What Are Children For? The Psychology and History of Childhood

Fall 2020
Freshman - Sophomore
Class Size: 46
16 Credits per quarter
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Change is innate to child development. Throughout history and across cultures, meanings of children and childhood also change. This program examines childhood as a psychological, a historical, and a cultural phenomenon.

Our focus is on the physical, cognitive, and social development of children, and on how children's experiences have changed over the course of U.S. history. In order to learn about development from conception and birth through middle childhood (age 12) we will examine Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development, Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory, Urie Bronfenbrenner's ecological model, and behaviorism. We also consider what childhood was like before these theories existed, and how they both described and changed what it means to grow up. For example, until the middle of the 19th century most children contributed labor to maintenance of the family home and were expected to reproduce the circumstances of their birth. Movements advocating for the rights of women, children, workers, and people of color disrupted social hierarchies, including those within families. As a result, children moved from the periphery of adults' intellectual, psychological, moral, and political interest and into the center. Our work also considers how heredity, environment, and social change influence childhood, includes study of typical and atypical development and the influence of context (e.g., culture, socioeconomic status, history), and examines whether both human development and historical change occur gradually or in distinct stages. We will inquire into how young people are both active and passive in their own development, and learn about children's deliberate participation in history.

Our texts are drawn from psychology, history, literature, film, and art; student writing focuses on evaluating research, presenting evidence-based arguments, and memoir. Students can expect to learn how to read and write more effectively, and to gain an introduction to research methods in psychology and history. All students will be able to focus on aspects of childhood that matter to them.

The program befits students who care about children and/or wish to work with children. It will enlighten anyone who has grown up, is still trying to grow up, or wonders if they ever should.

To successfully participate in this program students should have access to reliable internet  during synchronous class meetings, and be able to access texts on line and/or in hard copy. Students should expect to participate in 7.5 hours of synchronous meetings each week using zoom and canvas. Students will have access to alternatives to synchronous participation if conditions require.

Greener Foundations:  This program will incorporate Greener Foundations, a holistic course designed for first-time, first-year students. Faculty and staff collaborate to bring study skills, academic planning, health and wellness education, advising, and more into the classroom. More information can be found on the college website at Greener Foundations . 


Fall 2020 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So (16): 10105
Fr (16): 10106

Academic details

Preparatory For

Education, psychology, teaching, working with children and parents

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing


Time Offered
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First Meeting

DateRevision 2020-08-05 This program is now fully remote fall quarter