“Children are one third of our population and all of our future.” — Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health, 1981
There is significant research on the importance of bonding during the earliest years of a infancy. The physical development of the brain, as well as social, emotional, cognitive development are heavily reliant upon strong, loving relationships between an adult caregiver and an infant. Negligence or a lack of loving care can result in delayed development and long-term mental health problems. Love plays an equally important role in the healthy development of adolescents.
As children grow so does the nature and complexity of love in their lives. First, there is self-love. Self-love results from a combination of feelings of self-worth, a strong and positive sense of identity, and a sense of compassion towards one’s self. Children who demonstrate self-love are more likely to take risks, persevere in the face of challenges, treat others with kindness, and grow up to become productive and happy adults. At Phoenix Modern, we nurture self-love by respecting and valuing children as individual and unique beings, by giving children the opportunities to express themselves in a variety of ways, and by creating space for children to explore their interests and passions.
Next, children begin to develop loving relationships with their peers. Healthy and loving relationships with peers give children a strong sense of belonging and community at school. However, the benefits of strong, loving friendships extend beyond adolescence. A recent study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health recently found that strong adolescent friendships resulted in in increased self‐worth and decreased anxiety and depression in adulthood. At Phoenix Modern, we encourage loving peer to peer relationships with community circles, opportunities for both structured and unstructured social interactions throughout the day, and by modeling love and kindness ourselves.
Children also begin to develop loving relationships with adults who are not their immediate caregivers. Children need loving, positive relationships with their teachers in order to optimize their learning. Loving relationships can actually change a child’s brain chemistry. In a state of stress, our brains go into “fight or flight” mode. This increases feelings of anxiety and helplessness and can prevent our brains from attending to, interpreting, and synthesizing information. In addition, children who have strong relationships with their teachers have more positive feelings about school, are more willing to take risks in the classroom, and less likely to drop out of school.
Finally, children grow to develop a love for the world around them. Our emergent approach to quest-planning allows us to design experiences around what children already love in their immediate environment and connect this love more broadly to our world. What may start with a love for a bug or a flower develops into a love for nature, which in turn becomes a love for the environment and for our planet. Love for friends develops into a love for community, which develops into a love for humanity and a commitment to social justice.
At Phoenix Modern, we know that respect, trust, and love lay the foundation for the emotional state most conducive for learning and for being. We believe positive, loving relationships guide students to their full potential as human beings. In her article Design Schools for Today — not for Tomorrow, Dr. Erin Raab, Vice President of Research and Evaluation at The Future Project and Executive Director of REENVISIONED, “If we want students to be prepared to flourish in an unpredictable future, we shouldn’t be focused on the future at all: we should be focused on ensuring they flourish now.”
I often say that I began my career in education while running birthday parties at an ice cream shop in my college town. I discovered that kids are funny and creative- they are eternally optimistic- they have an endless supply of energy and enthusiasm. And so, in between games of Hot Potato and Simon Says and over mountains of sprinkles and whipped cream, I committed myself to working with children for the rest of my career.