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What does it mean to be a child in today’s world? Do popular images of childhood match the reality of young people’s lives? How is childhood affected by poverty, ill-health and adversity? Do children have different rights from adults, and if so why? How are modern lifestyles and technologies changing children’s relationships and identities? What part do children play in shaping their childhood? Such questions are the starting point for this cross-disciplinary introduction to childhood and youth studies, covering the age range 0–18 and including audio-visual case studies from three contrasting parts of the world.

What you will study

This broad-based module on the theme of childhood is:

  • Introductory – Childhood has a place in everyone's lives, but recent commentary suggests that childhood is in crisis. The idea of childhood as lost or in decline is one of the starting points for the module, which will be equally relevant whether you are a parent, work with children, or are simply interested in how children and young people are treated and understood.
  • Cross-disciplinary – This module introduces a range of perspectives on childhood, drawing on recent research and theories from sociology, anthropology, psychology, cultural studies, geography, social history, philosophy, social policy and children’s rights.
  • International – You will learn about childhood (and cultural beliefs on the subject) in different societies and at different periods in history, with modern western childhood as one among many examples. Diversity and inequality are central themes, as are the ways in which childhood is becoming globalised and regulated by universal standards.

There are four blocks of study, each with a specially prepared text, along with extensive audio-visual material. Children’s own perspectives on their childhood are prominent in the module, drawing on case studies from Cape Town (South Africa), Chittagong (Bangladesh), Oakland (USA) and the UK. These case studies run throughout the module.

Block 1 asks ‘What is childhood?’ and introduces a range of disciplinary perspectives for studying the concept of childhood. Topics in this block include the history of beliefs about childhood; how childhood changes in different contexts and over time; the growth of scientific approaches to studying children; the significance of socio-cultural approaches for understanding modern childhoods.

Block 2 looks at the distinctiveness of children’s cultural worlds by exploring everyday activities of young children and teenagers. The block examines how children and young people in the twenty-first century encounter and creatively adapt to a range of cultural phenomena in an increasingly mediated, commercialised and globalised world. Topics in this block include friendships and the significance of play; youth culture; children’s engagement with the media and with information technology; and their power as consumers.

Block 3 highlights the places and spaces in which childhood exists. It builds on the theoretical perspectives introduced in Blocks 1 and 2 to emphasise the materiality of childhood, the physical environments on a macro and micro scale as well as the social context in which children and young people live. This will provide the framework for investigating wider questions about childhood including the power relationships between adults and children, and the influence of gender and inequality.

Block 4 looks at the obstacles that many children face which make childhood both a local experience and a global concern. Topics in this block include the effects of poverty and other adversities – such as violence – on children’s health and well-being. Different approaches to intervening in children's lives are discussed, with particular attention to their rights to participation and the ways they can become engaged with social issues, including issues surrounding their status as children.

Entry requirements

There are no formal academic or experiential requirements to study this module.

If you're not sure you're ready talk to an adviser.

What's included

Module books, online resources, online study guide and audio visual material.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying E212 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Childhood (E212) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019, when it will start for the last time. A new module, Exploring childhood and youth (E232), will start for the first time in October 2020.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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