The Secret Lives of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds series is fooling nobody. The programme is essentially a better version of Big Brother, where the personalities are endearingly lacking in self-awareness, and you are not exposed to overwhelming waves of guilt for watching it. Set in a play school wired with copious amounts of microphones and cameras to monitor the everyday behaviour of a group of children bought together for a week to socialise, this programme is compulsive viewing.
Masquerading as a show centred around child development, the original documentary and six subsequent episodes invite Dr Sam Waas and Professor Paul Howard Jones, specialists in child psychology, to analyse the behaviour of the children. You get the feeling the only reason they are involved is to put a positive spin on the inevitable tyrannical behaviour displayed by some of the children, so that the aghast parents lending their children to the show do not have to address the reality that sometimes their little angel is monstrous.
As the four year olds struggle to come to grips with empathy, the five year olds are far more concerned by group dynamics and their position within the hierarchy.
The six year olds are noticeably more comfortable socially, and as a result are not nearly as entertaining, producing the weakest programmes of the series. To counter the slightly voyeuristic tendency that threatens to creep into a programme of this nature, teachers Kate and Simon represent a comforting omniscient force that ensures that when the tempestuous hubbub of play comes to blows it is kindness, not brute force, that rules supreme.
The Secret Lives of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds is addictive viewing simply because the events that occur in the play centre ultimately act as a microcosm of our adult lives outside. Whether it is dealing with conflict (Skyla’s tip for dealing with bullies: “Just bite him”) or discovering the complexity of romantic relationships (Jessica, frustrated with her imaginary boyfriend: “Stop ringing me Richard, you’re not the dad. I don’t love you anymore, I hate you now. Ok, see you later.”), you cannot help but watch in glorious anticipation for the next dramatic twist in the turbulent Secret Lives of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds.