Perspectives on Child Development


A noted psychologist once said, “What you see depends on how you look.” Our subject is the worlds of childhood; and in this class, we try out the lenses of different psychological theories to highlight different aspects of those worlds. Freud, Erikson, Bowlby, and Stern provide differing perspectives on emotional development. Skinner, Bandura, Piaget, and Vygotsky present various approaches to the problems of learning and cognition. Chess and her colleagues take up the issues of temperament and its interaction with experience. Chomsky and others deal with the development of language. We will read the theorists closely for their answers but also for their questions, asking which aspects of childhood each theory throws into focus. We will also examine some systematic studies that developmental psychologists have carried out to confirm, test, and critique various theories: studies of mother-infant relationships, the development of cognition and language, and the emergence of intersubjectivity. In several of these domains, studies done in cultures other than our own cast light on the question of universality versus cultural specificity in development. Direct observation is an important complement to theoretical readings. In this class, all students will do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center. At times, we will draw on student observations to support or critique theoretical concepts as part of the seminar. The fieldwork will also provide the basis for developing conference work. Ideally, conference projects combine the interests of the student, some library reading, and some aspect of fieldwork observation. Among the many diverse projects students have designed in the past are topics such as children’s friendships, the meanings of block building, and how young children use language.