Designing Holistic Learning Experiences

“When inspiring the minds of youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.” – Dalai Lama



How do we teach to the whole person?

There has been a lot of buzz about holistic learning and multiple intelligences in recent years but not enough real change in our educational systems. Many students cannot fit into convenient intellectual boxes and this pressure to conform can cause depression, anxiety, and despair while still leaving young people unprepared to meet the world’s need for creative, unique leaders and problem-solvers. If we want kids to be successful, healthy, and happy, we must engage all parts of their beings. We use a model called “The Big Four” to plan and unpack our holistic learning experiences.   We are all:

  • Intellectual We need to develop our knowledge and cognitive capacity. This includes activities like researching, gathering data, learning facts, debating, processing, and thinking critically. Developing the intellectual empowers us to research and dig into topics that we care about. As teachers, we can engage the intellect and learn alongside our students to develop trust and camaraderie. Students love it when they can see that we are excited about learning with them.
  • Kinaesthetic We need to use our bodies through movement and through tactile experiences with materials. This includes activities like moving, dancing, climbing, acting, interpreting with one’s body, planting and harvesting food, building, making, and cooking.  Education for sustainability is hands on. We must explore. Neuroscience has proven that moving our bodies can help us to retain information. Learning by doing develops a deeper understanding of the world around us.
  • Social and Emotional We need to develop our ways of expressing, the management of our emotions, and our relationships with others. Dancing, storytelling, sharing feelings, drama, poetry, music, collaborating, decision-making, and problem-solving are all social-emotional activities.  As teachers, we are always helping our students to navigate through the rewards and complexities of their relationships and feelings as well as our own.
  • Intrapersonal We must connect with what exists spiritually within ourselves and understand how we relate to the world around us.  Intrapersonal means “between me and myself.” It includes activities like mindfulness, caring for and connecting with nature, journaling, reflection, meditation, self-care, and self-awareness. It helps us to feel connected to life beyond ourselves.

One way to ensure that learning experiences are holistic is to do a brainstorm for each of these elements of learning when planning for a unit or a theme.  Make sure you are designing programming that hits all four quadrants at some point.  We can also use The Big Four with our students to empower them to create holistic experiences within the framework of the lessons.  Here is PDF template of the BIG FOUR and some ways to use The Big Four with students. Click on the image for a downloadable PDF version:

  • Create a weekly or cyclical goal-setting practice with your students asking them to write a goal in each quadrant of the template.
  • When completing a thematic or a unit of study, have students work in small groups to create a presentation to show what they know. Give them the template and instruct them to make sure their presentation includes something in each of these quadrants.
  • Use the template in morning meeting to ask the class to help generate ideas about activities to engage in throughout the day to ensure that everyone is having a holistic experience.

There are many models for holistic development.   Do you prefer The Big Four or one of these alternative approaches?




Please share more frameworks for holistic development in the discussion board below or any resources for those interested in a holistic approach.

This content was adapted from our online teacher training programs. If this subject matter interests you, we have more resources to dig deeper.  Go to to get our free Educator Pack and find out when our next cohort begins for our transformative online course in Educating for Sustainability.  Work with a group of Educators from around the world and two Green School mentors to ground your teaching practice in sustainability and creating a world that works for all.

If you can make it out to Bali, join one of our incredible Green Educator Courses at the Green School campus.  This is a life-changing experience and inspirational professional development for anyone wishing to dig deep into EFS.

Don’t forget to connect to our facebook group and join our lively conversation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s