouragement and recognition for desired behaviors, as opposed to negative or aggressive forms of discipline for undesired behaviors. [xxviii]

In addition, Search Institute has identified elements and actions that lead to positive relationships between adults and young people, including teachers and their students. Their framework emphasizes the importance of adults treating young people with care and respect, challenging them to persist and improve, and inspiring them to take on new ideas and see possibilities for their futures. [xxix] Research shows that teachers and school administrators can foster productive learning environment interventions by placing learners’ emotional and social experiences at the forefront. [xxx] Some interventions and frameworks that support the development of positive relationships and SEL are described in more detail in the next section.

Whole Child Interventions

Research identifies interventions and programs that support learning and health.

A whole child approach to learning and health includes the integration of SEL and requires a collaborative model where schools, communities, and families work together to support learning. School-based interventions are important because schools are one of the most efficient systems for providing services and programs to children and youth. [xxxi] Advisory systems are a type of intervention that provides students with regular and effective contact with educators in small-group settings that can help them build community and school connectedness. This sense of belonging has been shown to lead to higher grades, higher test scores, and lower dropout rates, regardless of students’ socioeconomic status. [xxxii]

Another intervention is looping, which allows for children to stay with the same classroom teacher for more than one year. Looping can promote a high level of trust, caring, and respect in the classroom because of the experiences shared over a longer period of time. Also, models of inquiry encourages children to take on scholarly roles and identities as they interact in tasks as scientists, mathematicians, writers, social scientists, artists, and others while learning disciplinary concepts, skills, and modes of inquiry. [xxxiii] This intervention helps teachers better understand students’ perspectives and support their learning through a collaborative experience.

It is important for teachers tailor these interventions for their students as they set the conditions for them to become successful learners.

Finally, tools of the mind is a curriculum that emphasizes social interactions through shared activities with peers and teachers. [xxxiv] This approach allows children to progress from play, to planning their play through drawing pictures, to reviewing and discussing their previous plans with others. As children learn more about writing they begin to represent their intentions using both drawing and writing. These interventions demonstrate creative ways to support the whole child as learners and the significance of collaboration. It is important for teachers tailor these interventions for their students as they set the conditions for them to become successful learners.

Two systemic approaches to bringing SEL to schools include RULER: recognize, understand, label, express, regulate and STAT: students taking action together. The RULER approach includes a set of guidelines, principles, and practices to guide how SEL is implemented as well as how people should conduct themselves in and out of school. This approach begins with staff personal and professional learning on SEL and continues with classroom instruction for students and family engagement. The STAT approach provides instructional strategies and tools to increase students’ perspective-taking, empathy, problem solving, communication, and civic engagement. [xxxv]

A math and literacy based curriculum designed to improve executive function is called Tools of the Mind and involves shared activities with peers and teachers. This curriculum emphasizes social interaction and has been found to decrease behavior problems and improve scores on executive function tasks. [xxxvi]

Other SEL programs that have been found to be effective include: 4Rs; Positive Action; Life Skills Training; Second Step; Responsive Classroom; Social and Emotional Training; and The Social Emotional Alliance for the United States. Research shows that interventions can impact academic performance and social behavior and integrating these approaches into the day-to-day life of students presents an opportunity to improve academic achievement and learning. [xxxvii] In order for SEL interventions to be most effective, practices must continue at home and beyond.

Explore Whole Child Supports & Interventions on the Visualization.


Citations

[i] Immordino-Yang, M. H., Darling-Hammond, L., Krone, C. (2018). The brain basis for integrated social, emotional, and academic development: How emotions and social relationships drive learning. Aspen Institute. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED596337
[ii] Tomasello, M., Kruger, A., and Ratner, H. “Cultural learning.” Behavioral and brain sciences 16.03 (1993): 495-511.
[iii] Castro, M., Expósito-Casas, E., López-Martín, E., Lizasoain, L., Navarro-Asencio, E., & Gaviria, J. L. (2015). Parental involvement on student academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 14: 33-46.; Roorda, D. L., Koomen, H. M., Spilt, J. L., & Oort, F. J. (2011). The influence of affective teacher–student relationships on students’ school engagement and achievement: A meta-analytic approach. Review of Educational Research, 81(4), 493-529. ; Urdan, T., & Schoenfelder, E. (2006). Classroom effects on student motivation: Goal structures, social relationships, and competence beliefs. Journal of School Psychology, 44(5): 331-349.; Rubin, K. H., Bukowski, W. M. and Parker, J. G. (2007). Peer Interactions, Relationships, and Groups. In Handbook of Child Psychology (eds W. Damon, R. M. Lerner and N. Eisenberg).
[iv] Lewallen, T. C., Hunt, H. , Potts‐Datema, W. , Zaza, S. and Giles, W. (2015), The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model: A New Approach for Improving Educational Attainment and Healthy Development for Students. Journal of School Health, 85: 729-739.
[v] Oswalt, A. (2017) Early Childhood Emotional and Social Development: Identity and Self-Esteem. Gulf Bend Center.
[vi] del Río, M. F., Strasser, K., Cvencek, D., Susperreguy, M. I., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2019). Chilean kindergarten children’s beliefs about mathematics: Family matters. Developmental Psychology, 55, 687–702.
[vii] Flavell, J. H. (2004). Theory-of-mind development: Retrospect and Prospect. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 50(3): 274-290.
[viii] Meltzoff, A. N. (2007). ‘Like me’: A foundation for social cognition. Developmental Science, 10(1): 126-134.
[ix] Hughes, C., & Ensor, R. (2007). Executive function and theory of mind: Predictive relations from ages 2 to 4. Developmental Psychology, 43(6): 1447-1459.
[x] Immordino-Yang, M. H., Darling-Hammond, L., Krone, C. (2018). The brain basis for integrated social, emotional, and academic development: How emotions and social relationships drive learning. Aspen Institute. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED596337
[xi] Gutiérrez, K. D. (2002) Studying cultural practices in urban learning communities. Hum. Dev. 45, 312–321.; Nasir, N. (2011). Racialized identities: Race and achievement among African American youth. Stanford University Press.; Yip, T. (2018). Ethnic/racial identity—a double-edged sword? Associations with discrimination and psychological outcomes. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 27, 170–175.

[xii] Yip, Tiffany. (2018). Ethnic/Racial Identity—A Double-Edged Sword? Associations With Discrimination and Psychological Outcomes. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 27. 096372141773934.

[xiii] Farah MJ. (2018). Socioeconomic status and the brain: prospects for neuroscience-informed policy. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Jun 4:1.; Farah, M.J., Shera, D.M., Savage, J.H., Betancourt, L., Giannetta, J.M., Brodsky, N.L., Malmud, E.K. & Hurt, H. (2006). Childhood poverty: Specific associations with neurocognitive development. Brain Research, 1110, 166-174.
[xiv] Immordino-Yang, M. H., Darling-Hammond, L., Krone, C. (2018). The brain basis for integrated social, emotional, and academic development: How emotions and social relationships drive learning. Aspen Institute. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED596337
[xv] Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2015). Vygotskian and Post-Vygotskian Views on Children’s Play. American Journal of Play, 7(3), 371–388. Retrieved from http://www.journalofplay.org/sites/www.journalofplay.org/files/pdf-articles/7-3-article-vygotskian-and-post-vygotskian-views.pdf
[xvi] Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[xvii] Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[xviii] Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2015). Vygotskian and Post-Vygotskian Views on Children’s Play. American Journal of Play, 7(3), 371–388. Retrieved from http://www.journalofplay.org/sites/www.journalofplay.org/files/pdf-articles/7-3-article-vygotskian-and-post-vygotskian-views.pdf
[xix] Martin AJ, Dowson M (2009). Interpersonal Relationships, Motivation, Engagement, and Achievement: Yields for Theory, Current Issues, and Educational Practice. Review of Educational Research, 79 (1). 327-365.
[xx] Fan, W., Williams, C., & Wolters,C. (2012). Parental Involvement in Predicting School Motivation: Similar and Differential Effects Across Ethnic Groups, Journal of Education Research.
[xxi] Furrer, C., and Skinner, E.. (2003). Sense of relatedness as a factor in children’s academic engagement and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology 95.1: 148.
[xxii] Immordino-Yang, M. H., Darling-Hammond, L., Krone, C. (2018). The brain basis for integrated social, emotional, and academic development: How emotions and social relationships drive learning. Aspen Institute. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED596337
[xxiii] Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2015). Vygotskian and Post-Vygotskian Views on Children’s Play. American Journal of Play, 7(3), 371–388. Retrieved from http://www.journalofplay.org/sites/www.journalofplay.org/files/pdf-articles/7-3-article-vygotskian-and-post-vygotskian-views.pdf; Immordino-Yang, M. H., Darling-Hammond, L., Krone, C. (2018). The brain basis for integrated social, emotional, and academic development: How emotions and social relationships drive learning. Aspen Institute. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED596337
[xxiv] Kidd, D. C., & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. Science, 342(6156): 377-380.
[xxv] Neville, H. J. et al. (2013). Family-based training program improves brain function, cognition, and behavior in lower socioeconomic status preschoolers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110, 12138–12143. https://www.pnas.org/content/110/29/12138
[xxvi] Roorda, D. L., Koomen, H. M., Spilt, J. L., & Oort, F. J. (2011). The influence of affective teacher–student relationships on students’ school engagement and achievement: A meta-analytic approach. Review of Educational Research, 81(4), 493-529.
[xxvii] Roorda, D. L., Koomen, H. M., Spilt, J. L., & Oort, F. J. (2011). The influence of affective teacher–student relationships on students’ school engagement and achievement: A meta-analytic approach. Review of Educational Research, 81(4), 493-529.
Spilt, J. L., Hughes, J. N., Wu, J. Y., & Kwok, O. M. (2012). Dynamics of teacher–student relationships: Stability and change across elementary school and the influence on children’s academic success. Child Development, 83(4), 1180-1195.
[xxviii] Jong, R., Mainhard, T., Tartwijk, J., Veldman, I., Verloop, N., & Wubbels, T. (2014). How pre‐service teachers’ personality traits, self‐efficacy, and discipline strategies contribute to the teacher–student relationship. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 84(2), 294-310.
[xxix] Search Institute. (2018). The Developmental Relationships Framework. Retrieved from https://www.search-institute.org/developmental-relationships/developmentalrelationships-framework/
[xxx] Search Institute. (2018). The Developmental Relationships Framework. Retrieved from https://www.search-institute.org/developmental-relationships/developmentalrelationships-framework/
[xxxi] Lewallen, T. C., Hunt, H. , Potts‐Datema, W. , Zaza, S. and Giles, W. (2015), The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model: A New Approach for Improving Educational Attainment and Healthy Development for Students. Journal of School Health, 85: 729-739. doi:10.1111/josh.12310
[xxxii] Shulkind, S. B., & Foote, J. (2009). Creating a culture of connectedness through middle school advisory programs. Middle School Journal, 41(1), 20-27.
[xxxiii] Darling-Hammond, L., Flook, L., Cook-Harvey, C., Barron, B., & Osher, D. (2019). Implications for educational practice of the science of learning and development. Applied Developmental Science, 1-44.
[xxxiv] Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2007). Tools of the Mind: A Vygotskian approach to early childhood education (2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill/Prentice Hall.; Barnett, W. S., Jung, K., Yarosz, D., Thomas, J., Hornbeck, A., Stechuk, R., & Burns, S. (2008). Educational effects of the Tools of the Mind curriculum: A randomized trial. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23, 299–313.; Diamond, A., Barnett, S., Thomas, J., & Munro, S. (2007). Preschool program improves cognitive control. Science, 318, 1387–1388.
[xxxv] Linsky, A. V., Hatchimonji, D. R., Kruzik, C. L., Kifer, S., Franza, N., McClain, K., … Elias, M. J. (2018). Students taking action together: Social action in urban middle schools. Middle School Journal, 49(4), 4–14.
[xxxvi] Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2007). Tools of the Mind: A Vygotskian approach to early childhood education (2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill/Prentice Hall.; Barnett, W. S., Jung, K., Yarosz, D., Thomas, J., Hornbeck, A., Stechuk, R., & Burns, S. (2008). Educational effects of the Tools of the Mind curriculum: A randomized trial. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23, 299–313.; Diamond, A., Barnett, S., Thomas, J., & Munro, S. (2007). Preschool program improves cognitive control. Science, 318, 1387–1388.
[xxxvii] Lewallen, T. C., Hunt, H. , Potts‐Datema, W. , Zaza, S. and Giles, W. (2015), The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model: A New Approach for Improving Educational Attainment and Healthy Development for Students. Journal of School Health, 85: 729-739.

 

 

 

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