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"Making life better"



    In "The eight ages of man"  (a chapter in the book Childhood and society), Erikson makes the interesting comment that a child who has had a relatively good start in life can be ruined by poor schooling. On the other hand, a good school experience can go a long way toward repairing damage which has been done by a poor home environment.

According to Erikson, in every society, it is during middle childhood that children are first exposed to the "tools of their culture", whatever those might be. In our culture, it is reading, writing and mathematics which are critical to success in the adult world, so that is when children go to school. In cultures where hunting and gathering or pottery making  are important activities, middle childhood is when a person begins to learn to hunt, gather or make pottery.

At this stage in life, it is important for children to develop a sense of competence, of being able to do good work. It is not enough to just repeatedly say "you are a special person" to increase a child's self-esteem. They must have success experiences.

The wonderful thing about this stage is that children want to help out and to to try everything. Ronda is in judo and practices an average of 10 hours a week, plus another six hours of driving to practice and back. Nonetheless, when she signed up for middle school, she was DETERMINED to play in the band, which means practice at 7:20 every morning and an hour lesson once a week after school. She is also willing to help out caring for her baby sister. You would say, then, that Ronda has a well-developed sense of industry.

You may notice that in elementary classrooms there are always volunteers to help the teacher clean the blackboard, take papers to the office and so on. Somehow, this sense of industry does not seem to be as predominant in high school, does it?

As with nearly every topic in this course (except for moral development), there are about a million things I would like to say about social development in middle childhood. Assuming you have a life, and not an infinite amount of time, however, I will try to limit my enthusiasm to a few key areas. There are, in my opinion, four major influences on social development during middle childhood: schools, peers, parents and siblings. 

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