Childhood studies or children's studies (CS) is a multi-disciplinary field that utilizes all areas of study to understand childhoods as experienced by children historically or contemporary. CS addresses that childhood is "a complex social phenomenon." Additionally, it studies the relationship of children's agency, participating as social actors. Children's studies acknowledge that childhood is socially constructed, as there is no such thing of what childhood means and is not universal. CS draws on scholarship in the social sciences (specifically anthropology, economics, history, and sociology), the humanities (especially literature, religion, philosophy, and the fine arts), and the behavioral sciences (with an emphasis on psychology).
The interdisciplinary field of children's studies was founded at Brooklyn College of The City University of New York in Fall 1991. Its aim was to promote a unified approach to the study of children and youth across the disciplines in the arts, humanities, natural and social sciences, medicine, and law. This new concept of "children's studies" with its emphasis on an interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach of study to the generational cohort of children from 0 to 18 years of age was introduced and coined in contradistinction to the Child Study Movement initiated by Stanley Hall at the turn of the 20th century with its focus on child psychology and development. After 1991, other academic institutions established children's studies programs. In subsequent years, the concept of childhood studies emerged alongside the field of children's Studies. Today we find both children's studies and childhood studies programs at numerous academic institutions worldwide. Whereas childhood studies claims as its major focus "to understand childhood", the field of children's studies made from its beginnings the ontological claim that children must be viewed in their fullness as human beings, as a generational and social class in all their civil, political, social, economic and cultural dimensions. In this wider and encompassing context, the study of "childhood" is viewed as a subfield of children's studies. It is also important to note that from its beginnings, the human rights of children represented a major framework for the new and interdisciplinary field of children's studies. The Children's Studies Center for Research, Policy and Public Service was established at Brooklyn College in 1997. In 2011, the title of the children's studies program at Brooklyn College was officially changed to "Children and Youth Studies".
Earlier in 1991, Brooklyn College was also the academic institution which initiated the establishment of the "Sociology of Children" as a new field and Section within the American Sociological Association. During the same time, European colleagues in sociology established the "Sociology of Childhood". In subsequent years, they started the field of Childhood Studies. These developments in the United States and in Europe help account for the conceptual confusion which now appears to exist between Children's Studies and Childhood Studies.
Before the founding of the interdisciplinary field of children's studies with colleagues from different disciplines in fall 1991, Gertrud Lenzer set about to establish the "Sociology of Children". To this end, she wrote an article in August, 1991 titled "Is There Sufficient Interest to Establish a Sociology of Children?" in the ASA journal Footnotes. James S. Coleman, ASA President-Elect writes as an addendum to this article, "I believe that the call for increased attention to the sociology of children is well-placed, and it may be that a new section of the ASA is the best way to do that." With the help from many colleagues across the United States, the new section was officially established in 1992.
As for the interdisciplinary field of children's studies, Edward Rothstein writes in an article in The New York Times titled How Childhood Has Changed! (Adults Too), "Three years ago, at Brooklyn College, the sociologist Gertrud Lenzer founded a pioneering program in children studies applying anthropology, psychology, literature, and history to the study of children and adolescence. Nearly 100 students now minor in the area; other schools have begun similar programs". In the Sunday Reader of The Dallas Morning News an article titled Lenzer Champions Growing Field of Children's Studies, Ira J. Hadnot writes that Lenzer created a novel program that is being copied across the country. In an article in the Lion and the Unicorn in 2001 Lenzer provides a short history of children's studies. She writes the new and interdisciplinary field of children's studies was founded in 1991 at Brooklyn College of The City University of New York.
The Northumbria University joint honours degree was one of the first to offer a degree in childhood studies in the UK and was begun in the 1990s. In the United States, there are now dozens of children/childhood "modules", minors, or concentrations within the degree programs of academic disciplines, as well as BA and master's programs across the globe. York University in Canada quotes Lenzer in their proposal for a new degree program in Children Studies writing "In a special issue of The Lion and the Unicorn in 2001, Gertrud Lenzer, co-founder and Director of the Children's Studies Program and Children's Studies Center at Brooklyn College, provides a brief history of, and rationale for, the emerging field of children's studies. According to Lenzer, before the 1990s, most disciplines in the arts and sciences failed to "provide a special focus on children"; indeed, advertisers and politicians "discovered" childhood before scholars did. Only during the past two decades, Lenzer argues, has "an increasing number of disciplines in the arts and sciences. . . begun to manifest an interest in children and youth. In the humanities, these growing subfields include children's literature, the history of childhood, and the philosophy of children." However, Lenzer suggests, even "the recent sharpening focus on children and youth in the humanities, social sciences, and international law" limited the efficacy of studies of children and childhood because "the intellectual division of labor in children-related scholarship across the disciplines was largely adding new subspecialties of and within the disciplines themselves." By contrast, Lenzer emphasizes the need for holistic, interdisciplinary--indeed, humanities-based-- approaches to children's studies: are not fully characterized by psychological developmental processes, nor ... by any single perspective. ... also exist ... as individuals, as a social and cultural class, and as a historical generation." York's children's studies program adopts many goals Lenzer proposes for this emerging area "as a genuinely interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary new field of study. By bringing carefully chosen knowledge of children from different studies to bear upon the class or category of children to students in a Liberal Arts course of learning, we hope that a more holistic understanding of children and childhood should emerge, which in the end will represent more than simply the sum of its parts. ... Children's Studies ... makes the ontological claim that children must be viewed in their fullness as human beings." The importance of this field of study was underscored in March 2005, at the "Off to See the Wizard: Quests and Memory in Children's Literature" conference, when Roni Natov, author of Poetics of Childhood (2002), suggested that "interdisciplinary childhood studies" would transform future understandings of children and children's literature."
Rutgers University-Camden developed the first Childhood Studies Department in the United States to award degrees from BA through PhD. This is a multi-disciplinary department in which PhD students study a range of methodologies to explore cultural constructions of childhood. Rutgers University-Camden also operates The Center for Children's and Childhood Studies, the Rutgers University Press Book Series in Childhood Studies, and The Exploring Childhood Studies listserve, an online community of over 1500 academics and practitioners studying children and childhood in every discipline and around the world. A major international journal in the field Childhood was established in 1993. The Palgrave Handbook of Childhood Studies edited by Jens Qvortrup, William Corsaro and Michael-Sebastian Honig was published in 2009.
The evolution of childhood studies as an academic field has much in common with the development of other types of multi-disciplinary scholarship such as African-American studies and women's studies. Each was initiated for the purpose of bringing to the academy points of view that had been underrepresented, if not repressed.
New developments in the field of childhood studies include the founding of international childhood studies. This is interested in how global and international structures and processes shape children's lives and cultures of childhood. Birkbeck College offers MSc and PhD study in international childhood studies in the Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies (http://www.bbk.ac.uk/study/pg2011/childhoodstudies/TMSINTCH.html), reflecting the strong interest of this field in the intersections between childhood and international development. Karen Wells writes in Childhood in a Global Perspective (Polity 2009) that 'global processes and structures - especially the increasing influence of international law and international NGOs are reshaping childhood' (2009:1). Further developments in this area include the launch in 2011 of a new journal, Global Studies of Childhood and a two-year ESRC seminar series, Violence and Childhood: international perspectives (www.internationalchildhoodstudies.org Other important developments were the establishment of the research Section "Sociology of Children and Youth" in the American Sociological Association and the thematic group on "Sociology of Childhood" in the International Sociological Association. William Corsaro and Jeylan Mortimer were the first recipients of the Distinguished Career Awards and Viviana Zelizer and Jens Qvortrup were the first recipients of the Distinguished Career Service Awards for the "Sociology of Children and Youth" section.