Child Development Courses

Combining theoretical perspectives with practical fieldwork, the Child Development Program places the social, emotional, cognitive, and cultural lives of children at the forefront.

Students engage in research throughout the program, reading and learning directly from primary sources such as journals, current research, and the writings of leading psychologists—not textbooks. From the beginning, students are immersed in child development theory, which they relate to their experiences with children in small seminars and one-on-one conferences. Fieldwork opportunities abound, from therapeutic preschools to elementary or secondary schools to child-life programs on pediatric wards.

MA Child Development 2021-2022 Courses

Speaking the Unspeakable: Trauma, Emotion, Cognition, and Language

Seminar—Fall

Psychological trauma has been described as unspeakable—so cognitively disorganizing and intense that it is difficult to put the experience and the emotions it evokes into words. Yet, the language that survivors use to describe their traumas provides insight into the impact of trauma and the process of recovery. This course will begin with an overview of theories of trauma, resilience, and post-traumatic growth, as well as an introduction to the study of trauma narratives and how language reflects emotional and cognitive functioning. We will then explore the cognitive, emotional, and biological impact of undergoing a trauma and how those changes are reflected in the language that trauma survivors use as they speak and write about their experiences. We will consider works by experts on trauma and language, including Judith Herman, Bessel van der Kolk, and James Pennebaker, as well as current research in the field of trauma and trauma narratives. Through these readings, we will address topics such as what makes an experience traumatic, how representations of trauma in popular culture color our perceptions of trauma and recovery, the role of resilience and growth following a trauma, and what we can learn from attending to the content and structure of language. This course will be of interest to students who are curious about how the words that we use reflect our cognitive and emotional functioning—and especially for students interested in pursuing topics such as these at an advanced or graduate level.

Faculty

Social Development

Seminar—Fall

Prior course in psychology required.

Some of the most interesting and most important pieces of knowledge that a child will ever learn are not taught in school. So it is with the child’s social world. Unlike “reading, writing, and ’rithmetic,” there is no “Social Thinking 101.” Further, by the time children reach school age, they have already spent years learning the “lessons of life” and affecting those around them. This course will explore the social world of the child from birth through adolescence, focusing upon three main areas: parent-child relations, gender-role development, and moral development. Within parenting, we will examine issues such as different parenting “styles,” the long-term consequences of divorce, and the “hurrying” of children to achieve major milestones at ever-earlier ages. Within the topic of sex-role development, we will read about the role of powerful socialization forces, including the mass media, and the socialization pressures that children place upon themselves and each other. Within moral development, we will study the growth of moral emotions such as empathy, shame, and guilt, along with the role of gender and culture in shaping our sense of right and wrong. Conference work may include field placement at the Early Childhood Center or other venues, as interactions with real children will be encouraged.

Faculty

Theories of the Creative Process

Seminar—Fall

A background in college-level psychology, social science, or philosophy is required.

The creative process is paradoxical. It involves freedom and spontaneity yet requires expertise and hard work. The creative process is self-expressive yet tends to unfold most easily when the creator forgets about self. The creative process brings joy yet is fraught with fear, frustration, and even terror.The creative process is its own reward yet depends on social support and encouragement. In this class, we look at how various thinkers conceptualize the creative process—chiefly in the arts but in other domains, as well. We see how various psychological theorists describe the process, its source, its motivation, its roots in a particular domain or skill, its cultural context, and its developmental history in the life of the individual. Among the thinkers that we will consider are Freud, Jung, Arnheim, Franklin, and Gardner. Different theorists emphasize different aspects of the process. In particular, we see how some thinkers emphasize persistent work and expert knowledge as essential features while others emphasize the need for the psychic freedom to “let it happen” and speculate on what emerges when the creative person “lets go.” Still others identify cultural context or biological factors as critical. To concretize theoretical approaches, we look at how various ideas can contribute to understanding specific creative people and their work. In particular, we will consider works written by or about Picasso, Woolf, Welty, Darwin, and some contemporary artists and writers. Though creativity is most frequently explored in individuals, we also consider group improvisation in music and theatre. Some past conference projects have involved interviewing people engaged in creative work. Others consisted of library studies centering on the life and work of a particular creative person. Some students chose to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center and focus on an aspect of creative activity in young children.

Faculty

Emerging Adulthood

Seminar—Spring

We have time, energy, questions, and few responsibilities. We want to push the envelope, resist compromise, lead revolutions, and turn the world upside down. Because we do not yet know quite how to be, we have not settled and will not let the dust settle around us. —Karlin & Borofsky, 2003

Many traditional psychological theories of development posit a brief transition from adolescence to adulthood; however, many people moving into their 20s experience anything but a brief transition to “feeling like an adult,” pondering questions such as: How many SLC alums can live in a Brooklyn sublet? What will I do when I finish the Peace Corps next year? In this course, we will explore the psychological literature concerning emerging adulthood, the period from the late teens through the 20s. We will examine this period of life from a unified biopsychosocial and intersectional perspective.

Faculty

Moral Development

Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: prior course in psychology.

For thousands of years, philosophers have struggled with the questions surrounding the issue of morality. Over the past hundred years, psychologists have joined the fray. While many theories exist, a unifying theme centers upon the notion that childhood is the crucible in which morality is formed and forged. In this course, we will explore the major theories dealing with three aspects of the development of morality: moral thought, or reasoning (e.g., Piaget, Kohlberg); moral feelings (psychoanalytic approaches, including Freud, and the modern work on the importance of empathy and mirror neurons); and moral actions, or behavior (behaviorism, social-learning theory). In addition, we will investigate the possible relations among these three aspects of moral development. For example: How is moral thought connected to moral action? Throughout the course, we will relate moral development theory to the results of research investigations into this crucial aspect of child development. Conference work may include direct experience with children or adolescents in the form of either detailed observations or direct interaction (interviews, etc.).

Faculty

Perspectives on Child Development

Seminar—Spring

A noted psychologist once said, “What you see depends on how you look.” Our subject is the worlds of childhood; and, in this class, we try out the lenses of different psychological theories to highlight different aspects of those worlds. Freud, Erikson, Bowlby, and Stern provide differing perspectives on emotional development. Skinner, Bandura, Piaget, and Vygotsky present various approaches to the problems of learning and cognition. Chess and her colleagues take up the issues of temperament and its interaction with experience. Chomsky and others deal with the development of language. We will read the theorists closely for their answers but also for their questions, asking which aspects of childhood each theory throws into focus. We will also examine some systematic studies that developmental psychologists have carried out to confirm, test, and critique various theories: studies of mother-infant relationships, the development of cognition and language, and the emergence of intersubjectivity. In several of these domains, studies done in cultures other than our own cast light on the question of universality versus cultural specificity in development. Direct observation is an important complement to theoretical readings. All students will do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or find some other opportunity for observing and interacting with children. As part of the seminar, we will at times draw on student observations to support or critique theoretical concepts. The fieldwork will also provide the basis for developing conference work. Ideally, conference projects combine the interests of the student, some library reading, and some aspect of fieldwork observation. Among the many diverse projects students have designed in the past are topics such as children’s friendships, the meanings of block building, and how young children use language.

Faculty

Immigration and Identity

Seminar—Fall

This course asks how contemporary immigration shapes individual and collective identity across the life course. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach that bridges cross-cultural psychology, human development, and psychological anthropology, we will ask how people’s movement across borders and boundaries transforms their senses of self, as well as their interpersonal relations and connections to community. We will analyze how the experience of immigration is affected by the particular intersections of racial, ethnic, class, gender, generational, and other boundaries that immigrants cross. For example, how do 1.5-generation undocumented youth navigate the constraints imposed by “illegalized” identities, and how do they come to construct new self-perceptions? How might immigrants acculturate or adapt to new environments, and how does the process of moving from home or living “in between” two or more places impact mental health? Through our close readings and seminar discussions on this topic, we seek to understand how different forms of power—implemented across realms, including state-sponsored surveillance and immigration enforcement, language and educational policy, health and social services—shape and constrain immigrants’ understanding of their place in the world and their experience of exclusion and belonging. In our exploration of identity, we will attend to the ways in which immigrants are left out of national narratives, as well as the ways in which people who move across borders draw on cultural resources to create spaces and practices of connection, protection, and continuity despite the disruptive effects of immigration. In tandem with our readings, we will welcome scholar/activist guest speakers, who will present their current work in the field.

Faculty

Early Intervention Approaches for Young Children and Their Families

Graduate Seminar—Spring
This course will explore several early intervention approaches for young children and their families, with a particular emphasis on the theory and technique of play therapy. While the course will focus mostly on child-centered play therapy (CCPT), we will also look at the methodology of other types of approaches and the ways in which those approaches address treatment issues. In addition, course material will highlight cultural considerations, therapeutic work with parents, challenges in treatment, self-reflection, and analysis of case studies. Readings, class discussion, group play-based activities, video illustrations, and reflection will provide students with both a theoretical and a clinical basis for how play-based therapeutic work with young children factors into early intervention.
Faculty