Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Why aren’t babies just little adults?

babies in rows swaddled with safety pins

Why are babies small and grownups big? Why are babies so helpless, instead of little versions of adults? Do babies know they're babies? How do babies grow? How do babies learn to talk?

Kids have been sending us lots of questions about babies! This week we're learning more about the development of the human brain with Celeste Kidd, professor of psychology and primary investigator at the Kidd Lab at the University of California Berkeley.

Download our learning guides:PDF |Google Slides | Transcript

  • Human babies rely on adults for everything. Some babies of other species never even meet their parents and are able to take care of themselves from birth. Human babies rely on adults for many years. Scientists aren’t sure why, but there are theories - educated ideas - about why. One is that humans need big brains to do all of the complex things we do but if our brains were fully-sized when we were born, our heads would be too big for us to get out of our mothers’ bodies. So a lot of our development has to happen after we’re born, leaving us pretty helpless for the early years.
  • We're born with some of our brain power, but our brains keep developing long after we're born, well into our 20s. 
  • There are some advantages to that long period of childhood, surrounded by family. It allows for a lot of cultural transmission, for one. That means learning about tools, language, manners and arts. Some of these exist in other species, but human systems are elaborate and take a lot of time to learn.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.

But Why is a project of Vermont Public.

vermont public logo