Retiring professor Robert Halpern, Ph.D., reflects on his research on young children and adolescents

After 28 years at Erikson Institute, Professor Robert Halpern, Ph.D., is retiring. Throughout his career, he has studied the role schools and services for families play in children’s learning and development, from their earliest years through high school.

“If there has been a common theme in my work, it is that learning for children in the United States is structured inappropriately,” Dr. Halpern says. “It needs to be structured in a way that takes advantage of our understanding of how children learn and grow. Each age period has its own needs.”

Over the course of his career, Dr. Halpern has authored six books, many of which examine the high school years and conclude that learning for adolescents must shift away from a one-size-fits-all approach. In “Youth, Education, and the Role of Society,” published in 2012, Dr. Halpern looks at the many institutions that support children, including schools, after-school programs, and civic organizations, and how they can contribute to the overall learning experience.

Dr. Halpern's book "Youth, Education, and the Role of Society: Rethinking Learning in the High School Years."

Dr. Halpern’s book “Youth, Education, and the Role of Society: Rethinking Learning in the High School Years.”

Understanding the role and effectiveness of after-school programs has long been a focus of his research. When he began his research, after-school programs were becoming more established throughout the country, yet little was known about what constituted a good program. He found that after-school programs had the potential to play key roles in the lives of children, particularly those from low- and moderate-income families, by providing learning opportunities not available in schools.

In his 2003 book, “Making Play Work: The Promise of After-School Programs for Low-Income Children,” he traces the history of after-school programs and looks to their future: “After-school programs were able to become a different kind of institution from most others in low-income children’s lives, one that mostly avoided pathologizing them, and one that could identify gaps in children’s lives and try to fill them.”

In addition to after-school programs, Dr. Halpern has studied other types of non-school activities, including apprenticeships, which became the subject of the 2009 book, “The Means to Grow Up: Reinventing Apprenticeship as a Developmental Support in Adolescence.” In the book, he writes that “apprenticeship creates a fruitful learning context, addresses adolescent developmental needs, and begins to fill a cultural void for this age period.”

When he first began teaching at Erikson in 1988, Dr. Halpern focused his research on issues impacting younger children and parenting, including the effectiveness of parenting support programs and how U.S. parents could learn from child-rearing practices in developing countries.

Today, as he prepares to retire, his primary concern once again is young children. He plans to spend much of his time helping care for his 4-month-old grandson in Seattle.

About the professor

During his tenure at Erikson, Dr. Halpern served as director of the Ph.D. in Child Development program and chairman of the Research Council in addition to teaching graduate-level courses. He previously taught at several schools, including University of Chicago and University of Michigan; conducted research at HighScope Educational Research Foundation; and served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines. In addition to caring for his grandson, he plans to spend time in retirement writing poetry.