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Introduction to childhood studies and child psychology

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What influences children’s development? How is childhood changing? How important are society and culture in understanding this change? This introductory module offers a fascinating insight into the lives of children and young people. It brings together approaches from anthropology, sociology and psychology, to provide a complete account of some of the complex influences that shape children’s experiences. You will investigate topics central to the lives of children and young people, from birth to 18 years, and explore their emotional, physical, intellectual, social and cultural development. You’ll be introduced to these thought-provoking topics through audio, video and interactive online materials.

What you will study

This online module will be attractive to anyone with an interest in, and concern for children and young people, including those who work with children and who want to learn more about contemporary theories and research in this area. The module offers an inter-disciplinary approach to study the lives of children and young people, drawing on research and theories from childhood studies and child psychology. This inter-disciplinary perspective is broader than mainstream psychology modules and is designed to introduce you to different ways of understanding childhood and children’s lives. The content is divided equally between sociology, anthropology, psychology, social policy and core study skills. There are four blocks, each comprising 6 weeks of supported study.

Block 1 introduces an interdisciplinary approach to the study of childhood by comparing the different perspectives from childhood studies and child psychology. The units will consider some of the complex influences that shape children’s lives and the role of educational research with children.

Block 2 considers early social and emotional development with a focus on supporting the lives of children. There is a particular focus on policies around parenting and families, protecting and supporting children in a digital world and on promoting the welfare of children in today’s challenging society.

Block 3 addresses issues around diversity and examines how children’s lives are shaped by particular social and cultural ideologies. These units will introduce you to a range of core issues which include ethnicity, religion, international childhoods and disability and how these factors can impact on the lives of children and young people.

Block 4 discusses some of the tensions involved in becoming an adult and some of the obstacles that many children face during this transitional period. These units include the effects of commercialisation in the teenage years, issues around gender and sexuality; supporting young people’s mental health and psychological wellbeing; and the transition into adolescence.

In addition to the set text, there is a range of interactive online activities throughout the module to support your learning and to develop your understanding of policy issues. These focus on responses to critical issues in children and young people’s lives and discuss topics around children’s rights, safeguarding children, parenting practices, children’s psychological wellbeing and mental health. The audio and video resources support the set text in a number of ways. They will provide further background to some of the theoretical issues raised within the module as well as providing personal accounts from experts, parents, children and young people themselves on a range of important topics.

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.

Preparatory work

If you would like to learn more about childhood studies, we highly recommend reading Kehily, M. J., An Introduction to Childhood Studies (3rd edn, Open University Press, 2015). This book gives an excellent and very accessible summary of the field of childhood studies.

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

You will also receive a printed full-colour set text, online activities including integrated study skills, and policy/practice study weeks with content for students in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (10.15 or higher).

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You’ll have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and who you can ask for advice and guidance. If you are new to the OU, your tutor can provide additional assistance with your study skills. Your tutor and others in the geographical cluster will offer a series of online and face-to-face tutorials through the duration of the module. You are encouraged, though not obliged, to attend these tutorials.

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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying E102 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

Introduction to childhood studies and child psychology starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2022, when we expect it to start for the last time.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No examination
No residential school

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