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OU on the BBC: The Invention of Childhood - Programme guides

Updated Friday, 15th September 2006

The invention of childhood travels through 1,000 years of children's history, from the ravages of the Black Death to the impact of the internet - here's a guide to what expect in each episode.

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Children working part-time 1900 - Farnworth Library, Bolton Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Farnworth

Week One: Children in the Middle Ages: 1000-1500.


  • The arrival of Christianity and the new influences from continental Europe after the Norman Invasion - the two great milestones in the early history of British childhood
  • The Black Death: death and its impact in general in the story
  • Were children perceived as 'little adults' as some historians have claimed?
  • St Anselm: Britain’s first ever child-care guru
  • Children’s 'conduct books' : how they were expected to behave and how they actually behaved
  • The private world of children’s play: how much more seasonal children’s lives were in the Middle Ages than today
  • Boy Bishops and Festivals of Misrule
  • The arrival of printing and its impact: the first in a long line of new technologies

Week Two: Children in the 16th and 17th centuries

  • The Protestant Reformation: its emphasis on the sinfulness of children, and the way it increased parents’ anxiety about their upbringing
  • The growth of boys’ education and the surprising u-turn in attitudes to girls’ education
  • The vastly different ages at which childhood ended and the conflict this could cause: many poor children would be earning a living at 7, while better off boys might still be in full-time education at 14
  • The Poor Law: why it was brought in and how it benefited children.

Week Three: Children in the 18th century

  • Thomas Coram and the first ever Foundling Hospital for children
  • The impact of two great philosophers on children, and their vastly differing views of childhood: John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
  • The growth of consumerism and pester power: the first ever toyshops
  • The development of a gentler and more affectionate type of family life
  • The French Revolution and its impact on British children and ideas about bringing them up
  • The impact of two great poets on childhood: William Blake and William Wordsworth


Week Four: Children’s lives in Victorian Britain

  • The development of public schools and the separation of boys and girls - the greatest gender divide in our story
  • Charles Dickens and the first golden age of children’s literature
  • Working children’s lives in the Industrial Revolution:their role in the growth of capitalist Britain
  • Children on the streets

Week Five: Children in the first half of the 20th Century

  • The introduction of compulsory schooling.
  • The British Empire and its impact on children: some sent overseas, others arriving to make new lives in Britain
  • War and its often surprisingly positive impact on children: the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars
  • Children and the making of the welfare state
  • The battle between Sigmund Freud and Truby King and the behaviourists over how children should be treated and brought up
  • New culture, such as cinema, and its impact on children

Week Six: Children from the 1950s up to the present

  • Changes in the family economy and in family dynamics: children no longer expected to contribute to the family purse
  • Children’s rights - at home and in official legislation
  • The second golden age of children’s literature, developed against a backdrop of fear about children’s safety
  • The increase of State-involvement in children’s lives
  • Listening to children and rejoicing in their ability to create, to play, to reinvent themselves

First broadcast: Monday 25 Sep 2006 on BBC Radio 4





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