What’s the Big Idea?
From the earliest times that children come together in school (3-4 years of age), boys and girls have strong preferences to play and interact with members of their own sex. These preferences are so strong that boys and girls essentially grow up in “two separate worlds”-one for boys and one for girls. This pattern of separating themselves by sex leads them to play more effectively and compatibly with same-sex partners and, at the same time, to become less comfortable interacting with children of the other sex. Thus, a cycle begins: children prefer to play with same-sex peers, while not learning to interact and behave with other-sex peers.
Around the time that puberty begins, most boys and girls begin to show a strong attraction and interest in the other sex. However, having spent so much time when they were younger in same-sex peer groups leaves them ill-prepared for interactions with the other sex — setting the stage for negative attitudes and actions directed towards the other sex. Unfortunately, in some cases, these negative attitudes and behaviors translate into mistreatment of the other sex. If boys and girls can learn to understand and interact effectively with one another in the early years, they will be better equipped to minimize conflict and mistreatment in future relationships.
How Did We Get Started?
In 2008, businessman and philanthropist, T. Denny Sanford, approached the president of Arizona State University, Dr. Michael Crow, with an idea for improving relationships between men and women. A partnership was created with the ASU School of Social and Family Dynamics to design a program based on the premise that early experiences lay the foundation for harmonious relationships in the future.
The Sanford Harmony Program (SHP) was created to bridge the gender divide by providing girls and boys with opportunities and support for positive peer classroom interactions and friendships, laying the foundation for healthy and successful relationships throughout the early childhood years and beyond. The program is based on the notion that facilitating harmonious relationships between boys and girls will improve the learning environment and set the stage for positive relationships throughout a lifetime.