2012-2013 Child Development Courses
Puzzling Over People: Social Reasoning in Childhood and Adolescence
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 to 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 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.
Theories of the Creative Process
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 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 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 field work at the Early Childhood Center and focus on an aspect of creative activity in young children.
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.
The Feeling Brain: The Biology and Psychology of Emotions
The processing of emotion was an enduring concern for early biologists and psychologists. Charles Darwin devoted a monograph to the expression of emotion in men and animals and argued for an evolutionary understanding of emotions as a biological phenomenon. William James considered emotions a key topic in his investigations of the science of mental life. Despite this early interest, emotions were not a major focus in the development of modern cognitive neuroscience. Instead, efforts to understand mental life focused primarily on reason or cognition. Recently, this neglect of emotions has been redressed through the growth of the new interest area of “affective neuroscience.” This integration of psychological and biological approaches has been fueled by an increasing awareness of the function of emotions in mental life and by technological and experimental advances, such as brain imaging, which have allowed the development of sophisticated experimental approaches to the study of emotions. In this course, we will begin with the early history of the investigation of emotions in order to define our terms and then quickly proceed to the new experimental work being developed in both human and animal models. Some of the questions to be entertained are: What brain systems regulate emotions? How do emotions modulate memories? How are different emotions processed by the brain? How do emotions and reason interact to shape decision-making? This is a joint seminar. Open to sophomores and above.
Gender Research Seminar: Focus on Men and Masculinities
This class is a hands-on introduction to conducting qualitative and quantitative psychological research on gender. 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 art of conducting ethical research with diverse participants. We will also engage in a critical study of gender by examining the social construction of biological sex and categories/conceptions of “man” and “masculinities.” Students will design and implement an independent research study of gender during the course of this seminar.
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.
Making friends, losing friends, keeping friends...through the use of psychological and literary texts, we will explore the important functions of friendship for children and adolescents. During this century, psychologists have assumed that adults serve as the major social influence on a child’s developing sense of self and personality, that perhaps only toward adolescence would children’s social relations with peers come to play an important role in their lives. We now know better. In recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in the study of friendships and peer relations throughout childhood, even in toddlerhood. The important psychological benefits of having friends are increasingly recognized. So, too, are the potential problems of its obverse: Children who are truly without friends are at greater risk for later social-emotional difficulties. We will explore the writings of major theorists such as Sullivan, Youniss, Selman, and Rubin; read and discuss the recent studies that have observed “friendship in the making”; and examine what friendship means to children and adolescents in their own words. In addition, fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or elsewhere will be encouraged, so that students can have firsthand knowledge of children’s social relations.
Children’s Literature: Developmental and Literary Perspectives
Children’s books are an important bridge between adults and the world of children. In this course, we will ask questions such as: What are the purposes of literature for children? What makes a children’s book developmentally appropriate for a child of a particular age? What is important to children as they read or listen? How do children become readers? How can children’s books portray the uniqueness of a particular culture or subculture, allowing those within to see their experience reflected in books and those outside to gain insight into the lives of others? To what extent can books transcend the particularities of a given period and place? Course readings include writings about child development, works about children’s literature, and, most centrally, children’s books themselves—picture books, fairy tales, and novels for children. Class emphasis will be on books for children up to the age of about 12. Among our children’s book authors will be Margaret Wise Brown, C. S. Lewis, Katherine Paterson, Maurice Sendak, Mildred Taylor, E. B. White, and Vera B. Williams. Many different kinds of conference projects are appropriate for this course. In past years, for example, students have worked with children (and their books) in fieldwork and service-learning settings, written original work for children (sometimes illustrating it, as well), traced a theme in children’s books, explored children’s books that illuminate particular racial or ethnic experiences, or examined books that capture the challenge of various disabilities.
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.
Memory Research Seminar
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.
Children’s Health in a Multicultural Context
This course offers, within a cultural context, an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness in children. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness and will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers. Conference work may range from empirical research to bibliographic research in this area. Community partnership/service-learning work is an option in this class.
Cultural Psychology of Development
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, 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.
This week-long intensive program is for educators, graduate students, playworkers in outdoor parks, children’s museums, and playgrounds, social workers, play therapists, and child life specialists, who are interested in learning more about the developmental importance of play. Through lectures led by experts in the field, the reading and discussion of articles, hands-on seminars, and observations, the program explores play in learning, therapeutic, and recreational contexts through an interdisciplinary lens. Participants engage in field observations of children at Sarah Lawrence College’s Early Childhood Center and at Community Adventure Play Experiences. Participants will receive a certificate with contact hours/in-service hours. Upon successful completion of the program and final written project, participants will receive one graduate credit in Child Development or Art of Teaching.