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What are the 5 Aspects of Holistic Development in Childhood?

In order for children to develop into happy and functional adults, it is important that they are raised holistically.

Let’s take a look at what holistic development is, what the 5 aspects of holistic development in childcare are, as well as what you as a parent or teacher can focus on in order to develop these areas.

What is the Holistic Development of a Person?

Holistic development means to grow and develop the whole person, in order to achieve optimal functioning, happiness and independence.

It is about developing multiple areas individually and simultaneously. While this begins in early childhood, adults may also strive to achieve holistic health.

Child playing outdoors. Text reads "What are the 5 aspects of holistic development in childhood".

What are the 5 Aspects of Holistic Development?

The five aspects of holistic development are physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual development.

  • Physical – Developing the body and senses optimally.
  • Intellectual – Learning, developing mental processes, language and thinking.
  • Social – Integrating with others and communicating well.
  • Emotional – Healthy expression of feelings, building emotional intelligence.
  • Spiritual – Developing morals, values and personality traits.

Here’s a breakdown of each area, which explains the importance of holistic development.

What is Involved in Each of the 5 Aspects of Holistic Development?

The following skills make up the major areas of development. All are equally important as they often work together. Many activities require using a combination of skills in different areas. 

1. Physical Development

Physical development involves every aspect of a child’s physical growth and body functioning. Without developing the body and gaining control of movements, children cannot learn to write or perform any tasks.

Not only do children need to develop certain motor skills, but they also need to have their basic physical needs met, such as warmth, nutrition, physical affection, health, hygiene and a safe learning environment.

Sensory development is important during early childhood and all seven of the senses – sight, taste, touch, hearing, smelling, proprioception and vestibular – must be developed through play and exploration.

Motor skills can mainly be divided into gross and fine motor skills.

Gross motor skills include things like walking, running, climbing, balancing, throwing, catching, hopping and skipping.

Girl running in a garden.

Children also need to develop a concept of position in space, crossing the midline, left and right, hand dominance, bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination and other aspects of visual-motor perception.

It is also important for kids to develop strength in their bodies, good posture and core control. This helps them to sit at a desk for periods of time without tiring, and perform many other activities. 

Fine motor skills are necessary for learning to write and form letters and numbers. These skills include eating with utensils, cutting, tearing, drawing, writing, building puzzles, tying shoelaces, etc.

Good fine motor control can help children develop a good pencil grip (tripod grasp) when writing.

2. Intellectual Development

Intellectual, also called cognitive development, refers to how a child processes information, learns, develops language and picks up mental concepts.

We often see a child’s academic achievements as stemming only from their intellectual skills, however, that is only one piece of the complex puzzle.  

Developing critical thinking skills is a crucial part of this area of holistic development, as well as developing receptive and expressive language, learning to listen and developing a good attention span.

Children also learn mental concepts such as sequencing, matching, sorting, pairing, seriation and understanding cause and effect relationships.

All kinds of play activities in early childhood – such as block play, puzzles and music games – develop a child’s cognitive abilities.

In order for children to learn to read, write and understand mathematical concepts, they need years of learning through play.

3. Social Development

A child’s social development involves learning to communicate effectively with others and form mutually satisfying relationships and friendships.

This always starts at home and influences all relationships outside the home.

Social and emotional development are often studied together as they are linked in many ways, but are still two important aspects of growth.

Toddlers interacting while playing in sensory bins on the carpet.

There are many kinds of social skills including developing good manners, taking turns, sharing, showing kindness, negotiating, learning to lead and follow, expressing needs clearly and respectfully and cooperating.

An important aspect of healthy socializing is learning to listen to others and respecting their opinions.

Children must also learn that conflict is normal but that there are healthy and respectful ways to resolve it.

4. Emotional Development

In the early years, children pass through certain stages of emotional development.

Emotional development is extremely important but is often not given enough attention, or pushed aside in favour of developing physical or academic skills.

Children can only thrive in all other areas if they are supported emotionally. 

Studies on brain development and bonding and mental health show how crucial bonding and emotional attachment are in infancy.

There are several basic emotional needs that all children have, such as the need for affection, love, acceptance and approval. 

Teacher showing toddler a drawn happy face and sad face

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your emotions in a healthy way and can even affect children in their future careers.

One of the best ways to support a child’s emotional development is to provide a routine and create a learning environment that is safe to explore.

With guidance, children must develop things like independence, a feeling of responsibility, healthy self-esteem, feelings of competence, perseverance, and the ability to cope with disappointments and more.

5. Spiritual Development

This last category involves the child developing their own moral code, sense of right and wrong and values. It is also about children’s developing personalities and how they view themselves.

Children develop an understanding over time that they are responsible for their choices and the results of these choices. This helps them develop moral decision-making skills.

How a child interacts with his environment is also part of his spiritual development.

These 5 aspects of holistic development, while all independent areas of growth, are best developed using a holistic approach.

Children should always be studied as a whole as their developmental aspects affect each other. A child who is upset, for example, is unlikely to concentrate well on an academic task. Another child who has poor fine motor skills might struggle to do writing tasks in class.

Give children opportunities to play and explore their environment, and plan activities that develop multiple skills simultaneously. 

Always look at the full picture and give attention to your children’s physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual growth together.

Are you a preschool teacher or working in Early Childhood Education? Would you like to receive regular emails with useful tips and play-based activity ideas to try with your children? Sign up for the newsletter!

Need some activity ideas? Here are 33 holistic development examples and activities for kids.

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Monday 19th of June 2023

Hi can can I reference you for my assignment, your information really helped me alot.

Tanja Mcilroy

Tuesday 20th of June 2023

Hi Violet, Yes sure. If you'd like to reference any of my articles, please use the following format:

McIlroy, T. (2022) Title of article. Empowered Parents. Available at: insert URL.

Rajvinder Kaur

Tuesday 16th of August 2022

Can I share this website with the participants/ kids who come to my workshop.

Tanja Mcilroy

Tuesday 16th of August 2022

You're welcome to. Thanks for reading!

Florence Muchai

Sunday 7th of August 2022

A child must be holistically moulded to be whole and complete missing nothing for completeness.

Musibala Peter

Thursday 5th of May 2022

Very motivational information for the quality of learning and development. How can I be assisted to introduce this information to Education Authority in Uganda

Tanja Mcilroy

Friday 6th of May 2022

Thanks for your comment! Please pass along and share my website with anyone you feel may use it to assist children.

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