Throughout my career, I have focused on topics related to development and the qualitatively different ways that children and adolescents think and feel and experience the world. From the beginning of my career, I have also focused on what we can do to help those children and adolescents who have significant problems organizing themselves and relating to others, and how we can best think about spiritual development and what supports spiritual development. All of these topics were expressed in my adolescence and in my undergraduate years at Yale and later when I was simultaneously enrolled in the Ph.D. program in developmental psychology at Clark University and in the M.Div. program at the Episcopal Divinity School. Recently, I have added another main topic which will be my focus for a good number of years to come. That topic is children’s connections to nature and how we can support their development as earth stewards. And though this topic is late arriving with respect to my scholarly work, connecting with and caring about the natural world has long been central in my life — stimulated by my being a life-long mountain climber and someone who daily spends time in the woods.
Early on in my career, I was fortunate to work with some of the best developmental psychologists in the world – including Edward Zigler at Yale, Howard Gardner at Harvard, and Bernard Kaplan at Clark. 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, and including serving as the mental health consultant for Head Start centers in Massachusetts. I was also fortunate to have opportunities to explore and experience the nature of empowered spirituality – in my role as assistant director of Yale’s Sunday School, and in my role as a volunteer chaplain at Boston Children’s Hospital where I worked with families of very sick children.
My career has also been as a teacher 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. Furthermore, since 1990, I have dedicated myself to writing. I have written 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 written and edited books, handbook chapters, and journal articles on spiritual development, including a special issue on spiritual exemplars and three major handbook chapters on religious and spiritual development.
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 defining their identity. In doing so, I am reaching out to successful programs around the country, ones that focus on involving children and youth in learning about the different issues defining the ecology movement. And I am reaching out to programs fostering more and better connections between children and nature. My hope is to find ways to support these programs and to make a contribution to the literature on connecting children to the natural world and on their eventually becoming earth stewards.