Whole Selves – Growing Up

Welcome to Whole Selves Growing Up!

Whole Selves is a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum specifically designed for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is an innovative curriculum based on the conviction that all students deserve access to an inclusive program that offers explicit instruction in the complex process of growing up. Congratulations on your agencies’ or school districts’ desire to offer this content to your students. Guiding your class through the Whole Selves curriculum will empower them to become healthy, safe, and active participants in their own growing up process, and adult lives.

We truly hope you enjoy the Whole Selves Growing Up curriculum. It is an incredible journey filled with laughter, curiosity, understanding, and growth!


In Growing Up, students will learn the basic foundations needed to successfully begin the journey to adulthood. This curriculum begins with an engaging unit developed to empower our students with the simple knowledge that their ideas, beliefs, emotions, opinions, and desires matter. As the curriculum moves forward, students are lead through lessons that will provide them with the understandings needed to successfully navigate through the precarious stages of growing up. From simplifying the complex social rules and expectations that govern behaviors at a lunch table, to providing explicit instruction in the function of human anatomy, Growing Up offers a collection of lessons that have proven themselves to be useful to our students over and over again.

The Growing Up series consists of one introductory unit and 4 content units. Each content unit has been systematically broken down into 3 series ranging from 5 to 15 lessons per series.

Additionally, each lesson offers 1 or more reinforcement activity that should be incorporated into your planning, as many of the full lessons require the information that is provided and/or practiced in the reinforcement activities.

To ensure your students are receiving the information needed to become healthy, safe, and responsible adults, we strongly recommend that you complete each unit and concept listed below in its entirety.

  • Setting the Tone
  • Empowered and Confident
    • I Matter
    • Knowing Yourself
    • Emotions
  • Basic Boundaries
    • Relationships
    • Public and Private
    • Talk, Trust, Touch
  • Healthy Bodies
    • Puberty
    • Hygiene
    • Self-Care
  • Healthy, Safe, and Fun
    • Healthy, Safe, and Fun Explained
    • Healthy, Safe, and Fun Friendships
    • Healthy, Safe, and Fun Foundations in Dating

Each lesson is broken down and organized in the same manner to provide educators with a consistent and predictable format. The lessons are scheduled at 75-minute intervals and begin with a warm up activity. Suggestions for warm up activities can be found in the resources section. We have found that using warm ups helps to focus and prepare our students for class. We recommend warm ups be 2 to 3 minutes in length. After the warm up, there is a review of the unit concept to activate knowledge and get ready to make connections. The review can also be used as a time to revisit any concepts you feel need to be touched upon again, especially if you noticed anyone struggling with something in particular.

After the review, each lesson offers an introduction to the day’s concept. The introduction tends to be an abbreviated activity that works as a hook for your students. The introduction also offers teachers an opportunity to gauge student understanding of the topic, and adjust accordingly. For example, if the introduction activity is to have your students generate a list of social media websites, but they are not sure of what social media is; you will have to adjust the lesson to include a more in-depth discussion about what social media means. You may have to include additional visuals and hands on experience in order for your students to access the content in the lesson.

From the introduction, teachers are able to move right into the first activity of the lesson. Every activity has been designed to provide our students with the foundational knowledge needed to understand the big picture concepts taught in a general education sex education curriculum.

Each lesson is an important step in achieving the desired understandings and behaviors of the entire curriculum. While a simple lesson on differentiating between public and private places may not produce the behavioral objectives listed, it does provide an important component needed to achieve those goals. If a student is to express their sexuality in appropriate ways, he or she first needs to differentiate between public and private settings. Therefore, each series overview lists the behavioral outcomes the series is building towards.

Stretch breaks are recommended at the conclusion of the first activity. Suggestions for stretch breaks can also be found in the resources section. We highly recommend allowing your students to engage in some physical movement before sitting down for the second half of the lesson.

Stretch breaks should range between 8-10 minutes.

The second half of the class includes a brief review of the first half of the class, as well as a second activity. The second activity has been designed to support the content taught in the first half of the lesson. The review and second activity will range from 25-30 minutes.

Every lesson ends with a hearty congratulations and a brief review of the important concepts from the lesson. We also recommend taking time for a cool down session at the end of each lesson. Suggestions for cool down activities can be found alongside the warm ups and breaks ideas.

A layout has been provided to give you an idea of how a class may run. However, this does not allow for adjustments and/or additional reviews that regularly come up. It is important to use your class time in a way that meets the need of your students, and offers ample opportunity to practice the material. Additionally, if you feel that your class would run better with only one activity, then we support your decision.

Example Layout:

  • 3 minute Warm Up
  • 5 minute Review
  • 5 minute Introduction
  • 20 minute Activity
  • 8 minute Stretch Break
  • 4 minute Review
  • 25 minute Activity
  • 3 minute Conclusion
  • 2 minute Cool Down


In 2008, Whole Children began the Whole Selves journey when it hired a contractor from a local agency to run a course on puberty. After the first class, it was apparent to the contractor, as well as the teachers at Whole Children, that the content and delivery of instruction did not meet the needs of our students. In preparation for the second class, we began developing lessons that would be both accessible and interesting to the students in attendance.

The experiences of that initial 8-week course lead us to two simple realizations. First, we identified that there was an incredible need among our students to continue developing lessons about puberty and relationships. Secondly, we realized that the content would not only need to be developed in such a way as to provide explicit and accessible instruction that encompassed concepts their grade level peers were learning, but it would also need to provide our students with the foundational skills and information needed to learn those concepts.

We began by identifying gaps in our student’s knowledge and systematically generating lessons that would fill those needs. We listened to the questions our students were asking, and we observed their social interactions. We took note of parent and guardian concerns. We read through books and various materials related to our focus. We looked to the larger community and contemplated how to best set our students up for success as they matured into adulthood. Finally, we discussed and analyzed what it was we were hoping to achieve.

The results of our inquiries set us on the path of developing lessons derived from the needs of our students and their families, with a focus on specific behavioral outcomes. Therefore, each component of the Whole Selves curriculum strives to empower our students to:

  • Understand they have the right and ability to develop genuine relationships of all kinds
  • Recognize their thoughts and feelings are important
  • Develop self-confidence
  • Cultivate self-efficacy
  • Practice responsible decision making
  • Advocate for their personal well being
  • Develop strong personal boundaries
  • Assert and vocalize their boundaries
  • Respect social and personal boundaries of other people
  • Develop interpersonal skills
  • Take ownership of their own bodies
  • Take ownership of their self-care practices
  • Understand and recognize the changes in their bodies
  • Engage in healthy and safe relationships
  • Recognize they have a sexual nature
  • Express their sexuality in appropriate ways
  • Understand consent and their right to say “NO”
  • Develop the tools needed to engage in consensual and safe sexual activities

Eight years later, we had developed enough material for the Whole Selves curriculum. This curriculum ties together a variety of skills and concepts needed in a comprehensive sexual education curriculum, in a way that supports the belief that our students deserve to, and are capable of, living full and healthy lives. The Whole Selves curriculum is comprised of three sub- curricula or programs: Growing Up, Boundaries and Relationships, and Dating. While each of these curriculums are intended for audiences at vastly different stages of life, all three are ultimately focused on helping our students achieve the overall outcomes identified above.

Whole Selves Growing Up has broken down and simplified the issues that arise when a person starts “growing up”. Essentially, Whole Selves: Growing Up offers students a scaffolded opportunity to learn and practice a wide array of tools that will assist them as they become empowered, safe, and healthy adults. Far from teaching the basics of puberty and sex, we attempt to teach real, applicable information about improving self-esteem, developing strong boundaries, fostering self-care practices, and engaging in healthy relationships. Each lesson was developed with the belief that, while our students may need information provided at a slower pace and with additional repetition, they absolutely deserve to receive the same content as their peers in a manner that respects and aligns with their age.

Whole Selves Boundaries and Relationships further explores the complexities of interpersonal relationships, including the knowledge needed to develop healthy and safe romantic partnerships. Students will spend time examining how relationship demands and connections can change overtime, especially in adulthood. Boundaries and Relationships is the next logical step after Growing Up as it builds upon the knowledge and skills they’ve learned in Growing Up. In addition, students will explore the knowledge and relationship skills needed to enter the workforce and/or begin college.

Whole Selves Dating is a collection of series and lessons that explicitly focus on the vast spectrum of romantic relationships. From attraction and crushes to consent and safe sex, Whole Selves Dating covers it all through explicit, scaffolded, and accessible lessons and materials.

As new concerns, expectations, and situations arise, the Whole Selves curriculum will evolve to meet the needs of our students in a way that supports and empowers them to become healthy, safe, and responsible adults.


Growing Up utilizes a variety of engaging materials to implement each activity and support student learning. Depending on how often this class is taught, you may want to dedicate an entire white board or bulletin board to this curriculum. Being able to leave important information up may be beneficial to your students. However, we understand that each classroom is unique and you simply may not have the space to dedicate to the Growing Up classes. Therefore, at the very least we recommend that you have a way to consistently generate ideas or compile lists during each class. These tools may simply be a white or chalkboard, chart paper, pocket charts and sentence strips, or large sticky notes on a bulletin board. Once you have previewed the lessons you will be able to decide the best way to incorporate the Growing Up curriculum into your classroom.

In addition to a dedicated space to display materials, you will need 2 baskets for sorting example cards and a routine for creating “theater space” for role-plays.

Lastly, most lessons include at least 1 PowerPoint presentation, therefore you will need a way to view them as a whole group. These can include:

  • Showing them on a centrally located computer for a small group
  • Using a projector or large television hooked up to your computer for a larger group, using an HDMI or other compatible cable
  • If none of the above are available, you could print out the necessary slides for the presentation.

Again, it may be easier to determine your specific needs once you have previewed the materials.


The great debate of whether or not to align the Growing Up curriculum to a standards based framework began after most of the lessons were written. When we began this journey, the focus was on simply meeting the needs of our students, not on meeting a general set of state or national health standards. However, moving forward with publication, we felt it was necessary to reevaluate the need for including standards in our curriculum.

We decided to analyze how our content aligned to the National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K-12, as the purpose of these standards is to “…provide clear, consistent and straightforward guidance on the essential minimum, core content for sexuality education that is developmentally and age-appropriate…”. We were pleased to find that most of our existing content met, and delved further into several of the topics addressed in the standards.

The current breakdown of standards in the Whole Selves curriculum is as follows:

Whole Selves Growing Up targets all of the competencies identified in the standards through 5th grade. Growing Up also includes lessons on internet safety which is identified as a competency to know by 8th grade. This curriculum is intended for middle school audiences, however, the content and materials are relevant for high school students and adults, and can be used to supplement and/or reinforce the other components of the Whole Selves Curriculum.

Whole Selves Boundaries and Relationships includes the remaining competencies through 12th grade. Additionally, Boundaries and Relationships revisits many of the standards cited in Growing Up as they target foundational knowledge and skills.

Whole Selves Dating is unique in that it solely focuses on the knowledge and skills related to romantic relationships. Therefore the standards included in this particular program are taken as needed from the whole of the K-12 standards.

When applying the standards to lessons, our primary focus was on the logical progression of content rather than the suggested grade level. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of aligning Growing Up that we realized there was a natural break in our materials as it related to the standards: Growing Up naturally encompassed the K-5th standards, and Boundaries and Relationships included the 6th-12thstandards. Fortunately, the authors of the NSES recognize that diversity exists among learners and that there is often need for adaptation:

“They (standards) also generally do not address special education, students for whom English is their second language, or students with any of the other unique attributes of a given classroom or school…although recommendations made here are based on grade level, children of the same age often develop at different rates and some content may need to be adapted based on the need of the students.” (NSES, 8)

As a result of this adaptability and our overall design, we were able to align the Whole Selves curriculum to the standards in a manner that focuses on being both comprehensive and developmentally appropriate for our population of students. It is important to note, that while we have included the early elementary level standards in our curriculum, we have done so in such a way as to engage our students with activities that honor and respect their journeys into adulthood. We recognize that our students will be, or already are adults and deserve to

participate in lessons that treat them as such. Therefore, we couldn’t help but be pleased to cite a framework that has the inclusive “Values and Principals: (that) all students, regardless of physical or intellectual ability, deserve the opportunity to achieve personal health and wellness, including sexual health” (NSES, 9).

Lastly, many of our lessons include topics not addressed in the standards. For these lessons, we have simply cited the standards that target creating environments of dignity, inclusivity, and respect. As the underlining philosophy behind Whole Selves is to, in fact, empower all of our students to understand they have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, it seemed appropriate to include such standards in every lesson. If additional standards are needed, you can check your state specific frameworks for related social development and/or health standards.

Notes for Teachers

Student empowerment has been at the forefront of the Whole Selves curriculum from the start. We have been persistent and emphatic about including this key element throughout all aspects of the Whole Selves curriculum, as we recognized the need for our students to represent and advocate for themselves early on. Over time, we found that the most effective way to empower students is to provide them with the tools needed to successfully identify, analyze, and navigate the various social and behavioral expectations that come up in everyday life. For many, empowering students to recognize these expectations or “rules,” and then to analyze them will be a new and challenging undertaking. In fact, prior to

participating in any component of the Whole Selves curriculum, you may find that many students have only been instructed on the rules and never asked (or believed to be able) to explore the meaning behind them.

The Growing Up curriculum offers educators a way to go beyond simply teaching concrete rules; after all, a blind adherence to the rules will get a student only so far. At some point, every

student will experience and/or witness examples of actions and behaviors that do not fit neatly into a basic set of concrete rules. What happens when something occurs that students have not been prepared for? For example, ask a student why it is important to keep his or her clothes on in public, and the answer is likely to be that to not wear clothes would be bad or inappropriate.

Follow up and ask what it means for something to be inappropriate and the student may very well shrug his or her shoulders and say “I don’t know”.

Help change this legacy of disempowerment by believing that all students are capable of thinking for themselves. Through participating in Whole Selves and your unwavering encouragement, students will have an opportunity to find their voices and become active participants in their lives. When answering the question posed above, students in your class should say things like “well, maybe I would get into trouble” “I don’t want to go to jail!” “it would make people think I was weird and I might lose friends” or even “to be honest, I don’t know, why DO we have this rule?”

To begin this journey of empowerment, and of guiding your students towards reaching their full potential, we recommend that hold your students to consistently high expectations, believe they can meet those expectations, and begin to ask “why” during all of your lessons. Provide your students with the valuable opportunity to think critically about the seemingly simple concepts and rules discussed in each lesson. Teach your students that it is okay to not know the answer, and that asking questions is an incredibly important part of learning. Convey the importance of asking “why” and of exploring meanings together. Implementing higher-level thinking may be more difficult and time consuming to transmit, but it is an essential component in developing the skill set students need in order engage in safe and healthy relationships. Students who have been empowered to analyze unexpected or precarious occurrences will have more success navigating through life as novel situations arise.

Tips for adding critical thinking to a lesson:

  • Ask the question “why” as often as possible
  • Ask what would happen if they didn’t follow certain rules
  • First model and then challenge students to think through what may happen if they were in a particular situation, e.g., if they were to share personal information with a stranger
  • Have students explain what they’ve learned to a peer in class or an appropriate faculty member
  • Challenge students to identify additional real life examples of something discussed in class
  • Discuss the fact that rules exist to keep us safe and healthy. Then have students analyze the way each rule helps us achieve its goal *Remember, it is important for

students to investigate the purpose of each rule so they are able to generalize their skills and deal with unexpected situations rather than only being able to navigate through the specific examples provided.

Future of Sex Education Initiative. (2012).

National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K-12 [a special publication of the Journal of School Health]. Retrieved from http://www.futureofsexeducation. org/documents/josh-fose-standards-web.pdf