Changing Concepts of Children & Childhood

Study of knowledge
What are the 4 types or knowing?

  1. Personal
  2. Authoritative
  3. Rational
  4. Empirical

Personal Knowledge

Introspection (looking inside oneself)

Self awareness (knowledge of internal self)

Authoritative Knowledge

Traditionally handed down, e.g. cultural, old wive’s tales, teachers, clergy, scientists, parents.

Revelation from a divine source


We take it as true because we trust its source.


Only valid if we believe it.

Rational Knowledge
Based on logic
Empirical Knowledge

Incidental observations


Planned/Systematic observations


Knowledge gained through our senses

People can test the accuracy of another person’s knowledge themselves


Empirical knowledge does not depend on whether people believe it.

What type of knowledge did ancient civilisations rely upon?

Incidental observation and authoritative (revelation).



How did the ancients view their world? (cosmology)

Mainly polytheistic (multiple Gods) & they were at the mercy/whim of those Gods.


Viewed phenomena based on their belief systems.


How was truth determined?

By authority.


It couldn’t be challenged because to research and challenge was to challenge truth itself.

How did the ancients view children?

Some evidence of parental affection.


Sacrificed to Gods.


Property of men (like women)

What significant thing happened 3,500 years ago which changed the way people thought about and treated children?

Moses (authority based on revelation)

Monotheism (one God)

One God for everyone, a God of order, the world a place of order/predictable

How did Moses’ teachings affect the way people viewed and treated children?

Gifts from God

No sacrificing/abandonment/exposing to elements

Parent/child relationship paralleled that of God/Person relationship

Love, nurture, education, protect

Acknowledged that children differed from adults as being unable to discern good from evil, therefore didn’t have same spiritual or moral responsibilities.

How important were Moses’ &

Jesus Christ’s teachings?

They are still influential today in Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions.


Huge impact on how children were viewed/treated which has carried through to modern times.

What impact did Alexander the Great have?

Conquered much of the world and took with him the Greek culture and beliefs.


Referred to as hellinisation.


Greeks believed in polytheism.

What was the major change that hellinisation brought about?



Greeks built upon old knowledge using logic.


Used ANALYSIS – breaking things downinto smaller parts to see how they related to each other.


Democritus – atom


This led people from simple incidental observations through to planned observations and rational thinking.

What was the Greek’s view of the cosmos?

Ptolemaic view.


Cosmos comprised concentric spheres (the sphere being the ‘perfect’ shape) with the STATIONARY earth at the centre surrounded as you move out by water, air and then fire (where the sun, moon, stars, planets & Gods resided).

Each element strives to return to its own sphere (fire-up, water, down – e.g. rain, air & soil fell through both.  People & objects were made up of a mixture of these 4 elements.

At the time this was how they explained how things moved, and the weights of things.

What became the major forms of knowledge with hellinisation?

Monotheistic Christianity (Jesus’ teachings)


Atheistic philosophy

How did the Greek’s view children?

Negatively.  Rationalistic approach.

Children unformed adults

Lacked rational minds.

Children’s unruly, irrational thinking made children a threat to their valued rational culture.


Exposure of newborns & child slavery were common.

How did this way of thinking affect some Christian thinkers?

Thought that children were born evil (because of the physical nature inherited from Adam who was made from the dust of the earth).

All children wanted to return to their natural realm (ptolemaic system worked for about 2,000 years) and the only thing that prevented them from doing so was the grace of God and infant baptism.

This did prove that children were valued by God.

What were the two main ways of looking at children that persisted from these times through the Middle Ages?
Pagan view of children – exposure to die, but some Christians saw it as their duty to rescue and raise them.

Original sin – children needed to be punished so that they would submit & learn to be good & acceptable to God, parents and society.

What type of things happened to children during this time?
Children were considered a major contribution toward poverty. Babies abandoned. Orphanages, institutions, hospitals were established by church.
Women executed for infanticide. Church passed over these institutions to lay people to administer, local & central governments taking lead.
Who adopted the Ptolemaic system?

The Catholic Church.

It was seen as a test of a person’s faith.

Hard to challenge.

To disagree with the church at the time was punishable by death.

What was the first known challenge to authority/the Church?

Over how many teeth a horse had.

Plato & Aristotle couldn’t agree.

Argued about for centuries.

Roger Bacon decided to count a horse’s teeth.

Deliberate observation used to test authority

First public advocation of empiricism which bases knowledge on systematic observation.

What was the 2nd shock to authoritative knowledge of that time?

Kopernik (Polish monk) – mathematician

Wanted to explain why planets looked like they stood still or moved backwards.

Put the sun at the centre of the universe (instead of the earth)

Destroyed the idea of Ptolomy.

Next shock?

Tycho Brahe and Kepler (both astonomers) worked out the orbits of comets and planets were elliptical, not spherical as previously thought.

Used observation to find this out.

The old cosmological way of thinking was falling apart.

What did Galileo do?

Built himself a telescope and observed numerous things which proved the Ptolemaic system incorrect.

Published findings & invited anyone that wanted to to use the telescope to see for themselves.

No longer needed to rely on what the Church told them – they could see with their own eyes.

How did the Church react?

Said telescope was invention of the devil.

Pope banned Galileo’s writings.

Before Galileo there was no wasy to challenge what powerful peole said was true.

What was so important about printing presses?
Galileo’s findings were mass produced as was the Bible in people’s own languages (not Latin), so they could read and decide for themselves.
What method of knowledge replaced authority?



This was huge – everything everyone had believed and been taught ; accepted to be true came crashing down.


If authorities said children were evil there was no way to contradict them unless another authority said the opposite. Now everything in the observable world was open to the common person to decide for themselves.

What was this new methodology referred to as?



Started off studying physical and moved to biological.


Human life went from a divine gift to a human being seen as a highly developed animal with no claim to divinity.

Children began to be studied using scientific methods of systematic observation.

Meanwhile, philosophical and religious ideas still continued, children innately bad requiring discipline or innately good and should be allowed to mature without adult interference.


Growing concern for children especially amongst Christian groups and individual Christian philanthropists.

What was so important about the 18th Century?



A turning point for childhood – seen as a separate stage in its own right.; New ways of thinking about children emerged.; Secularisation of attitudes.


Influenced by Locke, Rousseau and the Romantic poets ; artists.

John Locke



Tabula rasa (blank slate), shaped by experiences, sensations ; reflections


Published first secular child-guidance book


Individuality – no two children alike


Downplayed Christianity’s role in child rearing


Credited with restoring happiness to childhood


Advocated a nature/nurture link.


Advocated maternal breastfeeding/no swaddling


Mothers became the main child-rearers – death rate of children under 5 dropped by 30%.


We are still strongly influenced bythis vision of a perfect & trouble free childhood as the ideal

Romantic Poets

Such as Wordsworth had huge impact.


Children’s literature produced.


Freedom of imagination for children advocated.

Period of Romanticism

Was a set of ideas not a “how to”.


Christianity didn’t cease – people just didn’t rely on it as the only way to explain natural phenomena or to tell them what to do.



Romantic sentiment ; Christian concern gave way to protection of children – child labour laws, SPCC (Societies for prevention of cruelty to children – modelled after RSPCA).

20th century humanism – assumption that children are born good ; with proper upbringing could grow to be positive contributors to society.


United Nations convention on rights of the child 1989

What about science?

Science provides a way of testing knowledge – what is inaccurate can be identified and changed.


Science started off addressing physiological questions about humans which then developed into more ‘human’ questions.



What was the earliest known scientific study of people?

Bessel (German astronomer)


first example of applying science to a problem involving humans.


Setting the Greenwich clock, it was discovered that the reaction time varied depending on the person who pushed the button.; Until then, it was thought it was instantaneous.

Isaac Newton

mechanistic world view (his theories in the behaviourist paradigm)


Gravity kept world in place, inertia


Clockwork universe.


God wound it up ; it kept on going.; Newton applied logic to systematic observations.



What is a developmental theory?

an attempt to explain features of human nature that are common to all individuals.;


Explain human phenomena

Green ; Piel’s definition of a theory
“A theory is a coherent, integrated set of statements containing internal principles, bridge principles, and an identifiable body of phenomena to be explained” (p. 9)
Three elements are needed to provide a definition of a theory

  1. internal principles – primary concept, building blocks
  2. bridge principles – form connections or bridges between a throry’s internal principles and specific
    phenomena the theory attempts to explain
  3. phenomena to be explained

Some key theoretical terms:

Assumptions: unproven beliefs based on reasonable assumption to explain phenomena


Change mechanism: the process responsible for producing changes that constitute development


Operational definition: how we go about it (what was observed and how – measurable)

Two other things contributed to development of a scientific approach to human life ; study of children

  1. Charles Darwin
  2. Alfred Binet

Charles Darwin

best known for Theory of evolution – survival of the fittest.


He kept detailed diaries of children’s development.


A tradition arose from this of explaining development.


He thought that children’s development mirrored development of the species (ontogeny)

Alfred Binet
Developed an intelligence test for children.
Behaviourist Theorists

Bacon, Newton, Darwin


Children were treated like machines

Environmental influences rather than hereditary

Learning controlled by adults

Children had no control over own behaviour

Do not consider unobservable such as thought ; emotion

Operant Conditioning (behaviourism)


Watson, Skinner

Watson – Human behaviour conditioned ; behaviour shaped and controlled by stimuli (famous Albert experiment)


Skinner – also believed that rewarded behaviour increases, whilst unrewarded doesn’t



Social Learning Theory (Bandura)



Humans learn by imitating others.


Vicarious conditioning (increase a behaviour in somebody by seeing other people reinforced for doing so)


3 causal factors affect behaviour: environment, observed behaviour, cognition/personal factors.


Assumes:  symbolising capacity, forethought, self-reflection, ability to learn through observation

Classification (formism)

domains is a form of classification


classification of human phenomena difficult


classification changes over time


Scientist’s social background, attitudes, prejudices ; socio-political environment of the time.

Theories usually fit into one of 3 paradigms







Endogenous / Organismic


change is driven from within the person/ development is seen as discontinuous/stage like, e.g. ages;stages (domains), milestones.; Development occurs because of interactions between genetic maturation ; experience but it is always maturation that drives development.



Environmental factors external to the individual affect development



Development is a synthesis of progressive organisations and reorganisations that are constructed in the process of adapting to and interacting with the external world (Green ; Piel 2010, p. 21)



Psycho-sexual theory


(a stage theory with focus on conflicts at different ages)


Organismic paradigm (endogenous)


FIRST comprehensive theory of child development

3 parts of adult personality, ID, EGO, ; SUPEREGO


Psycho sexual stages

  1. Oral (birth to 1)
  2. Anal (1-3)
  3. Phallic (3-6)
  4. Latency (6-11)
  5. Genital (adolescence ; later)

How parents handle their children’s sexual impulses influences how children resolve conflict between impulses & social demands – good balance leads to healthy mature behaviour – poor balance leads to later problems



Psycho-social theory


(stage theory focusing on conflict at certain ages)


Organismic (endogenous paradigm)


friend and student of Freud


8 psycho-social stages


Basic trust vs mistrust (birth to one year)

Autonomy vs shame (1-3 years)

Initiative vs guilt (3-6 years)


lifespan development

importance of community/culture in normal development of mature personality


Erikson believed that at each stage an identity crisis occurred and needed to be resolved if the person was going to be a positive, functioning member of society.


If the crises were not resolved, a person would still move on to the next stage but had the opportunity of revisiting and resolving a crisis at another time in their life.





Cognitive Development Theory




Children think and reason about things differently as they progress through four defined stages.


Sensori-motor (0-2)

Preoperational (2-7)

Concrete operational (7-11)

Formal operational (11 & up)


parent/teacher facilitated learning works best



Socio-cultural theory



Children progress as their learning is scaffolded by adults.


The zone of proximal development is the time when a child is ready to learn and progress to next level.


Culture shapes who we are & how we develop.


Children actively seek knowledge & as they acquire language from & through others their capacity for thinking is transformed into higher cognitive processes.



Theory of moral development (cognitive theory)



Attempts to explain development of moral reasoning.


Morality reflects rational rather than emotional considerations.


Cognitive & social development must have already occurred for later development of moral judgement.


Later stages are reorganisations of earlier stages.


Morality lies in INTENT not BEHAVIOUR


Identifies 3 levels and 6 stages



Ecological Theory



Biological dispositions, relationships & multiple levels of the total environment shape a child’s development.


To truly understand a child you need to know about their world.


Concentric circles – child at centre – microsystem






Wider society impacts directly on the child

Multiple interacting causes affect development.

Thelen ; Smith


Dynamic Systems Theory



Development is multilayered and self-organising, changing or stabilising constantly over time.


There isn’t just one element in the system that controls developmental change.


It is the result of many elements interacting through time.


Change in non linear and discontinuous