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 such primary sources 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.

2017-2018 Courses

Child Development

Abnormal Psychology

Seminar—Fall

According to recent data, approximately half of all Americans will meet the criteria for a psychological disorder at some point in their lives, and about 25% of adults in the United States may have suffered from a mental illness in the past year. Why are rates of mental illness so high, and what can we do to reduce these figures? What does it mean to be mentally ill, and who decides? Where do we draw the line between normal and abnormal, and what kinds of methods do we use in psychology and neuroscience to make this determination? This course will serve as an introduction to the field of abnormal psychology. We will cover theoretical frameworks, research methods, and treatments associated with a range of psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, and personality disorders. In addition, we will discuss historical, political, and cultural influences that shape the way in which mental illness has been defined, represented, and treated. Course materials will draw on experimental and theoretical research, memoirs, films, and clinical case studies. This course will be of particular interest to students interested in pursuing graduate school or careers working in fields related to clinical psychology.

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Theories of the Creative Process

Seminar—Fall

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 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 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.

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Personality Development

Seminar—Fall

A century ago, Sigmund Freud postulated a complex theory of the development of the person. While some aspects of his theory have come into question, many of the basic principles of psychoanalytic theory have become part of our common culture and worldview. This course will explore developmental and clinical concepts about how personality comes to be through reading and discussion of the work of key contributors to psychoanalytic developmental theory since Freud. We will trace the evolution of what Pine has called the “four psychologies of psychoanalysis”—drive, ego, object, and self-psychologies—as well as the integrative “relational perspective”; and we will consider the issues they raise about children’s development into individuals with unique personalities within broad, shared developmental patterns in a given culture. Readings will include the work of Anna Freud, Erik Erikson, Margaret Mahler, Daniel Stern, Steven Mitchell, Nancy Chodorow, and George Vaillant. Throughout the semester, we will return to fundamental themes such as the complex interaction of nature and nurture, the unanswered questions about the development of personal style, and the cultural dimensions of personality development. Fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or another appropriate setting is required, although conference projects may or may not center on aspects of that experience, depending on the individual student’s interest.

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Theories of Development

Seminar—Fall

“There’s nothing so practical as a good theory,” suggested Kurt Lewin almost 100 years ago. Since then, the competing theoretical models of Freud, Skinner, Piaget, Vygotsky, and others have shaped the field of developmental psychology and have been used by parents and educators to determine child-care practice and education. In this course, we will study the classic theories—psychoanalytic, behaviorist, and cognitive-developmental—as they were originally formulated and in light of subsequent critiques and revisions. Questions we will consider include: Are there patterns in our emotional, thinking, or social lives that can be seen as universal, or are these always culture-specific? Can life experiences be conceptualized in a series of stages? How else can we understand change over time? We will use theoretical perspectives as lenses through which to view different aspects of experience—the origins of wishes and desires, early parent-child attachments, intersubjectivity in the emergence of self, symbolic and imaginative thinking, and the role of play in learning. For conference work, students will be encouraged to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children, as one goal of the course is to bridge theory and practice.

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Bullies and Their Victims: Social and Physical Aggression in Childhood and Adolescence

Seminar—Fall

It can be the bane of our existence in childhood: the bully who simply will not leave us alone. Until fairly recently, the image that came to mind—in both the popular imagination and the world of psychological study—was that of a physically imposing and physically aggressive boy, someone who found the littlest, most defenseless boy to pick on. In recent years, however, that image has begun to change. Now we realize that the ability to harm a person’s social relationships and social “standing,” usually through the manipulation of others, can be every bit as devastating to the victim. And in this new world of social aggression, girls’ expertise has come to the fore. In this course, we will study the nature of bullies and victims—in both the physical and social sense—and the possible long-term consequences of such bullying for both the perpetrator and the picked upon. We will explore recent evidence that bullying and victimization begin even in the preschool years, far earlier than previously thought; and we will examine some modern approaches used to break this vicious cycle, such as peer programs and interpersonal problem solving. Conference work may include field placement at the Early Childhood Center or other venues, as interactions with real children will be encouraged.

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Moral Development

Seminar—Spring

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.).

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Trauma, Loss, and Resilience

Seminar—Spring

How people remember and respond to stress and trauma has garnered much attention and controversy in the field of psychology. These debates have reached well beyond therapists’ offices and academic departments, figuring prominently in the media, policy debates, and judicial decisions. Through a review of theory, research, and clinical case reports, this course aims to provide a nuanced examination of traumatic stress research. The course will begin with a historical exploration of how the mental-health community has defined and treated trauma over the past century, including the sociocultural forces that shaped these definitions and interventions. We will also delve into more current issues involving trauma, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Readings will survey a range of topics, drawing on cognitive, developmental, neuroscientific, and psychoanalytic perspectives. We will discuss and question: What are the impacts of stress and trauma across the life span? How is trauma processed cognitively, and what brain regions are involved in trauma-related distress? What is the impact of trauma and loss on mental and physical health? What is an appropriate response to trauma (and who decides)? Are there outcomes to stress and trauma other than distress? Is memory for trauma special? Are horrific experiences indelibly fixed in a victim’s memory, or does the mind protect itself by banishing traumatic memories from consciousness? How do those working in the field of traumatic stress cope with secondary exposure? Why are some people able to experience repeated exposure to trauma without significant impairment? Conference work will offer students the opportunity to apply ongoing issues in trauma and resilience research to a wide range of disciplines, including science, law, medicine, art, media, politics, and ethics.

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Challenges to Development: Child and Adolescent Psychopathology

Seminar—Spring

This course addresses the multiple factors that play a role in shaping a child’s development, particularly as those factors may result in what we think of as psychopathology. Starting with a consideration of what the terms “normality” and “pathology” may refer to in our culture, we will read about and discuss a variety of situations that illustrate different interactions of inborn, environmental, and experiential influences on developing lives. For example, we will read theory and case material addressing congenital conditions such as deafness and life events such as acute trauma and abuse, as well as the range of less clear-cut circumstances and complex interactions of variables that have an impact on growth and adaptation in childhood and adolescence. In discussing readings drawn from clinical and developmental psychology, memoir, and research studies, we will examine a number of the current conversations and controversies about assessment, diagnostic/labeling, early intervention, use of psychoactive medications, and treatment modalities. Students will be required to engage in fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or elsewhere and may choose whether to focus conference projects on aspects of that experience.

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Language Research Seminar

Seminar—Spring

The baby, assailed by eye, ear, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion. —William James (1890)

The acquisition of our first language is “doubtless the greatest intellectual feat any of us is ever required to perform” (Bloomfield), yet this feat was essentially accomplished by the time we were three years old—and we likely have no memory of it. Furthermore, human language fundamentally influences human ecology, culture, and evolution. Thus, many contemporary researchers in the interdisciplinary field of psycholinguistics argue that our language abilities are a large part of what makes us uniquely human. Are we, in fact, the only species with true language? And how would we begin to answer this question? In this course, we will attempt to answer this and other key questions in the broad field of language development through both our discussions of current and contemporary research and theory and the development of new research in this field. Current “hot” research topics include whether bilingual children have better control over what they pay attention to than monolingual children (attention and language); whether language influences thought; whether language acquisition is biologically programmed; and why children learn language better from an adult, in-person, rather than the same adult on television. Over the course of the semester, you will have the opportunity to design an independent research project that investigates either one of these key questions or another question of interest to you in the broad area of language development. In doing this, you will learn how to outline the rationale for a research project, develop an effective research methodology, collect data, analyze the data, interpret your results, and communicate your findings in a persuasive, yet objective, manner. This course thus serves as an introduction to research methods, with a specific focus on research methods in psycholinguistics, through your own research. Topics will include experimental research design, case studies, observational techniques, survey development, and hypothesis testing. To help you design and implement your own research, we will discuss your conference research projects in class throughout the semester. You will obtain feedback from your colleagues on your questions, methods, analyses of the data, and interpretation of the results. This project could include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children.

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Play in Developmental and Cultural Context

Seminar—Spring

For many years, the conviction has grown upon me that civilization arises and unfolds in and as play. —Huizinga, Homo Ludens

Many adults look back fondly on their memories of childhood play and the rich imaginary worlds created. Yet, play in our current sociopolitical climate is threatened by the many demands of our over-regimented lives and standardized goals of education. In this course, we will look closely at the amazing complexity of those playworlds and at the many aspects of children’s experiences through play. Observing and reading about play offer the opportunity to understand children’s thinking, communicating, problem solving, nascent storytelling, and emotional and imaginative lives. We will also consider the variations in play within different family and cultural contexts, as well as play’s relationship to scientific and aesthetic activities of adult life. Other topics will include therapeutic uses of play, importance of play for early literacy, and the re-invigoration of the phenomenon of adventure play in the United States, at SLC in the form of our CAPEs, and abroad. Students will be encouraged to choose a context in which to observe and/or participate in play either at our Early Childhood Center or in other settings with children or adults.

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Experimental Psychology Research Seminar

Seminar—Spring

Psychological science attempts to study complex human behavior, emotions, and cognitive processes through research and experimentation. Over the course of the semester, students will have the opportunity to develop both a strong foundation in the theories, techniques, and ethical questions that have guided psychology research and the opportunity to put their ideas into practice. A major component of this course will involve generating hypotheses and designing studies, carrying out original research, learning how to analyze and interpret data, and writing up and presenting findings. Readings will span research from a variety of subfields in psychology (clinical, developmental, social), and assignments will involve both individual and group work. A variety of research designs will be discussed and evaluated throughout the semester, such as case studies and observational, cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental approaches.

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Art and Visual Perception

Seminar—Spring

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how visual neuroscience and art-making can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience.

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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 these 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.
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