Ever since Western societies ceased to swaddle babies there has been a debate as to how aware, intelligent and socially interested young children are.
Famously, a student of Piaget once asked him what he would say about a four-month-old baby who copied an adult sticking out its tongue - a skill supposed under the Piagetian scheme of things not to develop until seven months. "I would say it was a very rude baby," replied the master of cognitive development.
In a real sense, we cannot know how great babies' capabilities are, though we do know that their brain capacities are huge compared to the immaturity of their bodies. Informed opinion is that we can hardly overestimate the plasticity of a baby's response and the importance of early experiences. A new training video pack from the National Children's Bureau sets out to help professionals working in day care understand the complex needs of their young charges.
Communication Between Babies in their First Year intercuts footage of babies in a nursery in northern Italy with explanatory talk on four topics: close relationship with mothering adults, developing contacts with other babies, communication through playing with objects, and romping together. The main texts are sandwiched at the start with an explanation of the importance of constancy in relationships and at the end with suggestions on how to develop the maturing capacity to form friendships in the pre-school years.
The basic message is that observation and discussion of behaviour is necessary for professionals to learn to interpret and to support the unfolding personalities in their charge. To encourage reflective practice, and crucially, to impress on everyone the necessity of designating key workers for each baby to form a proper attachment, is good.
But, although the babies are delightful and the wisdom from Elinor Goldschmied and Dorothy Selleck unimpeachable, the production is halting and the tone veers between academic and pedestrian. Its perfect audience might be not so much nursery nurses but their teachers and trainers.
It is hard to find a way of interpreting research into the language of everyday without descending to dullness, but ideally that is what is needed to make nursery professionals aware of the little wonders with whom they deal.
Communication Between Babies in their First Year costs Pounds 40 for non-members and Pounds 32 for members inclusive from the NCB, 8 Wakley St, London EC1V 7QE. Tel: 0171 843 6029. It includes a 25-minute video and a 34-page training book.