Barbara Schecter

Director, Graduate Program in Child Development/Psychology

BA, Sarah Lawrence College. MA, PhD, Teachers College, Columbia University. Developmental psychologist with special interests in cultural psychology, developmental theories, and language development; author and researcher on cultural issues in development and metaphoric thinking in children. SLC, 1985–

Previous Courses


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 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.


Language Development

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

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.


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.


MA Child Development

Observation Workshop


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.


Play in Developmental and Cultural Context


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.