How can you promote a holistic education

Out: WWD 2001, Issue 75, pp. 12-13 (this article was updated in 2010)

Why is holistic learning important?

Charmaine Liebertz

How old is the demand for holistic learning?

In any case, it is not new. Very early on, educators, philosophers and psychologists recognized that holistic learning and diverse sensory experiences are important for child development:

  • As one of the first educators, Johann Amos Comenius (1592-1670) pointed out that knowledge is based on sensory perception.
  • The philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) proclaimed: "Nothing is in the mind that was not previously in the senses". However, he still proceeded from a division of the human being into sensual and spiritual powers.
  • In his famous educational novel "Emile", the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) dedicated a chapter to "Exercising the organs and senses" (Rousseau 1975).
  • And we owe the much-quoted saying "learning with head, heart and hand" to the pedagogue Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827).

These early theoretical approaches understood sensory training as tough training in which individual sensory organs were to be sharpened. The realization that the targeted use of all senses can improve our thinking and learning performance was still lacking. The Italian doctor Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was the first to assume that the child follows a biological blueprint in its development, which should be supported pedagogically (cf. Heiland 1996). According to her motto "Help me to do it alone", she developed learning aids that activate the senses, which are known to all educators today as Montessori material.

This little historical digression showed us that holistic learning is not an invention of the new pedagogy. "Learning with all the senses" is a demand that has been rediscovered. Today, however, we can underpin it with findings from brain, intelligence and learning research. The assumption at the time that the head, heart and hand could form a learning unit is now a scientifically based certainty.

How does our brain work?

You, dear readers, know from your own experience that thinking, experiencing and feeling do not take place separately from one another - in "separatees", so to speak. Rather, knowledge, feelings, abilities and skills work together in a network. No artificial brain can do this! Even when the IBM chess computer "Deep Blue" brought the world chess champion Garry Kasparov to his knees on May 11, 1997, it was still a long way from a victory over the human brain. Because mainframes work narrow-minded compared to our brain, which weighs only 1,500 grams. With its help, we can do more than just play chess: We analyze stock market prices, feel happy moments when looking at a painting, bring childhood memories to life with small melodies, understand complex sentence constructions, write poems, compose pieces of music, choose the right one from countless dishes on a menu card us out, pulling a thread through a tiny eye of a needle and at the same time dreaming of the future! And this ingenious "control center of the brain" controls every second of our conscious thinking, feeling and acting.

But how does our understanding of the world develop in this, i.e. how does the reception and transmission of the diverse information work? First of all, we need "information superhighways" that absorb the stimuli of our outside world. This work is done by our sensory organs such as eyes, ears, skin, nose and tongue. A "telephone network" made up of nerve cells (neurons) now provides electrical impulses for transmission to the brain. A gigantic network is available here:

  • Our brain has around 100 billion neurons. Coupled with one another, they would have a length of 500,000 km and reach 12 times around the world!
  • Around ten million pieces of information enter our brains every second, around 100 billion over the course of an average long life!
  • But don't worry: we only become aware of around 20 pieces of information every second. The rest either ricochets off or ends up in the subconscious!
  • Each individual nerve cell can connect to at least 100,000 to 200,000 neighboring nerve cells via synapses.
  • Well over 1 billion synapses establish communication between the individual nerve cells. They regulate the flow of information in the brain.
  • The transmission of your impulses is breathtakingly fast. Neurophysiologists determined values ​​up to 135 meters per second, that is almost 500 kilometers per hour!

With the help of chemical messengers - so-called neurotransmitters - the electrical impulses are transmitted from one nerve cell to the next. Each nerve cell has a transmitter and a large number of receivers with which it can receive information from other nerve cells.

By the way, chemical substances not only play an important role in the transmission of information. Even when we store acquired knowledge in long-term memory, chemistry has a hand in it. Proteins serve as so-called memory molecules to store information over the long term. Since the body's own production of proteins decreases with increasing age, it is understandable that older people often find it very difficult to keep current information in mind for a long time.

What do we learn from it?

Anyone who still thinks that learning just means learning to think has not learned anything! The new brain and intelligence research teaches us that our brain is not only the center of thinking, but also of all human control processes! Whether we feel love or drive a car, every time a communication firework takes place in our brain between millions of neurons and multiple intelligences, between sensory organs, the musculoskeletal system and feelings. A fascinating learning process that starts prenatally and lasts for a lifetime! And the more neural circuits we activate in the child's brain, the more intensively we promote networked learning and thinking.

We learn optimally and effectively when as many senses as possible and both halves of the brain enter into a successful symbiosis! The functions of the two halves of the brain network between the ages of six and nine months. From now on, we will permanently save such information that has been worked out with both hemispheres of the brain. For example, despite constant admonitions, a toddler will still run out onto the streets. Not when they have heard of the danger, but only when they have experienced and felt it, will they have grasped it in a brain-friendly manner and change their behavior. And this doesn't just apply to toddlers!

The holistic working brain deserves holistic learning!

In our brain there is a fantastic exchange between the right and left hemispheres, between sensory impressions and feelings, between electrical impulses and chemical messengers, between stored and new information and between many areas of intelligence. This holistic working brain deserves holistic learning! Because exclusively left-sided, i.e. half-brained learning is an insult to every intelligent being!

But not only the new findings from brain and learning research, but also the increasing behavioral problems (movement, perception and concentration disorders) require a rethink when learning. And a rethinking that the child respects in his entirety again. After all, as a toddler it comes to kindergarten and school full of curiosity. It neither hangs its feelings on the coat hook with its anorak nor waits with an empty head to be filled with knowledge. Some people would like to just send their heads to school, but please remember: the whole child always comes!

More than ever, our children need the challenge of thinking, feeling, experiencing and acting on their own. Because the artificial images from the media are increasingly displacing the concrete, "real" encounter between child and world. Our children need diverse, personal experiences, because the grasping that precedes all grasping can neither be replaced by the media nor by the computer.

Our children need learning processes that start with experiencing, discovering and exploring. You need learning processes that effectively link movement, sensory perception and knowledge. Our children not only have language and math skills; they can do more than just speak, arithmetic and read. And the research results give courage to go new ways of learning: to understand learning as a holistic maturation process of mind, body and psyche, as a constantly developing interplay of sensory perceptions, mental performance, movement sequences and emotions.

Pestalozzi rightly spoke of learning with head, heart and hand. I supplement his list with another important finding from gelotology (laughter research) and call for learning with head, heart, hand and humor! Laughter research can prove today: Laughter is an inseparable part of learning. Humor promotes the memory and the ingenuity of the children, who connect the cheerful experience with the subject matter and remember both in a lasting way. In contrast, it is much more difficult for children to remember the material they have heard and seen without having fun. In addition, humor strengthens the children's personal development. Humor is an ideal learning partner; Laughing and learning make a dream couple!

Promote a holistic way of working at home and in educational institutions. Set up reading corners, math labs, writing and printing corners; create school gardens in which city children in particular learn again to sow, care for and harvest. Advocate an attachment pedagogy that values ​​the foundation of learning - the attachment, the formation of the heart. Because brain research teaches us that our brain is primarily a social brain and less a cognitive machine. So we shouldn't underjudge but onjudge!

Keep asking yourself whether you can do justice to the mental, psychological and physical diversity of your children in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. Check when and how you promote the different areas of intelligence, networked and holistic learning! These ten key messages about holistic learning will help you:

  1. The child is a born learner.
  2. The child learns in a networked way with head, heart, hand and humor.
  3. The child learns playfully and with joy.
  4. Man learns for a lifetime.
  5. Learning is more than just accumulating knowledge. Thinking and feeling form a unit.
  6. Learning is an individual, self-determined and sustainable process.
  7. Learning and education are always and everywhere one.
  8. Learning thrives in a respectful and loving climate.
  9. Learning involves making mistakes.
  10. Learning is cross-institutional and needs strong partners.


Heiland, H .: Maria Montessori. Hamburg 1996

Rousseau, J.-J .: Emile or On Education. Paderborn 1975

Further reading by the author

  • The treasure trove of holistic learning. Basics, methods and games for a future-oriented education. Ed. Society for holistic learning e.V. Munich: Don Bosco / Spectra Verlag, 8th revision. 2009 edition
  • Holistic learning games. Ed. Society for holistic learning e.V. Munich: Don Bosco / Spectra Verlag, 4th edition 2008
  • The treasure book of heart education. Basics, methods and games for emotional intelligence. Ed. Society for holistic learning e.V. Munich: Don Bosco Verlag, 5th edition 2010
  • The treasure book of laughter. Basics, methods and games for an education with heart and humor. Edited by the Society for Holistic Learning, Munich: Don Bosco Verlag 2009


Dr. Charmaine Liebertz, born in Cologne in 1954, teacher for secondary level I; worked 10 years as a research assistant at the University of Cologne in the field of curative education; she worked for three years as an editorial assistant at Deutsche Welle, editorship education and culture. She has headed the Society for Holistic Learning in Cologne since 1996 and holds seminars for educators, teachers and parents across Europe. She is the author of numerous educational books.

Contact: Tel .: 0049 - (0) 221/9233103, Homepage:, Email: [email protected]