Forget sugar and spice and all things nice – as some of the subjects of TVNZ's The Secret Life of Girls documentary showed last night, little girls are also capable of theft, tyranny on the high seas and role-playing with vodka.

Narrated by Hayley Holt, this two-part special celebrating the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage sees a typical Kiwi kindergarten rigged up with cameras to track a group of five and six-year-old girls as they interact with each other and a couple of very patient teachers.

With the proceedings observed and dissected by psychologists Dr Annette Henderson and Nathan Wallis, last night's episode saw the group of schoolgirls navigating a series of social experiments - some more subtle than others.


One of the tasks, for example, had the group partaking in a vote. (This is a suffrage special, after all.) After discussing what a vote actually was, the girls were told they had to make a decision between playing with pūkeko on a pond or rolling around in a "tunnel of terror".

But there was a catch: the group was told only the girls sitting on orange seats got to vote. (See what they did there?) Endearingly, both the voters and non-voters were quite upset about this turn of events.

The girls were also forced into a re-enactment of school life in 1893, complete with costumes to match. It was both extremely adorable and a little bit odd, as the 19th-century girls worked on their deportment and tried their hand at traditional after-school chores, such as peeling potatoes, shining shoes and washing the (thankfully fake) family baby.

Clunky experiments aside, there were moments of absolute comedy gold to be found in The Secret Life of Girls.

At one point, the girls were given a bunch of props to make themselves look like either their mum or dad, while they pretended to be that parent. It went about as well as expected.

These girls have no reason to doubt their future ambitions. Prime Minister of Auckland? Why not!
These girls have no reason to doubt their future ambitions. Prime Minister of Auckland? Why not!

A lass by the name of Aurora pretended to be her Dad and shouted at the TV, telling an imaginary referee he was "being silly".

The very confident India then donned a wig and heels to exclaim, "my Mummy goes to the gym and drinks vodka," before knocking back a pretend drink of her own.

(Note to self: Never let one of my own two daughters participate in this type of show. Ever.)


But the most revealing observations of the episode came from the times the girls were allowed to roam free and interact with each other without a teacher guiding them every step of the way.

The brutality of the playground was laid bare as social hierarchies were created on an impressive-looking pirate ship and led to one potentially mutinous girl being made to walk the plank. Other playground rules enforced by the self-appointed leader of the group made me wince, remembering what a dog-eat-dog world the schoolyard can be.

However, there were moments to warm the heart, too.

When an intense friendship was threatened by the theft of some marbles, the way in which the situation was handled by a little girl called Mei Mei left me confident she will be brokering world peace deals one day.

We also got to see the girls running around, shouting "I'm the Prime Minister of Auckland!" and "I'm the Prime Minister of India!" And seeing five-year-old girls confidently declaring such lofty aspirations like it ain't no thing was really quite wonderful.

The Secret Life of Girls might veer into the strange and the obvious at times, but its young stars boost the series with their confident, empathetic, hilarious – and frankly adorable – energy. Just try not to smile while watching it.

And with next week's episode seeing the introduction of boys into the mix, I'm genuinely interested to see how the dynamics of this group will change. Based on the preview snippets shared last night, it promises to be one of the more interesting battles of the sexes we've seen in a long time.

The Secret Life of Girls aired on Tuesday at 8.45pm on TVNZ 1