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.

2018-2019 Courses

Child Development

The Experiences of Immigrant Children

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: Previous course work in psychology, politics, or public policy or permission of the instructor isrequired.

In the years to come, the United States is expected to see unprecedented growth in the foreign-born population. As our population becomes more diverse, we have an essential need to understand the experiences of immigrant individuals. In this seminar, students will explore the influence of immigration policies on recent trends in immigration and the consequences of those policies on families. Special attention is paid to the intersection of gender, poverty, and race in shaping patterns of migration. Although theories of immigration span across many social-science disciplines, the bioecological-systems approach will be used as a framework for contextualizing these theories and for applying a child-centric view to the migratory process. This seminar will take turns considering the unique experiences of Asian, Latinx, and Black immigrant children before, during, and after migration.Issues of legal status and maternal separation are central course themes. Other course topics include acculturative stress, discrimination, family dynamics, identity, and trauma. These experiences will be connected to the developmental outcomes of immigrant children. Course work requires students to consider the experiences of immigrant children and how best our schools, communities, and broader society can meet their needs. During the semester, students are asked to engage with the bioecological model of development in order to structure their analysis of the many factors affecting immigrant children. Students are encouraged to use their conference projects to hone in on one area of interest.

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What's in a Name? Perspectives on Poverty

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Previous coursework in psychology, sociology, or economics or instructor permission required.

Poverty, misery or want is a phantom with a thousand faces that vents its fury primarily among the majority of people who live in what is referred to as the Third World and among the pockets of poor people living on the fringes of the large industrialized cities… —Santiago Barquín

What is poverty? Does it have a face? Is it confined to a particular space? What does it mean to be poor? This seminar challenges students to confront their individual conceptualizations of poverty through a cross-disciplinary study into its dynamics. Readings will survey the way poverty has been defined by economists, psychologists, philosophers, and neuroscientists. Students will gain an understanding of how these definitions bear on the methodological approaches used to study both the prevalence of poverty and the severity of its effects. Students are expected to discuss the merits and demerits of each perspective and the practical consequences they engender. The course will move to situate poverty into context in order to examine how it is expressed across different environments. How is urban poverty similar to or different from rural poverty? Does suburban poverty even exist? The course will trace the origin of stereotypes about poor people and how they are perpetuated and supported by popular discourse through readings from White Trash: The 200-year Untold History of Class in America. Readings from $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America will ask students to interrogate the factuality of myths about who is poor. Together, the course will ponder the differential impact of poverty on racial and ethnic groups in America. Students will be asked to evaluate state-level welfare policies to observe the variation in state legislatures and the consequences for individuals and families. In thinking about the consequences of poverty, the course will also cover the way individuals are shaped by poverty, charting its effects on the brain and the body. Conference projects will give students the opportunity to research poverty-related social issues such as the poverty-obesity paradox and the income-academic achievement gap. Throughout the course, students are encouraged to be mindful of the way poverty is operationalized and to consider what psychological perspectives have to offer by way of improving our understanding of how people are affected by life in poverty.

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Neurodiversity and Clinical Psychology

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? —Harvey Blume, The Atlantic, 1998

Defects, disorders, diseases can play a paradoxical role by bringing out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen, or even be imaginable, in their absence. —Oliver Sacks

This seminar focuses on the concept of neurodiversity and the potential impact of this concept in understanding certain clinical concerns. To some authors, the concept of neurodiversity is of simple relation to the concepts of biodiversity or genetic diversity, with the focus on different ways in which brains might develop. To other authors, the term describes a social/political stance in viewing difference. This is the concept of neurodiversity that will be explored in the course, as it relates to current and developing ways of understanding difference related to several ways of presenting traditionally-termed “disorders” within mental-health treatment. Definitions of the term “neurodiversity” vary, with one conference defining it as: “A concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. (National Symposium on Neurodiversity, 2011). From this point of view, such differences are not necessarily pathology but, rather, differences to be celebrated and respected. This is in stark contrast to deficit models of taxonomy of mental illness, such as catalogued in the DSM 5. The course will provide an overview of this form of disorder description in order to frame those points of view, which contain distinctly different and sometimes opposed assumptions. We will explore ways in which those views have influence regarding the spirit of intervention (i.e., correction versus accommodation). Readings will explore important related continuums of essentialist versus contextualist understandings of those presentations that help us understand how focus of interventions vary based on underlying assumptions. The course begins with a focus on those points of view regarding autism, as that is the area where the neurodiversity movement first gained the powerful momentum of self-advocacy and framed the larger debate regarding challenges to the deficit model. Since that initial momentum, the neurodiversity concept has also been applied to other areas of difference: dyslexia, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and others. The course also incorporates an older literature regarding the sometimes assumed link between mental illness and creativity, which is complex, as well as literature focused on potential overlooked strengths and abilities that may exist within those populations. We will consider work in this domain such as Kay Jamison, Oliver Sacks, Naoki Higashida, and others. Most of all, the course aims to increase student understanding regarding potential heightened abilities, as well as challenges, in neurodiverse populations.

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Language Development

Graduate Seminar—Spring

A previous course in psychology or a social science is expected.

Learning language is a fundamental aspect of the human experience that is reproduced from generation to generation all over the world. Yet how similar are the processes of language development among people of different places and backgrounds? This course will explore the nature of language and its relation to thinking, meaning-making, and culture. We will begin with a look at the phenomena of first language acquisition—naming, categorizing, conversation, private speech, storytelling, metaphor—and how they constitute and express children’s experiences in their worlds. We will then consider topics such as language and gender, early literacy, second-language learning in the contexts of bilingualism, transitions from home to school, and immigration. Readings will be drawn from psychological studies and observational and ethnographic accounts. Students will be encouraged to do fieldwork in settings, including our Early Childhood Center, where they can observe and record language to investigate and document the processes we will be studying or as the basis for conference projects.

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Children's Health in a Multicultural Context

Graduate Seminar—Spring

A background in social sciences or education is recommended.

This course offers, within a cultural context, an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness in children. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness and highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers. Conference work may range from empirical research to bibliographic research in this area. Community partnership/service learning work is an option in this class.

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Research Seminar: 21st-Century Sleep

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Technological advancements in the last century helped build an understanding of the neurophysiological and neuropsychological processes of sleep; technological advancements in the current century have made understanding and monitoring one’s own sleep widely accessible using digital devices and apps. Having been long marginalized or seen as a weakness, indulgent luxury, or barrier to productivity, the value of sleep as a physiological a psychological asset is gaining prominence. Consideration of sleep as central to well-being, cognitive function, creativity, and productivity is entering the mainstream discourse; and advocacy for sleep as a human right is gaining voice. Nap chairs are popping up in workplaces, the discovery of body clocks was awarded a Nobel Prize, and sleep deprivation has become a noted public-health concern. In a time where we are surrounded by digital screens, electric light, all-day coffee culture, and demanding expectations on time—and access to quality sleep is impacted by socioeconomic disparity—a culture is emerging in which sleep is regarded as a valued asset, not merely time spent “off” from waking life. What is the research supporting this emerging sleep narrative? What are the social, emotional, cognitive, and neuropsychological benefits of sleep? What is the impact of impaired sleep? What are the barriers to sleep and sleep access? What is an optimal sleep environment? And what new questions do we pose? Is there a relationship among sleep quality, anxiety, and attention challenges? Is there a relationship between sleepwalking and stress? How do attitudes toward sleep impact the experience of people with chronic fatigue? Do children who get regular and adequate sleep demonstrate greater social competence? How does attachment security impact sleep quality? What is the relationship between gender and sleep needs? How does sleeping in alignment with seasonal light/dark patterns impact mood? How does access to digital devices impact sleep quality? Is adequate sleep stigmatized in a 24-hour culture? How do attitudes toward caffeine use differ from attitudes toward nootropics (“smart drugs” intended to reduce the need for sleep)? How does sleep quality impact productivity? Do high-school classes start too early for teenagers? Will napping after studying improve memory? How does sleep quality impact athletic performance? Does sleep quality impact how dance students learn new choreography? Do artists, musicians, and writers find creative solutions in dreams? Does meditation lead to more lucid dreams? How does room temperature impact sleep quality? How does working night shifts impact mood and cognitive functioning? How do socioeconomic barriers to adequate sleep and homelessness impact academic performance and well-being in school-age children? In this intermediate-level course, we will attempt to better understand questions such as these and others related to the broad topic of sleep. Through examining established research/theory and pursuing new lines of research, students will consider the impact of sleep quality on physical and emotional well-being, productivity, academic/work performance, cognitive and social functioning; the impact of physical illness and/or mental illness on sleep quality; the role of sleep and dreaming in memory, learning, and other functions; developmental sleep needs and patterns; gender differences in sleep needs and sleep quality; the impact of sleep environment on sleep quality; sleep in the digital age; and the impact of psychosocial factors/economic disparity on sleep quality. Over the course of the semester, students will design an independent research project related to one of those topics or another topic relevant to sleep. Students will learn how to conduct an academic literature review, formulate the rationale for a research project, develop an effective research methodology, collect data, analyze data, interpret the results, and communicate the findings in an APA-style paper. This course serves as an introduction to research methods, with a specific focus on sleep-related phenomena through your own research. Topics will include experimental research design, case studies, observational techniques, survey development, and hypothesis testing. In addition to individual A/B-week conference meetings, students will discuss conference research projects in class throughout the semester, providing and obtaining feedback to/from peers on formulating research questions, methods, data analysis, and interpretation of results. Projects could include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or another setting relevant to the project.

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Children’s Literature: Developmental and Literary Perspectives

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Children’s books are an important bridge between adults and the world of children. In this course, we will ask questions such as: What are the purposes of literature for children? What makes a children’s book developmentally appropriate for a child of a particular age? What is important to children as they read or listen? How do children become readers? How can children’s books portray the uniqueness of a particular culture or subculture, allowing those within to see their experience reflected in books and those outside to gain insight into the lives of others? To what extent can books transcend the particularities of a given period and place? Course readings include writings about child development, works about children’s literature, and, most centrally, children’s books themselves—picture books, fairy tales, and novels for children. Class emphasis will be on books for children up to the age of about 12. Among our children’s book authors will be Margaret Wise Brown, C. S. Lewis, Katherine Paterson, Maurice Sendak, Mildred Taylor, E. B. White, and Vera B. Williams. Many different kinds of conference projects are appropriate for this course. In past years, for example, students have worked with children (and their books) in fieldwork and service-learning settings, written original work for children (sometimes illustrating it, as well), traced a theme in children’s books, explored children’s books that illuminate particular racial or ethnic experiences, or examined books that capture the challenge of various disabilities.

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Puzzling Over People: Social Reasoning in Childhood and Adolescence

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: prior course in psychology.

We humans tend to find other people to be the most interesting “objects” in our lives—and for good reason. As infants, we are completely dependent upon others for our very survival; and throughout our lives, other people serve as the social bedrock of our existence. We are a social species, one that derives “fitness” through our abilities to read the social terrain and figure out social meaning in our interactions with others. There are a range of timely questions to address: How do we do this, and how does it develop throughout childhood? Are we “hardwired” in some ways to feel what other people are feeling? What about the special case of childhood autism? How do our emotions interact with our cognitions about the social world to affect our views of self and others and our future social lives? What would cause us to have a relatively good or poor “emotional IQ,” and what are the consequences? What are the roles of family and childhood friends in this process? These are some of the issues that we will address in this course. The opportunity will be available for hands-on fieldwork with children in order to observe children puzzling over people in real life.

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Social Development

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: prior course in psychology.

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 on three main areas: parent/child relations, sex-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—and 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.

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Challenges to Development: Child and Adolescent Psychopathology

Graduate Seminar—Spring

We live in a society that often seems preoccupied with labeling people and their characteristics as “normal” or “abnormal.” This course covers some of the material usually found in “Abnormal Psychology” courses by addressing 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. We will try, however, to bring both critical lenses and a range of individual perspectives to bear on our discussion of readings drawn from clinical and developmental psychology, memoir, and research studies. In this process, 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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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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Personality Development

Graduate 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 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 more recent integrative “relational perspective.” This is a different approach from the social personality work done on trait psychology, and we will consider its value for developmental understanding of the person. We will also consider the issues that this approach raises 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. An interest in theory and its applications is important, as is some background in psychology. 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

Graduate Seminar—Fall

“There’s nothing so practical as a good theory,” suggested Kurt Lewin over a hundred 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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