Passionate about supporting children’s wellbeing through holistic education classes that nurture the ‘whole’ child, Jess Tomkins prepares kids for their school (and life) journey by equipping them with a resilience toolbox. Here we speak to the Noosa-based educator about the benefits of holistic tuition, the importance of social & emotional learning, and the power of connection.

Writer: Rebecca Walker, The Conscious Wordsmith

You are a qualified primary school and early childhood teacher. What made you shift from the traditional school system to small group classes?

My passion lies in working with the kindergarten age group, where their creativity and thinking skills are really coming to life. There can be a lot of pressure on children starting school, not just academically but physically, socially and emotionally, and I feel that it is important to prepare children to cope with that. Children are not able to learn when they are in a stress response, so having tools to draw on when they are overwhelmed is important not only for learning outcomes at school but also for children’s wellbeing. With Peaceful Hearts Learning I wanted to create an environment in which children could practise tools and skills in a small and supported group setting, before having to use them alone, or in a larger group.

You have also trained with the ‘Circle of Security’ program. Can you explain this technique and its potential benefits for mamas who have never heard of it?

I became aware of Circle of Security parenting when my firstborn was a baby and have worked on applying what I learnt in the program, to my parenting over the last 13 years. More recently I completed training to use a classroom approach with the children that I work with. The approach is based on research in attachment and developmental psychology, and recognises that secure attachment relationships play a foundational role in social competence and regulation of the body’s stress response systems. The framework helps parents and educators to understand children’s emotional worlds, while learning about their own emotional triggers, and responding in ways that promote secure attachments and subsequently positive learning outcomes.

What does the term ‘holistic education’ mean to you?

For me, using a holistic approach is about meeting each child where they are at, across all areas of their development and supporting growth from there, in order to build their overall confidence, and wellbeing. Skills aren’t learnt in isolation, children learn through the full spectrum of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional and personal journeys. With a focus on the ‘whole’ child, holistic learning considers just how interconnected each area of child development is. This forms the basis of the programs at Peaceful Hearts Learning.

Your workshops revolve around school readiness and wellbeing. What does that entail?

The holistic school readiness program is about supporting children’s wellbeing (physical, cognitive, emotional, social and personal), and building positive learning dispositions such as confidence, resilience, a growth mindset and creative thinking, that will support them as they transition into school. Sessions include a mix of stories, music, restorative yoga, guided meditation, body scanning, mindfulness, nature play, creative art and other fun and engaging activities that support:

  • Creative expression with multimedia and a focus on process over product
  • Fine and gross motor skill and core strength building
  • Early literacy and numeracy
  • Social and emotional learning
  • Interoceptive awareness
Why do you think social + emotional learning is so important for children’s development?

Social and emotional learning involves developing self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal skills and responsible decision making.  This doesn’t happen overnight, and it is never a straight road, but it is especially important to support children with this part of their development in the early years, while their brains are growing more rapidly than at any other time in life. In the early years children’s brains are literally building the structure that will support their later development, and research shows that social and emotional learning during this period of time grows the foundations not only for academic success but also for children’s future wellbeing.

Why are you passionate about connecting children with holistic teachings, tools & resources?

There can be a misconception that school readiness is about measurable skills such as reciting numbers and writing the alphabet, but I believe it needs to be more holistic than that. There are so many prerequisite areas of development that need to happen before a child can be effective at reading and writing, and not all children are at the same developmental level at the same time. Teaching holistically allows children to build confidence in themselves as learners regardless of where they are at developmentally, and to build dispositions for learning and ways of thinking that will support them throughout their whole lives. 

Do you have any favourite holistic parenting books or online resources you can recommend?

I would definitely recommend ‘The Yes Brain Child’ by Dr Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson for parents wanting to facilitate open and receptive mindsets in their children.

‘Balanced and Barefoot’ by Angela Hanscom is another great book that gives a great overview of how interconnected child development is, and the benefits of sensory integration through unstructured playtime, to children’s learning and development.

What are the most important values you try to communicate and instil in your students?

The power of connection – connection to self, connection to others, and connection to the world around them.

What is your favourite thing about being a teacher?

I love connecting with children in their creative worlds, learning about their thought processes, and observing them immersed deeply in their imaginative play. I am continually amazed at what children are capable of when they are able to express their inner worlds. I also really love the creative aspect of being a teacher - thinking outside the box when things don’t go to plan, and coming up with different ways of doing things.

What is your ultimate mission at Peaceful Hearts Learning?

My aim is to support children’s holistic development and to help them to build tools that will support their wellbeing, not just as they journey into school, but as they journey through life.

For more information about Jess’s class, visit her website http://peacefulheartslearning.com.au/