Holistic education engages the head, hands and heart of the child. It is a curriculum that makes connections – “community, earth, soul, subject and mind-and-body connections” – and it develops intuition and inquiry.
Building a community starts in the classroom and extends to local and global communities. Through our community-building program, students gain skills to create solutions to difficult social problems. It is our hope that students who graduate from our school will feel empowered to take social action and will work towards creating a more equitable and just world.
The classroom is the child’s first experience of community. The teachers at the Equinox Holistic Alternative School (EHAS) are committed to building a cohesive classroom community. To build community in the classroom, we have adopted a school-wide, community-building program that provides classroom routines and rituals, as well as a common language. Some of the elements of this program are weekly classroom meetings, language for conflict resolution, cooperative/collaborative learning activities, and classroom discussions on building respectful relationships.
The students learn about social justice through our Social Studies program. Our goal is to introduce the children to multiple perspectives and to nurture empathy around social issues in the classroom that extend to local and global communities. This program is largely taught through literature, and teachers provide learning activities, such as role-play or inquiry, to connect stories to children’s lives and experiences.
In the older grades, learning about social justice transforms into social action. In age-appropriate ways, teachers support peer mediation and leadership skills development. Students take leadership roles in the school community. Throughout the year, they work with primary school students to help build a collaborative and cohesive community. In grades 6 to 8, students learn about social action and justice in the local and global communities through project-based learning activities.
A deep sense of school community or sanctuary will be created throughout the school. In a sanctuary, teachers and students look forward to being at school, as they feel nourished by the environment, which is one of respect, caring and, occasionally, reverence.
Students awake to the natural processes of life by connecting to the earth. The curriculum teaches students not only about environmental problem solving, but more importantly, how we are fundamentally embedded in the earth’s natural processes. Our environmental program follows a similar format as our community-building program. In the early years, students develop a strong connection and relationship to the earth, and in the older grades, children learn how to take action. Again, the goal is to teach students how to feel empowered to take action and how to make sustainable choices about the environment.
A focus in the primary years is to develop a strong connection to the earth through our gardening and food growing programs in the school’s learning gardens.
Primary students go on guided nature walks in our ravines and parks and in local conservation areas, such as the Leslie Spit and the Humber River. On the hikes, students hear stories and learn names of native plants. The children observe life cycles of wildlife â€“ the migration of birds at the Leslie Spit or of salmon in the Humber River.
In the primary years, we aim to teach most of the Science curriculum outdoors. For example, the grade 1 Science unit on the needs and characteristics of livings things easily lends itself to being taught outdoors. In grade 3, when the children learn about soil, they draw from their experiences in gardening and food growing. Also, some of the Math curriculum will be taught outside. For example, students learn how to count when they plant seeds and learn about measurement when spacing the seeds.
From grades 3 to 6, students learn about our relationship to the earth and the natural resources we use in our lives.
Middle grade students may choose environmental action projects, depending on the year and class’ focus and interests. Throughout the grades, educators seek ways to support children in discovering what actions, even small ones, that they can take to improve the environment. A student may focus on sustainable modes of transportation and an action that the student can start might be to promote more sustainable transportation.
A holistic curriculum connects students with their inner lives which is defined here as a vital and mysterious energy that gives meaning and purpose to one’s life. Connections to students’ inner lives are nourished through storytelling. Stories that are told verbally (not read from a book) capture children’s imaginations. It is a sacred moment in the day when a teacher tells a story from his or her head, without prompts. Students fall silent as they wait to hear the next part of the story from the day before. Myths, legends, folktales, sage stories, fairytales, histories from around the world are told to the children throughout the grades to connect students to our diverse, cultural heritages and to old knowledge that has been passed down through every culture.
Some examples of classroom routines and rituals that connect students with their souls are: singing and recitation of poems; meditation and visualization practices; community talking circles, during which each student has an opportunity to share; and circle time, which includes singing, dancing and movement activities.
The school comes together to celebrate seasonal festivals and auspicious dates throughout the year. School-wide celebrations have ritual and ceremonial elements to them, creating connections, as a school and creating feelings that are usually associated with being in a sanctuary.
The curriculum emphasizes a natural connection between body and mind. Students are encouraged to explore the connections between their body and emotions, and to develop a sense of what their bodies have to say. A priority is placed on positive communication and mindfulness in all actions and being aware of what one is doing, while doing it. Mindfulness and a focus on breath encourage students to slow down and be present with one task at a time.
Techniques employed to stimulate the mind-body connection in the classroom include drama, creative movement, dance, performance, role-play, mindful movement, meditation and relaxation.
A connection is made between school subjects at EHAS, producing an integrated curriculum. This occurs on a number of levels, with a strong focus on transdiciplinary teaching, when several subjects are integrated, often around a broad theme.
For example, in the primary grades literacy could be integrated into a Math lesson block through stories, poems and math journals. In the upper grades, Math and Language Arts can be integrated into Science, Social Studies, Geography or History lesson blocks.
An inquiry-based approach is one of the ways that teachers develop support students in developing intuition. At Equinox, teachers provide activities that facilitate exploration in the playground, in nature and in the classroom. Students direct the exploration, making discoveries and predictions as the teacher encourages with open-ended questions. For example, a teacher tells students to observe where plants like to grow. Inquiry-based questions connected to this observation might be: “Where did you see ferns growing?” and “Why do ferns grow in those areas?” The teacher documents the students’ discussions and explorations.
Children may choose to document their explorations through drawings, writing, mixed-media art forms and music. The teacher provides students with recyclables, wire, clay, paint and other materials.
Outdoor Kindergarten Program – Learn more
Primary students develop a connection to living things and nature. Some examples include watching: a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly; winged migrations each year; salmon migration on the Humber River; and a plant growing. Nature stories help to form an image of the phenomenon that the students observe.
Teachers introduce Math concepts through stories and natural materials. They may also practice math skills through music, movement, games and hands-on activities.
Real-life math activities connect math skills to the children’s lives, such as opening a class store to learn about money. In grade 3, students may build a dwelling from environmentally sustainable materials. This project is the culmination of the math and science skills that students learned in earlier years.
Music, art, drama, and poetry enrich and enliven Language Arts lessons. Phonics and word-decoding skills are taught through imaginative stories. The school follows TDSB’s balanced literacy approach. Sage stories from diverse cultures help to educate students about social justice themes.
In the junior and intermediate years there is a growing independence and there is a gradual shift to more project-based learning activities. Students learn about fair trade, food justice, environmental and other social justice issues. In the junior and intermediate years, Social Studies, Environmental Science, Geography and History are often taught as integrated lesson units. For example, in grade 4, students may be introduced to Canadian geography through Indigenous art and storytelling about the land. Students learn about treaties and land rights and defenders, natural resources, the environment and sustainability. The grade 7 and 8 program is very much student-led. Students often learn how to take action in the community and for the environment through project-based learning activities. Projects can usually be in any subject area. Other highlights in the intermediate years can include performing plays, organizing community events, joining extracurricular clubs. In past, grade 8 students have organized and run school-wide coffee house events.