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.

2019-2020 Courses

Child Development

Becoming Oneself: From Freud to Contemporary Psychoanalytic Theories of 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 psychodynamic 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, George Vaillant, and others. Throughout the semester, we will return to fundamental themes such as the complex interaction of nature and nurture; as yet unanswered questions, for example, 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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Bonding to Wellbeing: How Early Attachment Bonds Shape Well-being Throughout Life

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Attachment theory has become a widely accepted foundation of understanding early human development. Pioneered by John Bowlby, attachment theory emphasizes the role of infant and early childhood bonds with caregivers, usually parents, on social and emotional development. As study of attachment theory has advanced, interest in human bonding throughout adolescence and adulthood has increased. No longer confined to attachments established during infancy and early childhood, understanding how important relationships shape us during adolescence, adulthood, and older adulthood are growing areas of interest. Emerging studies of attachment in neuropsychological development, adoption, queer families, spiritual identification, social affiliation, and parenting give us new insights into how the fulfillment or deprivation of important relationships throughout life impact development and well-being. This course explores the historical and cross-theoretical roots of attachment theory, follows advances and refinements in attachment theory and research, and looks at attachment beyond childhood through adolescence, adulthood, and older adulthood. Readings include classical attachment theory, as well as contemporary attachment research, developmental psychopathology, feminist critique, identity theory, social psychology, neuropsychology, object relations, and psychoanalytic literature. Film and relevant case studies will be included for reflection and class discussion. Students will be required to complete weekly fieldwork placements in the Early Childhood Center (ECC). Students will work closely with classroom teachers one hour per week and will become part of the class (as advised and supervised by classroom teachers) while maintaining weekly observation logs relevant to seminar objectives and conference work. Conference will include observations from the ECC (child or child-parent observations). Conference work may also include observations from other settings where the students may be completing fieldwork, such as youth/adolescent programs or the Wartburg Center for Senior Living.

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

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: a prior course in psychology.

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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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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Cultural Psychology of Development

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: previous course in psychology or another social science.

Cultural psychology is the study of the ways in which individual and culture, subject and object, person and world constitute each other. This course will explore how children and adolescents make meaning of their experiences in the contexts in which they live—assuming that, for all of us, development is an ongoing response to the cultural life around us and that culture is a dynamic process of engagement. We will consider topics such as: language and culture, early storytelling in families, transitions from home to school, and gendered and racial identities. We will read a combination of psychological and anthropological texts. Questions to be explored include: How are a sense of self and place constituted in early childhood? How are these values expressed in children’s stories, art, and play? How do adolescents navigate differing language communities and cultural values in forging their identities? What are some of the implications for public education in this country? Students will have the opportunity to do fieldwork in school or community settings and to use conference work to bridge reading and practical experience.

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Intersectionality Research Seminar

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Students who have studied race/ethnicity, gender, or sexuality in at least one other class would be best prepared to take this class.

This class is a hands-on introduction to conducting qualitative and quantitative psychological research on the intersection of race/ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Although research is an indispensable part of scientific endeavors, the conduct of research itself is part scientific ritual and part art form. In this class, we will learn both the science and the art of conducting ethical research with diverse participants. What is the connection of race, sexuality, and gender within an American multicultural and multiethnic society? Is there a coherent, distinct, and continuous self existing within our postmodern, paradigmatic, etc. contexts? How is the sexual/racial/gendered implicated in the creation of this self-identity? Is there principled dynamic or developmental change in our concepts of self, whether as human beings, sexual beings, and/or racial/ethnic beings? This class explores the analysis of race, ethnicity, and sexualities within psychology and the broader social sciences; how those constructs implicitly and explicitly inform psychological inquiry; and the effects of those constructs on the “psychology” of the individual in context. This class regularly moves beyond psychology to take a broader, social-science perspective on the issue of intersectionality.

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Memory Research Seminar

Open , Graduate Seminar—Spring

Some previous coursework in psychology is required, and a previous course in statistics is highly recommended.

The experimental study of remembering has been a vital part of psychology since the beginning of the discipline. The most productive experimental approach to this subject has been a matter of intense debate and controversy. The disputes have centered on the relationship between the forms of memory studied in the laboratory and the uses of memory in everyday life. We will engage this debate through the study of extraordinary memories, autobiographical memories, the role of visual imagery in memory, accuracy of memory, expertise, eyewitness testimony, and the neuroanatomy of memory. Frederic Bartlett’s constructive theory of memory will form the theoretical backbone of the course. Most conference work will involve experimental studies of some aspect of memory.

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

Graduate 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.

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Theories of Development

Graduate Seminar—Fall

For graduate students and seniors with permission of the instructor.

“Knowledge is there in the seeing.” What we observe when we look at children is related to the adult assumptions, expectations, and naïve theories that we carry with us from our own families and childhoods. How are these related to the ways that theorists have framed their questions and understandings of children’s experiences? Competing theoretical models of Freud, Skinner, Bowlby, Piaget, Vygotsky, Werner, 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 read the classic theories in their primary sources—psychoanalytic, behaviorist, attachment, 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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Theories of the Creative Process

Graduate 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.

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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 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.
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