Understanding Children and Childhood

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSES2011054

Semester and Year Offered: 1st Semester (Monsoon)

Course Coordinator and Team: Monimalika Day, Shivani Nag and Anandini Dar

Email of course coordinator:,,

Pre-requisites: None

Aim and objectives of the course: This course aims at examining child and adolescent development from diverse disciplines. An introduction to major theoretical frameworks, current issues of concern and debates in child development will provide the context to an overview of the extensive theoretical and empirical work in the different aspects of development – physical, cognitive, language and socio-emotional. These aspects are crucial to understanding the manner in which children function and learn inside and outside the school setting. Students will also be familiarized with the cultural and contextual concerns that have emerged in recent decades and which pose a challenge to mainstream psychology. A critical perspective will thus be introduced by analysing the universal descriptions of development from a socio-cultural perspective and begin to understand the developmental pathways and the forces that influence the trajectory. The objective is to enable students to appreciate the extent and depth of understanding that has emerged in the field but also evaluate it critically.

Course outcomes

At the end of the course, the students should be able to:

  1. Describe the major theories of development and critically examine the theories as they apply to the lives of culturally, linguistically, and ability diverse children and their families.
  2. Examine the transactional nature of overall development in the context of the family, community, socioeconomic conditions, and culture.
  3. Identify typical developmental milestones of diverse children from birth through adolescence and their cultural and socioeconomic variations.
  4. Observe children in their natural environments and describe their development in the social, emotional, physical, language, and cognitive domain.


Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Unit 1- Biocultural Foundations of Development

This Unit will deal with inheritance of biological and cultural aspects of human life. It will define and discuss human culture, tools of the culture (material and symbolic tools) and processes through which it is inherited by children (social processes, role of symbols and language). Similarly, it will briefly discuss biological inheritance and ways in which individual’s genetic endowment gets expressed in physical and psychological characteristics/ traits and how they in turn enter into the process of evolution. Finally, it will try to draw some linkages between cultural and biological evolution.

Unit 2- The study of human development

This unit focuses on the study of the theories, the developmental process and the important milestones in language development. Introduce students to the concept of domains to examine the complex nature of development and simultaneously appreciate the close interrelationships between them. Understand the unique characteristics of children at different stages of development. Examine how these stages are defined by different cultural groups and may change with time. Help students to become aware of the major approaches to study the process of human development that includes Behaviourism and social learning theory; Psychoanalytic perspective (works of Freud &Erikson) & Bowlby’s Attachment Theory; Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory; Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory; Ecological Systems Theory; Theories of Moral development

Unit 3- Infancy and early childhood

Infancy and early childhood is characterized by rapid growth and development in all domains. The importance of early experiences and its influence on the development of the brain and behaviour in the later years has been clearly established by neuroscientists. This unit will cover the developmental aspects of physical, motor, socio-emotional and cognitive aspects for children between age group 0-2 years. This unit will constantly attempt to show the interaction between development and sociocultural contexts within which it happens and how they together contribute to the increasing organization and coordination of the infant’s behaviour.

Unit 4 –Middle Childhood

Middle childhood is a unique period, the importance of which has been ignored by some of the grand theorists. During this stage children begin to participate more actively in school and community activities. Their experiences in the school and the relationships they forge with the peers and adults outside the home influences their sense of self and their ability to engage in learning and socialization in the later years.

Unit 5- Adolescence

The section will begin with a discussion of how adolescence is viewed in different cultures. Students will learn about the biological changes that occur during this period and its effects on the child’s ability to function. The physical, cognitive and social emotional development will be discussed with reference to existing theories and research.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • Class test 10% (Mid-September)
  • Group Presentations on theories 30% (Mid October)
  • Child- Observation report 25% (Mid- November)
  • End term-exam 35%


Reading list: 

  • Berk, L.E. (2001). Development through the life span. Pearson Education India.
  • Bisht, S., &Sinha, D. (1981).Socialisation, family and psychological differentiation.In, D. Sinha(Ed.), Socialisation of the Indian child. pp. 41 – 54. New Delhi: Concept.
  • Cole, M. (1985). The zone of proximal development: where culture and cognition create each other. In J. V. Wertsch (Ed.), Culture, communication, and cognition: Vygotskian perspectives (pp. 146—61). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Dalal, A., & Misra, G. (2010). The core and context of Indian Psychology. Psychology and Developing Societies, 22(1), 121-155.
  • Kakar, S. (1981).The inner world: The psychoanalytic study of childhood and society in India. New Delhi: Oxford.
  • Lightfoot, C.,Cole., C M., & Cole, S. R. (2009) Development of children. Worth Publishers.
  • Chapters 2 and 3 Raby, R. (2007). “Across a Great Gulf? Considering research with adolescents.” In Amy L. Best (Ed.) Representing youth: Methodological issues in critical youth studies. NY: NYU Press, pp. 39-59.
  • Rogoff, B., & Gauvain, M. (1986). A method for analysis of patterns illustrated with data on mother-child instructional interaction. In J. Valsiner, (Ed.), The role of the individual subject in scientific psychology. (pp. 261 – 290). New York: Plenum.
  • Saraswathi, T.S. (1999) , Culture, socialisation and human development. New Delhi: Sage. Shonkoff, J.P. and Phillips, D.A. (2000). From neurons to neighbourhoods: the science of early child development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy PressWeisner,T.S. (2002). Ecocultural understanding of children’s developmental pathways. 5(4):275-281.


Additional References:

  • Gopnik, A. (2012). What’s wrong with the teenage mind. Retrieved on 10th February, 2012
  • Gottlieb, A. (2012). Promoting an anthropology of infants: Some personal reflections. Retrieved on 2nd July, 2013 from AnthopoChildren, 2012, 1, Gottlieb:
  • Verma, S. & Sharma, D. (2003). Cultural continuity amid social change: Adolescents’ use of free time in India. In S. Verma and R. W. Larson (Eds.), Examining adolescent leisure time across cultures. (pp. 37 – 51). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Sharma, D. (2003). Childhood, family and socio-cultural change in India. Reinterpreting the inner world. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Nespor, J. (1999). “The meanings of research: Kids as subjects and kids as inquirers” Qualitative Inquiry,4(3), 369-388.
  • Punch, S. (2002). “Research with children: The same or different from research with adults?” Childhood,9(3), 321–341.