Home | Health+Development | Supermodel, Harvard experts marvel at the infant mind

Supermodel, Harvard experts marvel at the infant mind

Gisele Bündchen and Harvard University professors agree on something – a baby’s brain is a great investment.

The best-known supermodel and top Ivy League university, together with a plethora of other laypeople and academics, have collaborated to talk about babies in the newly released documentary, The Beginning of Life.

The film was produced by Brazilian Maria Farinha Filmes, in association with various child advocacy partners, including UNICEF. It was shot in nine countries and seeks to show that people can make a fundamental societal contribution by being devoted to children.

It’s not just privileged Westerners who share insights into the importance of our smallest humans in the film. Phula, a young Indian woman who is the sole carer for her infant siblings, and Leah Ambwaya, a Kenyan child rights activist, share their views. Raffi Cavoukian, a Canadian children’s musician, speaks up as well.

Diverse educational perspectives are also presented: Italian Reggio Emilia-style professors get equal airtime with Harvard researchers from its renowned Center on the Developing Child. Jack Shonkoff, director of this centre, illuminates the importance of neonatal development by reference to its rapid pace: “After birth … every second, the brain is making between 700 and 10,000 new connections.”

These neural networks allow sponge-like learning to occur, as University of California, Berkeley, professor Alison Gopnik, an expert on language and development, explains: “One of the things we know is that babies are the best learning machines in the universe. Instead of thinking of them as blank slates, really, we are now realising they are the best scientists and learners that we know.”

Vea Vecchi, a Reggio Emilia educator, approaches early learning more philosophically. “Each child that is born is a sort of surprise to humanity, and this is why we have to embrace each newborn with that spirit,” she counsels.

It’s not just child experts who praise kids’ virtues in the Estela Renner-directed film. Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman sees the importance of investment in young people in his surprising, non-monetary outlook. “[Within] this whole notion of human capital invested on a child, the greatest is the mother,” he proclaims. “That love is an important part of the economy [that] is not typically recognised by society. I don’t want to minimise the role of the men, I think it’s very important. I also think the mother is essential.”

The Beginning of Life is available via several video-on-demand platforms, including Netflix and iTunes.


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