On the 26th November part one of a new BBC (Two) documentary aired called Babies: Their Wonderful World. It’s available to watch on iPlayer for 30 days.
“Three-part science series presented by paediatrician Dr Guddi Singh. The series brings together over 200 babies and scientists from around the world to take part in one of the most ambitious scientific studies about babies ever attempted. With cutting-edge experiments, the show explores how the incredible changes that happen in the first two years of life make us who we are. “
My favourite part of this 60 minute documentary was the section about talk – recording the first words that babies in the UK are saying. I didn’t realize that the list of words that pediatricians use is based on American studies, so this documentary then aimed to see what British babies are talking about and collated 2000 first words and created word maps. I found this section really interesting, as William has definitely given me a little bit of stress when it comes to talk – being a late developer and having only a few words at 19 months. Seeing the word clouds of the words that British babies use most often was really fascinating to me and how it even differs from region! It then reiterates something that my own health visitor has told me constantly – the more you talk, the more they talk and it’s important to just continue having a conversation and asking questions even if you get silence in return. My husband and I call it “say what you see!”
The language section was the most enjoyable part of the show for me, most likely because it’s directly relevant to my current parenting and taught me a few new things. William’s first words were mama, dada, nana, no, more, yellow, blue. What were your children’s first words?
The second most interesting part to me was the technology section. This is something that as a mum I’ve agonised over because there’s so much conflicting information about safe media use. I came to the conclusion after reading the Art of Screen Time, that interactive, educational, co-operative screen time as a family wasn’t going to be a bad thing. I wasn’t going to veto technology as it’s so integral to current society (and my own personal life). When the tech section was introduced as suggesting that tech users might actually have worse motor skills I was a little worried. Was I actually affecting his development negatively? A relief – they was no significant difference between the two groups in some areas, whilst others, the tech users actually performed better, not worse. Yasss! Tapping and swiping can actually improve dexterity. Take it with a pinch of salt mind you, the case study was only three children in each group and it concludes that “touch screens might not be all bad news”. Well, we did kinda know that already. Very little in life is all good or all bad anyway.
We also learned that babies are pretty racist, preferring to play with their own familiar race than an unfamiliar one as well as a gender study that shows how gender stereotypes are changing from studies done 20 years ago, with children viewing most tasks as being done by both mummy and daddy. Not really a shocker, but certainly interesting to see.
I’m a bit dubious about the real scientific value of this documentary. It definitely felt like it was made for parents experiencing their babies right now, rather than to actual scientists studying developmental process. The sample studies were small, and much of the conclusions seemed pretty obvious. The presenter had to say at multiple points through the film “Although the sample studies were small…” and it begged the question, if you have the budget to be making a three part documentary for the BBC, why not use larger sample sizes when you know that small ones can’t really give satisfactory conclusions? Does this documentary have any scientific value when they’re only looking at a handful of kids?
Part of me also wondered – the children who were picked were obviously ones who were happy to be around strangers and a TV crew, to perform tasks in an unfamiliar environment. Doesn’t the practical process of picking children suitable for this show also create a bias? Weren’t the sensitive, shy children who would have just dropped to the floor and had a tantrum when approached by a stranger or asked to walk in a straight line inherently not usable? I was surprised at all the toddlers acting so perfectly, to be honest. I’ve experienced enough toddlers in the wild to know this often isn’t the case when babies are presented with large groups of strangers and pressured to complete specific tasks, so unless there are 6 billion reels of outtakes hidden somewhere… were the children on this show randomly selected? Of course not. There must have been some selection of suitability for making a TV show – which also affects how reliable the data even is.
A lot of the things discussed are things my own health visitor has talked to me about, so seems to be knowledge that’s already out there and actively in use by professionals working with children. Whilst it taught me a few new things as a first time mum, I doubt it would add much knowledge to those already experienced with babies. From a science and technical point of view, I wasn’t massively impressed with the show – but conflictingly, I did really enjoy watching it. I found it engaging, interesting and very cute. I did learn a few new things and I felt like it was directly relevant to me, and will definitely appeal to mums of young children. If you’re already reading my blog, odds are, you’re in the target demographic for this show and will enjoy it – it’ll encourage you to think about child development and give you things that you can use to support and guide your children.
This was part one in a three part series, so these are just my first thoughts on the very first episode. It’s available to watch now on BBC iPlayer and if you have a spare hour and this all sounds like something that would interest you, give it a watch and let me know if you agree with me.
Conclusion – Three stars. Interesting, entertaining, but definitely not ground-breaking and wishy-washy on the science so far.
How about you? Have you seen Babies: Their Wonderful World and what did you think of it, or are you planning to watch it soon?