The Ineffectiveness of Baby Einstein

While reviewing this week’s reading, “Extending The Lessons of Educational Television with Young American Children,” I noticed most immediately the article’s argument for educational tv, provided certain circumstances.  The article suggests that the more closely the educational content aligns and helps propel the plot, the more children will learn from it.  When the lessons involved deviate from the story line, the processing becomes too overwhelming for children’ working memories, and they subsequent do not learn from the show.  I was initially surprised at the article’s clear support for educational tv, as I remember learning in my child and adolescent psychology class that not only did the dvd program Baby Einstein not promote learning in young children, but it actually hindered their academic performance.  Given the time constraints of the class and the amount of content we needed to cover, my professor did not expand on the topic much more than the simple idea of “don’t just plot your kid in front of the tv showing Baby Einstein and expect too much learning to happen.”  After reading about the effort to integrate academics and entertainment television in an effective way, I became more interested in learning specifically about why Baby Einstein “doesn’t work.”  I found this Time article written in 2007 that explains the logic:

http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1650352,00.html

Author Alice Park highlights the idea that researchers suggest that Baby Einstein and similar products “may actually delay language development in toddlers.”  These researchers specifically found that, “with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form.”

What exactly is causing this regression?

The article refers to the concept that these programs are intended to stimulate children’s brains.  With this intention, the result is essentially an audience of young children who are overstimulated while watching tv, and then bored by the real world.  In addition, language development requires face-to-face interaction, which is something a television program can never do.  The article concludes with the idea that, “experts worry that the proliferation of these products will continue to displace the one thing that babies need in the first months of life — face time with human beings.”  Essentially, the article seems to be arguing for no tv intervention in the first years of life.

Is this the right measure?  Or should parents take an approach that falls somewhere in between these extremes?

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