Early on, as a young adolescent, I became interested in the qualitatively different ways that children and adolescents think as well as interested in what we can best do to help those children and adolescents who have significant problems organizing themselves and relating to others. And I became interested in spiritual development and the ways that spiritual development happens outside the context of organized religion. And throughout my adolescence, I was drawn to the mountains and to experiencing the natural world in the challenges that mountains provide and the gifts they give. These interests followed me into my undergraduate years at Yale and into my graduate school years at the Episcopal Divinity School and Clark University where I received my Ph.D. in developmental psychology.
During my undergraduate and graduate school years and during the early years of my working in the field, I was fortunate to work with some of the best developmental psychologists in the world – including Edward Zigler at Yale (early research on Head Start), Howard Gardner at Harvard’s Project Zero (research on symbol formation in early childhood), and Bernard Kaplan at Clark (organismic developmental theory). I was also fortunate to have jobs that continued my development in areas focused on helping children and adolescents with problems – including directing a residential summer camp for children with autism and children with serious emotional problems as well as serving as the mental health consultant for Head Start centers in Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts. And I was fortunate to have opportunities to explore and experience the nature of empowered spirituality – in my role as assistant director of Yale’s Sunday School at Battel chapel, and, later on, in my role as a volunteer chaplain at Boston’s Children’s Hospital.
The bulk of my career has been as a faculty member in universities, first in a number of psychology departments, and then from 1990 to the present, in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University where I have had the good fortune of being in a community where interdisciplinary work and a mission to serve makes research, teaching and working with students have a special meaning. Since 1990, I have dedicated myself to writing – as a way to contribute to various fields. I have written or edited books on children’s play – including a textbook on children’s play and a book on coaching youth baseball. I have also written and edited books on behavior problems and behavior management – including an edited, two-volume encyclopedia on classroom management. And I have authored, co-authored and co-edited books and special issues for journals on topics related to spiritual development, including a special issue on spiritual exemplars and two major handbook chapters on religious and spiritual development (Handbook of Child Psychology and Handbook of Life-Span Development) – where I have focused on explaining how the common language used in defining and describing R-S development severely limits our ability to capture spirituality and spiritual development in all its many patterns and contents.
More recently, I have begun a long-term project on the conditions supporting the development of “earth stewards”, those who, over time, come to take on caring for the natural world as their overall purpose in life. In doing so, I am reaching out to successful programs around the country that foster more and better connections between children and nature and that have earth stewardship and supporting the ecology movement as their underlying aim — programs that include after school programs fostering direct experience with nature, programs that focus on the ocean and climate change, programs that focus on sustainable agriculture, and programs that focus on human-animal connections. My hope is to find ways to support these programs and to make a contribution to the literature on children’s involvement in the ecology movement and on connecting children to the natural world.
As a footnote regarding my main interests, I have for several decades devoted myself to understanding what makes for effective writing, writing that is accessible to many and that can serve not only to teach but also to inspire. I call such writing “artful explanation” and I have, over the years, developed guidelines for artfully explaining the great issues and puzzling phenomena that confront us in our scholarly work. My hope is that others will develop skill in explaining artfully even as they are immersed in an academic culture that does not always value doing so. Explaining artfully is especially important these days when we confront such issues as climate change and vanishing habitats, issues that need explaining in ways to inspire others to act. Elsewhere on this website are guidelines I give to my students on explaining artfully. And elsewhere are examples from a sample of my contributions to the Tufts Magazine on various topics related to children, youth, and families.