3 Watching babies
In the next activity you will be introduced to some other babies, all about six months old or younger, who with their mothers are demonstrating some of the things you have read about in the previous section.
Watching babies is a way of getting to know them and what they can do. You can learn a great deal about them by ‘standing back’ and looking. You can do this with babies you know, but here you will be able to watch a video recording. Baby watching – or observation – can help the ideas that you read about babies come alive. It can help you see a wider range of babies than you might do otherwise, and therefore gain understanding of how different they can be.
Activity 4: Video watch
For this activity you will watch a video which has a number of short clips of young babies. They are all with their mothers, but babies are just as able to relate to other adults and older children they are close to.
If you can find someone else to share this activity with – a colleague, friend or adult or child family member – it will allow you to share what you found and compare notes. You don't have to meet up; talking on the telephone or by email can be effective too.
As you watch the video clip try to identify and record the facial and body expressions that show how the babies are feeling. You can use the grid provided in Table 1 to record your observations (we have provided a PDF version for you to download and print). Put a mark in the correct box for each expression noticed. We have filled in the table for James as an example. You will probably need to watch the video clip several times to catch everything the babies do.
Transcript: Video 1
Table 1: Recording babies’ expressions of feeling
There is one more part to this activity. Look at the video clip again. For each baby, look for the times when she or he makes the first move in trying to get communication going. This can be by raising a hand, making mouth movements, or making a sound. Put an initial in Table 2 each time they do this, noting whether it's a hand movement (H), mouth movement (M), or with a sound (S). Again we have provided a PDF version of the table for you to download and print.
Table 2: Recording babies’ communication
Did you find it easy to watch and write at the same time, or did you have to keep playing the clip over again? It can be hard to concentrate even on a clip that you can stop and start. Doing two or more things at once – watching, interpreting, maybe counting, then noting down – is quite a complex set of tasks. In real-life observation, there are also many other distractions.
Was it easy for you to identify the different facial or body expressions and to attach emotion to it? Certainly, happiness is quite easy to spot, but what about something like ‘anticipation’? Did you think that some babies showed more of one emotion than others?
We noticed how attentive James was, keeping his eyes continually on his mother's face. Alice is very vocal and communicative. Rebecca seemed to be anticipating the toy popping out and got quite excited while waiting. Sebastian makes eye contact and mouth movements to his mother, and David babbles away and initiates frequent conversations.
It was easy to see how the older babies initiated communication. David, for example, was quite vocal and Rebecca was very demonstrative, waving her arms and bouncing up and down. Sometimes it may not be clear that a baby is actually starting off communication, rather than responding to something an adult has started off with them. But did you notice how James, who was only 10 weeks old, raised both hands and made mouthing movements towards the beginning of the clip, and again raised his hand at the end? Although these kinds of movements could be thought of as largely uncontrolled, researchers have found them common and predictable enough to conclude that babies do initiate communication.
An area we didn't ask you to comment on, but is nevertheless important, is the conversations that babies have with their mothers – for example, what Alice's mother was saying when showing her the doll. This kind of talking – where there is exaggerated use of words and syllables and much repetition – is called ‘parentese’ by child psychologists. It is important in that it introduces babies to the patterns in their language and establishes familiar routines for them.
We hope that by watching the babies in the video clip you have seen just how good they are at interacting with adults, and how much they seem to enjoy doing this.