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.

2015-2016 Courses

Child Development

The Psychology of Gender: From Social Structure to Individual Lives

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course examines the category of gender within and beyond the discipline of psychology and aims to familiarize students with major theoretical perspectives on gender, including social constructionism, feminism, Marxism, queer theories, critical race theories, and various psychological traditions. The course also draws from empirical research on gender in the United States and abroad that emphasizes the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, ability, and immigration in women’s experiences and identities. We will explore how gender and gendered practices have been studied in relation to macro-social processes such as patriarchy, capitalism, and globalization but also how they form meanings in the physical and psychological lives of individuals. We will look at how gender is embedded in contested relations of power in diverse communities and how feminists and psychologists have explored the possibilities for change within and beyond academia.

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Art and Visual Perception

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

“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 the study of visual neuroscience and art can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by neuroscientist Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight, 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 for students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience.

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Attachment Across the Life Cycle: How Relationships Shape Us from Infancy to Older Adulthood

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Throughout life, people may experience a varied and complex range of attraction, intimacy, and loss. From intense desire to profound grief, the relationships that people find themselves in—and out of—can consume much of their attention. What is it about connecting to certain others that can hold such power? Why are people drawn to certain relationships and not to others? Do these important relationships affect a person’s development? Pioneered by John Bowlby, attachment theory emphasizes the impact of infant and early childhood attachment on social, emotional, and cognitive development. Attachment theory has become a widely accepted cornerstone of early human development. Current research in human bonding has grown to include key relationships throughout the lifespan. Beginning with attachments established in infancy and early childhood, this course will examine the impact of important relationships through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and older adulthood. We will consider how the fulfillment or deprivation of important relationships may impact development and wellbeing. Landmark discoveries and emerging studies in attachment theory and human bonding will be covered, including relevant aspects of neuropsychological development, autism, adoption, queer families, resilience, spiritual identification, social affiliation, and parenting. Readings will include classical attachment literature, contemporary human-bonding research, developmental psychopathology, feminist critique, identity theory, social psychology, neuropsychology, object relations, and psychoanalytic literature. Film, case studies, and examples from popular media will be included for reflection and class discussion. A one-time observation in the Early Childhood Center (ECC) is required; weekly fieldwork in the ECC is encouraged. Conference work may include observations from the ECC (child or parent-child interactions observed during fieldwork) or observations from other settings such as youth/adolescent programs or older adult community centers.

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Challenges to Development: Child and Adolescent Psychopathology

Intermediate , 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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Cultural Psychology of Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

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 is 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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Experimental Psychology Research Seminar

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

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 individual and group work. A variety of research designs will be discussed and evaluated throughout the semester, such as case studies, observational, cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental approaches.

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Memory Research Seminar

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

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, metaphors of memory, and the anatomy of memory. Frederic Bartlett’s constructive theory of memory will form the theoretical backbone of the course. Most conference work will involve experimental explorations of memory.

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Moral Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

For thousands of years, philosophers have struggled with the questions surrounding the issue of morality. Over the past 100 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, including the ideas of Hoffman); and moral actions, or behavior (behaviorism, social-learning theory). In addition, we will investigate the possible relations among these three aspects of moral development. Throughout the course, we will connect 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 either in the form of detailed observations or direct interaction (interviews, etc.).

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Personality Development

Intermediate , 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 such fundamental themes 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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Puzzling Over People: Social Reasoning in Childhood and Adolescence

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

We humans tend to find other people the most interesting “objects” in our lives—and for good reason. As infants, we are completely dependent upon them 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 is 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 other 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 to observe them puzzling over people in real life.

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Studying Men and Masculinities

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Do men have an innate nature? How have changing social conditions affected the phenomenological experience of being a man? In this intermediate class, we will engage in a critical study of gender by examining the social construction of biological sex and the construction of categories/conceptions of “man” and “masculinity.” An interdisciplinary approach will inform our examination. We will read from anthropology, critical race theory, feminist theory, masculinity studies, psychology, public health, queer theory, and sexuality studies to create a contextualized understanding of men and masculinity. Major topic areas will include biological and social perspectives on males and gender, intersectionality, ethnic identities and masculinities, and sexual orientation/desire and its relation to gender identity.

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Theories of Development

Intermediate , 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 that 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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Observation Workshop

Seminar—Fall

First-year students participate in an Observation Workshop that meets approximately five times during the semester as a component of the "Developmental Theories" course. In these workshops, students discuss fieldwork observations on such topics as children’s play, language development, socialization and cognitive development. The purpose of the workshop is to create a bridge between the theoretical reading of the course and the practical experiences of classroom observation.

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