Sector pays tribute to early years pioneer Professor Colwyn Trevarthen

Katy Morton
Monday, July 8, 2024

Renowned child development expert, Professor Colwyn Trevarthen, has died at the age of 93.

Professor Colwyn Trevarthen, SCREENGRAB: Education Scotland
Professor Colwyn Trevarthen, SCREENGRAB: Education Scotland

An expert on infant brain development, communication and emotional health, Trevarthen was professor (Emeritus) of child psychology and psychobiology at the University of Edinburgh, where he had taught since 1971.

He was made an Honorary Doctor of Psychology by the University of Crete, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters). He was also a vice president of Early Education.

Following his death last week, the sector paid tribute to Professor Trevarthen.

Early Education said on X/Twitter, ‘Colwyn's work has been hugely influential within the field of early childhood education. Our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Education Scotland tweeted, ‘Professor Colwyn Trevarthen made an immense contribution to our understanding of language development. His work has been hugely influential within the field of early childhood education and changed the way we think about the communication of babies.’

Donna Carlyle, visiting lecturer and former assistant professor at Northumbria University, said, ‘So sad to hear that Colwyn Trevarthern has passed away. He was a huge influence & inspiration throughout my career. My PhD thesis developed his idea & ground breaking work on the rhythm & musicality of communication. Me and my twin grandaughters thank you.’

His work

Professor Trevarthen trained as a biologist, had a PHD in psychobiology and was a research fellow at the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard, where his infancy research began.  

For the past 30 years, Professor Trevarthen's research with infants and toddlers has focused on communication. He studied the rhythms and expressions of children's play and fantasy, and how musical games and songs, stories and acts of discovery, with real or imaginary companions, support the development of skills during infancy and the pre-school years

Recently, Professor Trevarthen was a member of the team which produced a research review for Scotland that was a parallel project to Birth to Three Matters in England.

His published work covers brain development, infant communication and child learning, the nature of motives for efficient and meaningful action and awareness, and the function of emotions.

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