The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds
This fascinating observational documentary takes us inside the world of ten four-year-olds as they meet in a nursery. But this nursery is rigged with cameras to capture every glance, ever whisper, every tussle, and all the raw emotion as these children take their first tentative steps towards independence in a world without parents – providing a unique insight into this pivotal stage of childhood.
With their parents watching everything close by on monitors, the ten children encounter one another for the first time in October and they meet again in May.
Scooters are fought over. Beads are shared. Allegiances are formed and tears are shed. We observe the action minutely as the children make and break friendships, struggle to share and to stand up for themselves and ultimately find their place in this new social group.
Overseeing all the action are two leading scientists, Educational Neuroscientist Dr Paul Howard-Jones (Bristol University) and Developmental Psychologist Dr Sam Wass (MCR Cognition & Brain Unit, Cambridge). This close observation of children in a nursery setting mirrors the way that scientists work. Drawing on this model, these experts have the opportunity to eavesdrop on the children’s play on monitors - but also to suggest some interventions to explore the children’s various stages of development.
As the children meet for the very first time, the film documents burgeoning friendships, battles for resources and a face-off between Chaim and Christian, the two alpha boys, as they struggle to establish a pecking order. Meanwhile a story of unrequited friendship is unfolding between Skyla and Jessica.
When the children meet again six months later much has changed, namely their ability to articulate their needs and desires. But there are some new kids on the block and Cuba is unafraid to wade in and resolve issues assertively, while Jayda, with her highly developed social skills, immediately poses a threat to the delicate emerging friendship between Skyla and Jessica.
During the programme the children navigate their way through certain challenges – from games requiring teamwork through to sharing toys – replicating the kinds of situations they would meet in their own nurseries and lives.
These life lessons all take place under the watchful eye of two highly trained Early Years teachers and - in another room - the scientists, who find the footage illuminating: “I have never had the opportunity to listen to the conversations of a group of children of this age group in such an intimate way. It actually has been a fantastic revelation,” says Educational Neuroscientist Dr Paul Howard-Jones.
The film reveals how their individual adult personalities are already being formed. Through these glimpses of their future selves it is easy to identify and recognise our own character traits in these four year-olds.
Series Producer: Nicola Brown
Executive Producers: Teresa Watkins & Jim Allen
Production Company: RDF Television, a Zodiak Media company
Commissioning Editor: Sara Ramsden
Supported by the Wellcome Trust
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