Exploring 'The Secret Life of Four Year Olds'

A new documentary from RDF Television that follows ten four year olds in a nursery during the most pivotal year of their lives is due to be aired on Channel 4 on Tuesday 10 February, at 8pm.

This pilot film titled 'The Secret Life of Four Year Olds' was commissioned by Sara Ramsden and developed in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust's Broadcast, Games and Film team.

'The Secret Life of Four Year Olds' captures every exchange and all the raw emotion when a group of four year olds meet for the very first time in a specially equipped nursery, observed by their parents, and under the watchful eye of two highly trained early years teachers.

Throughout filming the children are monitored by scientists Dr Paul Howard-Jones (Educational Neuroscientist, Bristol University) and Dr Sam Wass (Developmental Psychologist, MCR Cognition & Brain Unit, Cambridge), who have the opportunity to make insightful observations as these children take their first tentative steps towards independence. They not only eavesdrop on the children’s play, but also suggest some interventions to explore the children’s various stages of development.

Dr Paul Howard-Jones said: "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."

Iain Dodgeon, Creative Partnerships Manager at the Wellcome Trust, said: "No matter how old you are the experiences shown in 'The Secret Life of Four Year Olds' are startlingly familiar. Providing us with a front-row seat on the rollercoaster of early friendships, the film serves to bring the compelling drama of our early years development to a wider audience."

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. Scooters are fought over. Beads are shared. Allegiances are formed and tears are shed. The children make and break friendships, learn to stand up for themselves and ultimately find their place in this new social group, all while providing a unique insight into this pivotal stage of childhood.

Teresa Watkins, Executive Producer, RDF Television, added: "Four year olds are fascinating – smart, imaginative, unfettered, unpredictable, funny. It wasn't until we starting looking at the science of four year olds that we realised they're also blueprints for their future selves. This makes the film really interesting for people of all ages – you can't help identifying with the four year old you might have been."

Sara Ramsden, Commissioning Editor, Channel 4, said: "This is a film that works at several levels; there is great drama in the ups and downs of the children as they fall in and out of friendships and vie for supremacy in the nursery pecking order. But there is also great insight as we realise the significance of these first forays into the social world. This is the age that we first lay down memories that can last until adulthood. These are some of the most important months in any human’s life."

'The Secret Life of Four Year Olds' is produced by RDF Television, a Zodiak Media Company, in conjunction with the Wellcome Trust, and is Executive Produced by Teresa Watkins. The Series Producer for RDF TV is Nicola Brown. Sara Ramsden is the Commissioning Editor for Channel 4.

The trailer is available to view on YouTube and Dr Paul Howard-Jones recently wrote about the programme for the Wellcome Trust Blog.