Child Studies: Teaching and Learning with a Global Perspective

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Students in the WVC Child Studies Program learn about children everywhere!  (Photo by Mary Frances Wines, Peace Corps volunteer in Uspantan, Guatemala: woman breastfeeding her baby while marching for Women’s International Day.)

The West Valley College Child Studies Department offers students the opportunity to earn an Associate of Science transfer degree and the option to specialize in Communication and the Arts and/or in Program Director, and to earn a Certificate of Achievement in Early Childhood Education and/or Early Intervention. The courses address global concerns, and instructors are very much aware of the importance of teaching Child Studies with a global perspective. That approach is supported by a number of child development theorists. Lev Vygotsky and Urie Bronfenbrenner, in particular, maintain that culture, to varying degrees, has an impact on who we become as human beings—from our beliefs, customs, language, parenting practices—to who we marry, what we eat and how we live.

As if by default, because of the content, teaching and learning in some of the courses (for instance, the Curriculum, Music and Movement, Creative Art Experience, and Language and Literacy courses) are clearly infused with global perspectives. But students discover that other courses are also inclusive of global issues by deliberate design. For instance, in CHS 5 Diversity: Childhood and Culture, students examine the development of social identities in diverse societies including theoretical and practical implications affecting young children, families, programs, teaching, education and schooling.

In CHS 63 Child, Family and Community, students examine how culture influences child development in the context of a family within a community. An example of how the course is taught from a global perspective entails having students consider the development of human values. I show students the 2011 film, Happy, a feature documentary directed, written, and co-produced by Academy Award nominated film-maker Roko Belic, and inspired by an article published in the New York Times (“A New Measure of Well Being from a Happy Little Kingdom”) that ranked the United States as the 23rd happiest country in the world. This film is particularly apt for getting students to consider child development from a global perspective, because it weaves the newest findings in positive psychology and it explores human happiness through the commentary of interviewees from all walks of life in 14 different countries.

Incorporating visuals is an effective way to focus on global issues. Here’s another example: at the conclusion of a lecture on attachment theory in CHS 2 Child Growth and Development, I show a Youtube video by Playing for Change, a “movement created to inspire and connect the world through music.” I choose a particularly appropriate song, “Stand by Me,” sung by people in many different places in the world, because it highlights the importance of having family and friends to support you. Students connect to that song and sentiment, and so incorporating it into my lesson plan allows a smooth transition into discussing the development of secure attachment for children across cultures.

Of course, reading and discussing written texts is also a very productive way to incorporate global issues in teaching and learning about child development. In CHS 66 Child Safety, Health and Nutrition, for instance, students learn about “western diseases” and I discuss Colin Campbell’s book The China Study, which details his research on how diet affects susceptibility to diseases. Students begin to understand that, for example, people in cultures with indigenous plant-based diets tend not to have the same diseases found in western cultures where people eat highly processed foods. Students also plan menus for children and learn to include a variety of nutritious ethnic foods from around the world.

Trond Hagen and Dr. Ellen Bates Hansen Sandseter from Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education visit WVC.

Trond Loge Hagen and Dr. Ellen Bates Hansen Sandseter from Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education visit WVC. (Photo by Katherine Moore Wines.)

Teaching and learning in the Child Studies courses are also infused with global perspectives through co-curricular activities. One of the most effective events involved collaborating with the WVC Global Citizenship Committee in a project that allowed us to host colleagues from Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education in Trondheim, Norway. Dr. Ellen Bates Hansen Sandseter, and Trond Loge Hagen, visited WVC and presented research on the “Benefits of Risky Play for Young Children.” WVC students were thrilled to learn from these colleagues, and to gain a non-American perspective about the effect of play in children. Dr. Hansen Sandseter and Mr. Loge Hagen’s presentation can be seen here.

Infusing global issues in teaching and learning is not difficult, and it is imperative, since that is one way we prepare students and children to be globally competent.

This entry was composed by Katherine Moore Wines, the Department Chair of Child Studies. One of her favorite quotes about child development is by Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral: “Many things we need can wait; the child cannot. Now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, his mind is being developed. To him we cannot say tomorrow; his name is today.”

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