The amazing variations amongst babies across our world… –
In the 1970s, Super moved to Kenya with his wife, an anthropologist. He began investigating motor development among babies born in a farming community known as Kokwet. Between 1972 and 1975, he documented when those babies acquired new motor skills using the Bayley scale and interviewed mothers about their child-rearing practices.
Kokwet babies sat, stood and walked about a month earlier than Western infants, Super reported in 1976 in Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology. But the babies were slower to master other skills, such as lifting their heads, rolling over and crawling.
Super observed that mothers wore their babies on their backs while laboring in the fields. He suspected that vigorous motion gave the babies the sort of constant exercise needed to help develop strength and agility. The mothers also told Super they actively trained their children to walk through exercises like air stepping.
“The parents had a theory: If you don’t teach your children to walk, they won’t walk,” Super says. At the same time, however, mothers sought to keep their babies from crawling given myriad dangers on the ground, such as open fire pits and snakes. The training combined with the restrictions probably explains the development patterns that Super observed that were outside of normal ranges. His findings agreed with observations made elsewhere.
For instance, anthropologist Alma Gottlieb’s research on the Beng people in Ivory Coast from the late 1970s to the early 1990s showed that Beng babies sit earlier than Western babies but are actively discouraged from walking before age 1. The Beng believe that early walking can cause a grandparent’s early death, says Gottlieb, a visiting scholar at Brown University in Providence, R.I. And keeping the babies close and happy discourages the little ones from returning to a previous life.