Childhood Studies Middle Childhood
by
Libby Balter Blume
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0142

Introduction

Middle childhood is the developmental period between early childhood and adolescence, sometimes referred to as late childhood or early adolescence. The study of middle childhood has been the focus of research and practice in many different fields, including psychology, education, nursing and medicine, sociology and criminal justice, public health, social work, family studies, and recreation. Health care providers describe the period after early childhood growth and development but before the onset of puberty as preadolescence. Clinical psychologists characterize middle childhood as a latency period that precedes the intense sexual interest of adolescence. Many educators believe that middle childhood begins when children enter primary school at age six; others focus exclusively on the middle grades of secondary schooling starting at ages nine or ten. Although there is considerable debate about the age parameters of this period, most social scientists and practitioners agree that children in the middle childhood period are qualitatively different from children who are either younger or older. At the beginning of this stage, emergent cognitive abilities enable children to handle more complex intellectual problem-solving and to better understand reciprocal social relationships than they could in early childhood. By the end of middle childhood, greater self-regulation and the consolidation of problem-solving skills allow children to extend their abilities to tasks requiring flexible, abstract thinking, and the maintenance of close relationships. Compared to early childhood and adolescence, middle childhood has been relatively neglected by child development and childhood studies researchers; however, there has been increasing interest since the 1980s in the positive contributions of the middle childhood population to their families, schools, and communities.

General Overview

Research on middle childhood has been increasingly published since Collins 1984 reported on the seminal work of the Panel to Review the Status of Basic Research on School-Age Children convened by the National Research Council of the United States. Montemayor, et al. 1990 and Greenspan and Pollock 1991 are two of the first edited collections to critically examine middle childhood as a transitional period between childhood and adolescence. Cooper, et al. 2005 provides an overview of interdisciplinary projects conducted over ten years by a US research network established in 1997 to study the middle childhood transition. This edited volume examines children’s individual differences from the time children enter school until the early years of adolescence, as well as the diversity of contexts important to children, such as family, community, and culture. Behavior-genetic influences on middle childhood from an important longitudinal study of adoption are reported in Petrill, et al. 2003 whereas Huston and Ripke 2006 includes middle childhood research programs on a variety of other issues, such as education, poverty, and media influences. Both of these edited collections engage readers in a critical discussion of middle childhood not only as a transitional period leading to adolescence, but also as a developmental stage that predicts success in adolescence and adulthood. Although Cincotta 2008 argues that middle childhood has been a relatively neglected age group for study and intervention by developmental scientists, McNamee and Seymour 2013 argues that childhood studies scholars more often over-sample school-age children, especially between ages ten and twelve.

  • Cincotta, Nancy F. “The Journey of Middle Childhood: Who Are ‘Latency’-Age Children?” In Developmental Theories through the Life Cycle. Edited by Sonia G. Austrian, 79–132. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

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    A comprehensive overview of development in middle childhood that refutes the Freudian idea that it is a dormant period. Describes the development of five- to twelve-year-olds and discusses the degree to which developmental research has ignored this stage of child development.

  • Collins, W. Andrew, ed. Development During Middle Childhood: The Years From Six to Twelve. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1984.

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    Report of a pioneering interdisciplinary effort in the United States to address middle childhood developmental and educational needs.

  • Cooper, Catherine R., Cynthia T. García Coll, W. Todd Bartko, Helen M. Davis, and Celina Chatman, eds. Developmental Pathways through Middle Childhood: Rethinking Context and Diversity as Resources. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005.

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    This edited volume represents the first significant collection of developmental-contextual research on middle childhood in the 21st century. It summarizes the decade-long project of recasting the study of middle childhood as an examination of development in context by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Pathways through Middle Childhood.

  • Greenspan, Stanley I., and George H. Pollock, eds. The Course of Life. Vol. 3, Middle and Late Childhood. Rev. ed. New York: International Universities Press, 1991.

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    An updated and expanded version of a classic child development series, including chapters by prominent psychoanalysts. Contributors discuss the personality development of children from ages four to ten from a psychoanalytic perspective. First edition published in 1980.

  • Huston, Aletha C., and Marika N. Ripke, eds. Developmental Contexts in Middle Childhood: Bridges to Adolescence and Adulthood. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511499760E-mail Citation »

    A volume in the Cambridge Studies on Social and Emotional Development series, this collection of reports on longitudinal studies of middle childhood in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom adds significantly to the middle childhood research literature development one year after the first MacArthur Network publication.

  • McNamee, Sally, and Julie Seymour. “Towards a Sociology of 10–12 Year Olds? Emerging Methodological Issues in the ‘New’ Social Studies of Childhood.” Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research 20 (2013): 156–168.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568212461037E-mail Citation »

    A systematic content analysis of the three major childhood studies journals finds that most studies sample ages ten to twelve, suggesting that researchers may think young children cannot comply with study methods or that the sociological bent in childhood studies problematizes middle childhood social issues more than developmental transitions.

  • Montemayor, Raymond, Gerald R. Adams, and Thomas P. Gullotta, eds. From Childhood to Adolescence: A Transitional Period? Advances in Adolescent Development 2. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE, 1990.

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    This second volume in a significant series on advances in adolescent development examines middle childhood development in such areas as puberty, gender, and self-concept to address the key question of whether middle childhood is a transitional phase or a unique stage of childhood that is qualitatively different from adolescence.

  • Petrill, Stephen A., Robert Plomin, John C. DeFries, and John K. Hewitt, eds. Nature, Nurture, and the Transition to Early Adolescence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195157475.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Impressive overview of behavior-genetic research on middle childhood and early adolescence from the longitudinal Colorado Adoption Project, including chapters on the interaction between heritability and parental influence on IQ, temperament, and behavior. Of particular relevance for childhood studies is the chapter describing genetic influences on life events in middle childhood.

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