2013-2014 Child Development Courses
Intersections of Multiple Identities
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 LudensMany 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 current efforts underway to train “playworkers” to guide play in new adventure playgrounds. Students will be encouraged to choose a context in which to observe and/or participate in play either at our ECC or in other settings with children or adults.
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.).
Mindfulness: Neuroscientific and Psychological Perspectives
Mindfulness can be described as nonjudgmental attention to experiences in the present moment. For thousands of years, mindfulness has been cultivated through the practice of meditation. More recently, developments in neuroimaging technologies have allowed scientists to explore the brain changes that result from the pursuit of this ancient practice, laying the foundations of the new field of contemplative neuroscience. Study of the neurology of mindfulness meditation provides a useful lens for study of the brain in general, because so many aspects of psychological functioning are affected by the practice. Some of the topics that we will address are attention, perception, emotion and its regulation, mental imaging, habit, and consciousness. This is a good course for those interested in scientific study of the mind.
Language Research Seminar
The acquisition of our first language is “doubtless the greatest intellectual feat any of us is ever required to perform” (Bloomfield), yet this feat was essentially accomplished by the time we were three years old—and we likely have no memory of it. Furthermore, human language fundamentally influences human ecology, culture, and evolution. Thus, many contemporary researchers in the interdisciplinary field of psycholinguistics argue that our language abilities are a large part of what makes us uniquely human. Are we, in fact, the only species with true language? And how would we begin to answer this question? In this course, we will attempt to answer this and other key questions in the broad field of language development through both our discussions of current and contemporary research and theory and the development of new research in this field. Current “hot” research topics include whether bilingual children have better control over what they pay attention to than monolingual children do (attention and language); whether language influences thought; whether language acquisition is biologically programmed; and why children learn language better from an adult in person than the same adult on television. Over the course of the semester, you will have the opportunity to design an independent research project that investigates one of these key questions or another question of interest to you in the broad area of language development. In doing this, you will learn how to outline the rationale for a research project, develop an effective research methodology, collect data, analyze the data, interpret your results, and communicate your findings in a persuasive yet objective manner. This course thus serves as an introduction to research methods, with a specific focus on research methods in psycholinguistics, through your own research. Topics will include experimental research design, case studies, observational techniques, survey development, and hypothesis testing. To help you design and implement your own research, we will discuss your conference research projects in class throughout the semester; you will obtain feedback from your colleagues on your questions, methods, analyses of the data, and interpretation of the results. This project could include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children.
Pathways of Development: Psychopathology and Other Challenges to the Developmental Process
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.
The Neurobiology of Mental Health
Art and Visual Perception
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 the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the 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 students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience.
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 other appropriate setting is required, although conference projects may center on aspects of that experience or not, depending on the individual student’s interest. .
Theories of Development
“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 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, 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.