It has been about 4 years since the project Love Me Tender commenced in first grade at an international school in Athens, not even having realized what was meant to follow! A first-grade teacher and I started building on a unique idea, unable to imagine yet the extent of its impact on our students, their parents, and teachers. What we knew for sure was that whenever discussing our project, feelings of joy, excitement, and creativity would fuel our desire to apply our ideas into practice. Having spent several hours brainstorming, discussing, and engaging in meaningful communication, we discovered that although we come from different educational backgrounds, our passion for issues on "human development", and more specifically on the disciplines of education, child psychology, emotional intelligence, neuroscience, and biology, gave us a new focus for communication. We could discuss our students’ needs appreciating both their cognitive and emotional demands. We very soon concluded that a simultaneous reinforcement of children’s cognitive and emotional intelligence could potentially facilitate a well-desired goal: Children with greater psychological resilience, greater confidence and faith in their strengths, and talents; Children inspired to see a positive outlook for the future, who eventually bare the hope that this world will become a better place. We started building on the belief that if the school could constitute a cognitive-emotional experience for its students, then one could confidently talk about a holistic educational approach. Such an approach has the potential to transform education into “Morphosis”, and guarantee that students will become architects of their own future.
E ssentially, our idea had to do with the aforementioned concept. We created opportunities for cognitive-emotional development through education, in the classroom. We then methodized our efforts and devoted an hour per week for activities, and relevant conversations that had the potential to support our students’ cognitive-emotional development. Our weekly meetings were welcomed with a great response, and over the following two years they acquired greater structure, were given the name Love Me Tender, expanded in all four first grade classes, and took the form of a specific, but simultaneously flexible curriculum. We soon realized that we had developed a social and emotional learning program from scratch, which keeps filling us with emotions of creativity, and excitement!
However, what is this fuss and excitement all about? It is well known that over the past few decades there are systematic efforts to create and apply social and emotional learning programs in American schools, and there is a big body of research showing the impressive benefits of relevant programs (among else: Yale University, Duke University, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning). Indeed, research has shown that students who are emotionally skilled perform better in school, have better relationships, and engage less frequently in unhealthy behaviors later in life. Thus, it is our firm belief that emotional learning can be as important as the ABCs.
We believe that our excitement is well justified. Indeed, it is impressive and touching to watch children’s responses during Love Me Tender classes. They display genuine interest, they manage to express their needs and feelings, they engage with story sharing, they regulate emotions and feel soothed from tension, they learn to explore and integrate their body and mind, senses and feelings, they can attribute meaning to life experiences, they learn to communicate and connect with other people in more effective ways, they cultivate empathy and compassion, and ultimately they build the foundations for stronger psychological resilience. While the above are enough to justify our enthusiasm there is something more. We believe that Love Me Tender, having all the benefits of a social and emotional learning program (as research and experience shows) stands out from relevant attempts. We feel that it is unique, and in our opinion innovative.
We live in an astonishing era where the advances of science are as promising as never before. Different disciplines converge to produce a new understanding of the so-called “emotional life”. Significant findings in neuroscience, psychology and biochemistry, shape a new understanding on how human beings relate to each other. We are now learning more about what is known as the social brain, and the biological systems involved in emotion regulation. Indeed, it is the first time that a full biological explanation of our social behavior is provided, offering a deeper understanding of infancy, childhood, and adolescence. In Love Me Tender classes we make use of the most recent, and pioneering research to create our curriculum, activities, games, discussions, training, and conceptual framework. Emphasis is given on the latest neuroscience findings on the early brain development, and on relevant concepts (e.g. teaching about the human brain, emotions, mindfulness, kindness and compassion, empathy, trauma resolution, integration of mind and body, and many more).
“It might seem strange to talk to young children about the brain. It is brain science after all. But we’ve found that even small children –as young as four or five- really can understand some important basics about the way the brain works, and in turn understand themselves and their behavior and feelings in new and more insightful ways.” – Daniel Siegel
As mentioned above, Love Me Tender is not a program that we brought from outside. On the contrary, Love Me Tender started as an exciting idea and a shared passion (in first grade), and soon developed into an innovative social and emotional learning program from scratch. Love Me Tender was developed in a multicultural environment and emerged from the needs of its diverse, and international population (students, teachers, parents).In Love Me Tender classes we adopt an “inside-out” approach, meaning that we do not try to impose certain scientific findings and ideas. On the contrary, we use the most recent scientific findings to explain and understand our students’ way of being. To achieve this multicultural approach we start from the basics of humankind, namely the human body, the brain, the five senses, and the basic emotions. In Love Me Tender classes we are aware of the fact that even though we all share common bodily sensations (emotions are universal phenomena), emotions reveal the strong presence of cross-cultural differences in the way people experience, express, perceive and regulate their feelings. Thus, we are always curious and open to explore the different ways our students (diverse cultural background) process their mental and emotional states. We share, respect, appreciate, highlight, and promote culturally specific emotional reactions, as long as they are constructive and beneficial for the psychological well being of our students. Ultimately, we learn that even though languages differ, we are all connected on an emotional level (understanding own emotions - self-awareness, understanding others’ emotions - empathy and mirror neurons, compassion, tolerance towards difference, and many more).
“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep” – William James
A great body of researchers agrees that emotional skills should rank as high in importance in children’s educations as math, reading, and science. In Love Me Tender classes we are excited to confirm Kenneth Dodge’s saying: “In the same way that we can teach reading literacy, we can teach social and emotional literacy” (Kenneth Dodge, psychologist at Duke University). However, it is our firm belief that intervening simultaneously in the most important systems of a child’s life, namely the family system and the school system, can potentially maximize the effects of a social and emotional learning program. Thus, along with teaching children through Love Me Tender – Kinds, we simultaneously aim to teach parents through Love Me Tender – Parenting. Love Me Tender – Parenting is an act of care for the parents who try their hardest to take care of their children. It is a form of training on how to be a better parent. In parent classes, parents are familiarized with practical methods and techniques based on the latest neuroscience findings on the early brain development and the attachment theory. They are exposed to the Love Me Tender – Parenting curriculum and are encouraged to use materials, techniques, and skills learned in the classroom, along with newly acquired parenting skills. This knowledge can be very powerful for the parent who tries to teach, discipline, and love.
In Love Me Tender – Parenting we use the motto: “Caring for Carers”.
In Love Me Tender classes we are excited, passionate, and full of ideas. We hope that in the coming years Love Me Tender will evolve to provide educational, emotional, and healing or “repairing” experiences to students, parents, and teachers. We already elaborated on the three principles that make Love Me Tender a unique social and emotional learning program, and we do aim for a fourth principle that could potentially take this program to the next level. In Love Me Tender classes we promote empathy and compassion through activities, experiences, discussion, and as always insights on the human brain. We do get inspiration from different programs (e.g. Seeds, and Roots of Empathy - Canada and USA based) that have proved their positive effects on cultivating empathy through inspiring and innovating experiences in the classroom. Thus, we aim to build our fourth principle, Empathy, adopting relevant experiences-activities that could potentially enrich our curriculum. Research has shown that cultivating empathy on a systematic level (e.g. monthly activities - grades K-9) can have a dramatic anti-bullying effect. Teaching empathy is an amazing tool for both children and adults, but cultivating empathy can really give our students the necessary skills needed to thrive in their lives and consequently make the world a better place.