SUBJECTS — Health;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Parenting; Friendship;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Caring; Responsibility.

AGEAge: 12+; MPAA Rating: PG for cultural and maternal nudity throughout;

79 Minutes, Documentary Color; 2010. Available from

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



Babies is an absorbing look at a year in the lives of four babies born in different cultures: the bustling city of Tokyo; rural Mongolia; the desert region of Namibia; and San Francisco. Director Thomas Balmes recorded their lives over a period of 400 days and edited his footage to reveal the interconnectedness of human experience. For 79 minutes, babies do what babies do: they get born; fed, bathed; cry; play; learn to sit; crawl; and walk; and begin to explore their worlds.


Selected Awards: None.

Featured Actors: The babies, mothers, and siblings themselves.

Director: Thomas Balmes.


In this film differences in parenting and lifestyles are shown with respect and without judgment. The presentation of this information in any other medium such as the printed word or a lecture would not be as complete or as compelling.

Students will take from this film a strong impression of the unity of mankind in the important function of child-rearing. Students will be able to exercise research and writing skills including exposition, narration, and argumentation stemming from a subject that is entertaining as well as informative.


Minor. There are some scenes of baby and maternal nudity.


The simple beauty of this film is readily accessible to viewers of all age. Parents have shown the film to their children in preparation for the birth of a new sibling into the family and found that it creates a positive attitude toward the upcoming event.


TWM Contributor Mary Red Clay wrote the following blog post about this movie.

Not long ago in my 11th grade ELA class, a student announced to all that she was, well, with child. The class responded with a mighty “ohhhhh.” The sound, heard in muted chorus, could have signified a question, a moan of disappointment, a hint of disapproval or perhaps a basic “you-don’t-say” response. Probably given the fact that there were nearly forty students in the room, all three feelings were communicated in that “oh.”

A wonderful teaching moment should never be ignored, despite all the brouhaha about standards and lesson plans and rigid adherence to curriculum. So, of course, I brought up the film Babies, which only two of the students had seen despite its popular appeal.

Two days later, we were watching this touching and delightful look at the lives of four babies from different cultures.

The students loved it. The film generated good class discussions as well as inspired writing on cultural differences, personal reflections and opinions.

One teacher in the faculty cafeteria said she played the film day after day for her three-year-old to prepare him for the birth of her new baby. She said the boy loved the film and after his little brother was born, he wanted to see it again. She is convinced that Babies helped her own baby and she said she could identify with the mothers in the film, empathizing with one completely and finding the other three interesting in their mothering styles.

A French documentary released in 2010, Babies was filmed over a period of 400 days in Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco and Tokyo. This 79 minute film is a nonfiction gem and earned a PG rating because of natural baby and maternal nudity. It is honest and optimistic.

Babies would make a fine “reward film” in that the visuals are stunning, the interconnectedness of human experience is clear, and the babies themselves are pure delight to anyone at any age. The scenes with animals, such as the one in which the goat pokes his head through an open window to sneak a drink of baby bath water, are quite funny. Young people love the scene in which one baby bites another in protest as the two are involved in competitive co-play just as children everywhere go about learning how to get along with one another. The wee child who bit the other puts her head down in exasperation, a gesture easily seen on humans of all ages everywhere.

My class enjoyed watching our own mother-to-be grow in size, and she seemed to bask in the acceptance she received from her peers. She married the baby’s father and lives close to her own mother. I heard the other day that she is once again with child and loves being a stay-at-home mom. I hope she shows Babies to her first child to prepare the little girl for the coming of a brother or sister.

I must have gotten three or four good writing assignments out of the class; the best kind — writing that comes from solid interest in subject matter and the desire to think about and express what is on the mind, knowing you cannot be wrong in the opinions you communicate.

Teachers should view the film themselves and then possibly introduce the beauty of non-fiction to a class of any status, from remedial to honors, just to see the wonderful response.

Editor’s footnote: A year later tragedy struck. The child’s father, unschooled in how to care for a baby, was tasked with caring for her for a little while. The baby is now blind due to shaken baby syndrome and the father is being prosecuted. All of this is a reminder that at least in the U.S., teenagers should not have babies.


Show the film without any introduction at all. Describing the content of the film will cause many students to moan, thinking the movie will be an anthropological discourse on child rearing. Let them discover for themselves the intent of the film.


After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

1. Which scenes in this film most clearly indicate to you the interconnectedness, the similarity in all human behavior?

Suggested Response:

Students cannot be wrong in their responses as long as they assert their points with clarity and directly cite scenes from the experiences of the four babies.

2. Ethnocentrism is the belief in the superiority of one’s culture. Can you find any scenes in the film that cause you to respond with what may be an ethnocentric viewpoint?

Suggested Response:

Students cannot be wrong in their opinions but they must argue their points and cite specific scenes. Some students may assert that there are scenes in which a baby is unnecessarily exposed to danger, for example a scene with animals, and that these care-taking practices are not proper in American culture.

3. Which setting, family life style or maternal practice most clearly causes you to identify or empathize with the feelings generated?

Suggested Response:

All answers will be acceptable as long as students support their responses and cite specific scenes.

4. Thinking about parents and children in general, what are the responsibilities of the parents in a family and what are the responsibilities of the children at various stages of life such as infancy, ages 6 – 12, ages 12 – 18 and when the children are adults, and when the parents are elderly?

Suggested Response:

Responses will vary but stress that children, as well as parents, have responsibilities in a family. These are not limited to just doing chores and schoolwork, but also include the responsibilities and caring involved in being part of a group of people who love each other.



See Discussion Question #4.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

See Discussion Question #4 in the Learning Guide.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

See the Question under “Parenting,” above.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1. Ask students to do an Internet search to find one child rearing practice from a culture not represented in the film and share that practice with the rest of the class. An example of such a child-rearing practice is “age villages” in some African tribes or the Kibbutz system in Israel.

2. Describe an experience within your family or culture that can be called a “child rearing practice.” For example, should you have a young brother or sister that attends day-care or stays home with extended family members, you have a “child-rearing practice.” Comment on this practice. Is it beneficial? Is there a way to improve it?

3. Research childbirth practices across several cultures and write an expository essay on the different practices you find. Be sure to include infant and maternal mortality rates as well as use of Caesarian births and water births. Conclude with your opinion about which birthing practice is best for both mother and baby.

4. Write a compare/contrast essay that looks at one aspect of experience shared by all four babies in the film.

5. Write an essay in which you assert your opinion about how geography is the most important factor in creating the variety of baby rearing practices you see in the film. Refer directly to specific scenes and argue your point with conviction and clarity.

6. Write an opinion essay about which of the four babies is being raised in the most beneficial environment. Insert into this essay your best guess about how each baby’s life may progress. Watch out to avoid ethnocentrism as much as possible.


Babies: the Movie by David F. Lancy, Ph.D. in Psychology Today, Column on Benign Neglect: An Anthropologist Looks at Parenting, January 28, 2011.


Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 4, and 7 – 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41,& 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.

This Learning Guide was written by Mary RedClay. It was last revised on April 21, 2013.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email