Classic Resources for Learning about Moral Development of Young Children

The formation of a moral character and a conscience begins at a young age. It is has to do with social and emotional development and its part of peace education. Not much on moral development for young children has been done lately but a big body of work has been around for many years. Here are some authors and books that help us think about moral development of young children.

Start with Jean Piaget, of course, in his classic work, The Moral Judgement of the Child (The Free Press, 1965). He helped people think about how children think and act during games.

Parents and Peers in Social Development – A Sullivan-Piaget Perspective by James Youniss (The University of Chicago Press, 1986) helps show the importance of children’s friendships.

Lawrence Kolhberg helped develop stages of moral development. Approach to Moral Education, Power, Higgins, and Kolhberg, (1989) is helpful but done with older children and primarily boys.

Carol Gilligan wrote a lot about the gender disparity in the research when she came out with In a Different Voice (Harvard University Press, 1982). Her research shows that girls may be thinking differently than Kohlberg revealed in his work.

Jerome Kagen and Sharon Lamm talked more about young children in their moral development when they published the anthology The Emergence of Morality in Young Children, (1987).

With an eye particularly on young children, William Damon did much work on development in The Social World of the Child (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1979) and The Moral Child: Nurturing Children’s Moral Natural Growth. His later work became more conservative working with the Hoover Institute.

Relevant for classroom teachers is Promoting Social and Moral Development of Young Children by Patricia G. Ramsey with Carolyn Pope Edwards (Teachers College Press, 1986). Patricia G. Ramsey went on to write Making Friends in School- Promoting Peer Relationships in Early Education. (Teacher College Press, 1991), important for early educators. More works have come out since but these classics give a foundation for this work.

Craig Simpson, Somerville MA

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