How Children Fare in Community
by Diana Leafe Christian
Daniel Greenberg, who in 2015 was elected President of the Global Ecovillage Network, wrote his thesis for a Ph.D. in child psychology on the emotional well-being of children in intentional communities. He surveyed 235 or so intentional communities in the U.S. and personally visited about 30 of them to interview community members in person.
He learned that if a community was stable and didn’t have high member turnover, the children seemed to thrive in measurably higher ways than non-community children of the same ages. Children raised or living in intentional communities seemed more confident and competent than similar non-community children; they learned skills most people usually learn only as adults. They were also more verbally and socially skilled (and even verbally precocious) at earlier ages.
Daniel believed this was because the children had adult friends in the community who weren’t their parents, relatives, teachers or school principals or any other adult authorities, just friends or neighbors who spent time with them and showed them how to do things (like garden, cook, repair things, care for animals, etc.). He also found that, unlike in the “outside world,” different ages played together and seemed to like and enjoy each other.
If, however, a community had a high turnover, with many families moving away, the children did not do as well; they felt like brothers, sisters and cousins to each other, and found it emotionally wrenching to keep losing friends who felt like family. I’ve seen similar things in my own informal research into communities around the world, and by personal observation living at Earthaven.
At Earthaven, we see children roaming the property with friends of various ages, in a kind of “kids herd” paradise where every adult knows them, cares about them, and can look out for them. Paradise, indeed!
Diana Leafe Christian, author of the books Creating a Life Together and Finding Community, speaks at conferences, offers consultations, and leads workshops internationally on the tools and processes that help forming communities succeed, and on governance and decision-making in communities.