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Introduction to childhood studies and child psychology

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How can we understand children, childhood and youth today? What influences children’s development? What roles do families, society and culture play? This introductory module offers fascinating insights into children and young people’s lives. Through anthropology, sociology, childhood and youth studies and psychology, you will explore themes including mental health, education, diverse families, global childhoods, adolescence, development, children’s rights, and more, to learn about the factors that shape children and young people’s experiences, and their emotional, physical, intellectual, social and cultural development from birth to early adulthood. You’ll learn about 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/or young people and who want to learn more about contemporary theories and research from a range of different disciplines that help us to understand children, childhoods and youth. The module draws on research and theories from childhood and youth studies and psychology, an interdisciplinary perspective that is broader than mainstream psychology or childhood modules. This is designed to introduce you to different ways of thinking about the influences on childhood and children’s and young people’s lives and their development. There are four blocks, each comprising 5-6 weeks (units) of supported study. A 14-chapter Reader accompanies this module, An introduction to childhood and youth studies and psychology (eds. Cooper & Tatlow-Golden, 2023) and every student receives a copy in addition to a pdf.

Block 1 introduces childhood and youth studies and psychology as different and complementary ways of understanding childhood and youth. The units consider some of the complex influences that shape children’s and young people’s development, including their embodied experiences and the research approaches through which children and young people’s lives are explored and understood.

Block 2 considers social and emotional development, spanning the development of the self (Or the answer to the question, ‘who am I?’); the role of diverse families in children and young people’s lives; the many factors that influence how we can understand and support children and young people’s mental health and psychological wellbeing; and the role of learning, schooling and education in children and young people’s lives.

Block 3 addresses aspects of diversity in contemporary childhoods and youth. It introduces ideas about social and cultural ideologies of childhood and how these can affect children and young people’s lives. It considers core issues of disability, race, global childhoods with a focus on the global South, and gender in children and young people’s lives.

Block 4 discusses transitions and change in childhood and youth. The units consider children and young people’s new ‘hybrid’ digital lives as well as the transition from childhood and youth, through adolescence and into adulthood.

In addition to the set text, there are weekly, interactive online activities throughout the module to support your learning. The audio and video resources have been specifically designed, recorded, filmed and written to support the set text. They provide further background to some of the key concepts and theoretical issues that the module teaches and they include personal accounts from experts, parents, children and young people themselves on a range of important topics so that you can make links between ideas about children and childhoods and ‘real life’ issues.

Entry requirements

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

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak 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.

You may also wish to explore these free OpenLearn resources to prepare for this module:

What's included

You will receive a printed full-colour book, the E104 Module Reader, An introduction to childhood and youth studies and psychology. It has 14 chapters, one on each of the key module topics and an introduction to studying childhood and youth.

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

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • introductory forum with FAQs and a way to connect with other E104 students your region
  • a bespoke forum for your individual tutor group
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

The audio recordings, films, and designed activities in this module feature OU academics, experts and professionals from across the UK’s four nations and Ireland, and from around the world. They also feature children and young people, and those who work with them, from the UK, Ireland and internationally.

All resources and content for this module, including the Reader, are designed bespoke to support your learning, and are written by experts in the field. If you are new or returning to higher education, you'll find the online activities include integrated study skills to support your learning.

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 Ventura 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

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part. If you want to participate, you may need a headset with a microphone.

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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying E104 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 (E104) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2030.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No examination