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More evidence they should take the 'Einstein' out of 'Baby Einstein'

March 1, 2010 |  1:30 pm

For those parents out there who were holding out hope that scientists would someday vindicate Baby Einstein DVDs and other so-called educational videos aimed at the under-2 set, a leading pediatric journal has some bad news: The DVDs do not help 1-year-olds learn words emphasized during the programs.

BabyeinsteinResearchers at UC Riverside tested the vocabularies of 88 children between the ages of 12 and 24 months. Half of them were asked to watch Baby Wordsmith -- part of Disney’s Baby Einstein series -- at home for six weeks. The 35-minute video highlights 30 common words for household objects.

When the researchers compared the two groups, they found no difference in their general language knowledge as measured by words spoken, words understood, and correctly identifying pictures. Children who spent the most hours watching Baby Wordsmith fared no better than children who didn’t watch it at all.

As the researchers put it:

Other than the general gains in word knowledge attributable to time and age, children who viewed the DVD at home over 6 weeks did not demonstrate new knowledge of the DVD-highlighted words.

But it’s not like the videos made absolutely zero impact. The UCR team found that the younger a child was the first time he or she watched any Baby Einstein video, the lower his or her overall language score. The study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

This should hardly be a newsflash to parents tuned in to the controversy over the videos. They seem like a great idea, and who wouldn’t want to believe that plopping their tots in front of the boob tube could actually be good for them? Unfortunately, science has failed to substantiate this view.

In fact, previous studies find they can actually be harmful. Check out this report on a 2007 study in the Journal of Pediatrics, which found that “for every hour a day that babies 8 to 16 months old were shown such popular series as "Brainy Baby" or "Baby Einstein," they knew six to eight fewer words than other children.” One of the researchers in that study was quoted as saying, “I would rather babies watch ‘American Idol’ than these videos” because it would increase the odds that they would be watching TV with a parent, which offers at least some developmental benefit.

Last year, the Walt Disney Co. all but acknowledged that the videos were educationally worthless when it agreed to take back the videos in exchange for a refund of $15.99. But if you want to cash in, you’d better hurry -- the program ends Thursday.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: DVDs such as this one may look educational, but don't be fooled, researchers say. Credit: Walt Disney Home Entertainment


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Comments (17)

I'm not surprised by the Baby Einstein study because I found absolutely no benefit of my daughter watching it 7+ years ago. She would just stare at the screen and not repeat any of the words while watching. It was creepy so we didn't let her watch Baby Einstein anymore. She did watch a few other DVDs like Brainy Baby ABCs and Art and according to her pediatrician was above average for both cognitive and receptive speech. My son who didn't watch any TV until he was 3 however, did have significant speech delays (which were not caused by watching or not watching TV)

However, I don't think that a study should draw conclusions about all children's DVDs if only one was included in the study. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. My kids loved the Brainy Baby DVDs and would repeat words from the DVDs, pointed things out while driving in the car that they first saw on the DVDs, and said the names of objects we saw in books. Some of our friends said that they give all of the credit for their kids remembering their ABCs to Leap Frog's Letter Factory.

Personally, I would love to see a comprehensive study that compares all of the DVDs out there to stop this "he said / she said" game. In the meantime, I'm going to continuing doing what has worked for my family.

I believe there is nothing better then the parents spending time with their children reading books, talking to them and playing with them. Not only are the children not getting used of sitting in front of the televisions, but they are learning to properly interact with other human beings. Keep the kids away from the television as much as possible and keep them active!

I totally agree with Tessa's comment. Although I am not surprised by the Einstein findings either, I have had really great success with BRAINY BABY. I think there is a difference in the content of these products and none of us should rush to judgement and simply toss everything out!

Somehow, Brainy Baby works, I don't know why, but they do. Also, I just heard that a University just studied Brainy Baby and found that children learned more with Brainy Baby or something. That certainly agrees with my home findings, but I agree with Tessa that there should be a comparative study for all the popular DVD brands.

The science is nice, but if the DVD works and the science backs it up, I am going to do what is best for my family, which includes a modest diet of educational TV viewing.

My kids are past the early development window, but frankly the only tv program/dvd that research has consistently shown to help preschoolers is Sesame Street. My eldest did not watch TV until 2. The younger ones (twins) got a bit of Sesame Street and Dora when their older brother watched it prior to 2. I found Sesame street, and some of the leapfrog products (the baby tad, the magnet letter set, etc.) were far better for them. And having twins, language development was different, as they did the twin talk first, but speaking and reading to your child is the best way to improve that.

Whoever the anonymous "researcher[s] in that study was quoted as saying, “I would rather babies watch ‘American Idol’ than these videos” is a fool.
Ask any pediatrician worth their salt, and they will tell you that toddlers and young children should not, under any circumstances, be watching adult programming - especially a show like American Idol that. Though it is amusing to some, "Idol" shows adults acting like..., well, I guess like spoiled rotten little children. Not a social quality I want my children to adapt.

I don't doubt the validity of the study, but it is crucial that if a parent chooses not to play Baby Einstein videos for their kids, that they make sure that their kids sure the heck are not watching "Idol" or "The View."

M

This is nothing new - when Seaseme Street came out it was all the rage - every parent was encouraged to plop their kids in front of Big Bird and his pals - me included - well that silly show slowed my son's speech progress it did not enhance it.

Firs off let me tell you all that watching tv is really good for kid's. Because I was raized waching tv and now I show my 4 months old all the Baby Einstein movies and I really gotta tell you guys I think Baby Einstein is the BEST! Not only can I get time to myself, my baby is becoming a genus! When he see's all the colors and letters and words on the screen, the first thing I think of is, hell heal make it into Harvard or Yale for sure, or maybe even CSU Bakersfield but that's only if I buy a few more videos for the litle tike and REALLY push him to study. Im thinking 4 hours a day minimum watching Baby Einstein will prime him for one of these institutes of higher lerning. Baby Einstein is the best and I know because Disney told me so. I trust Mickey Mouse over some intelectual cognitive science researcher any day. And if you think since only dumb people would show their kidz Baby Einstein and probably their kids are simply dumber and that's why the scores are lower, I say only Goofy believes in causality.

A few years ago our infant son received a Baby Einstein book called, Mirror Me.
It featured a picture of a cow (no udders) and the sentence, "Cow puffs HIS cheeks full of air." Within a year we received another copy of the book, Mirror Me and the genius of referring to a cow with the pronoun, HIS, had been corrected. The picture now said, "Baby MacDonald puffs HER cheeks full of air."
So now the (still sans udders) cow had a gender neutral name and was referred to as SHE.
Genius indeed. Who needed a UC study?

You may be correct about the negative effects of Baby Einstein, but please do not include BRAINY BABY in your connection with these types of DVDs. I have used Brainy Baby for years and I have also read that recently Brainy Baby was studied by a major University, which showed them to be very positive and beneficial to children under the age of two. So, there is other positive research out there, it is just not being reported. There are good educational DVD products out there other than Sesame Street.

I think parents should know the facts and use quality educational tools that are best for their children. BRAINY BABY is a great teaching tool and no negative effects. I have read many similar reports from other parents as well. Hope this helps clear the confusion.

So Baby Einstein works like Fox News?

I have a 13 month old and he enjoys watching these videos. However I limit the video time, maybe twice a month if that and with Mommy and/or Daddy watching with him. That's it. I would never let him stare at the TV for hours everyday. That's just stupid & lazy parenting.

I have a 13 month old and he enjoys watching these videos. However I limit the video time, maybe twice a month if that and with Mommy and/or Daddy watching with him. That's it. I would never let him stare at the TV for hours everyday. That's just stupid & lazy parenting.

I have been searching for a site like this in the field I am interested in. I am a great fan. I also like all things about do it yourself suggestions that help you to save.

George Bush touted Baby Einstein during one of his state of the Union Addresses. Enough said.

If parents want their children to develop literacy and creative intellect, there is no substitute for listening to stories their parents tell them, or listening in on conversations and being part of the general day-to-day showing and naming of things by parents. Videos, by their very nature, weaken very young children's minds, as has been pointed out by these studies. 1-2 year olds are too young to differentiate objects within a flat screen. They require dimensionality, touch, conversation and naming by their parents. Sitting a toddler in front of a TV, no matter what the content, is ill-advised.

If parents have no time to spend with their children in conversation, then at least purchase storytelling audios. Listening, at these early developmental stages, is much closer to the ancient core of language learning than is screen viewing.

Visit tales2go on iPhone. These are listening experiences. Good ones. Less is more when it comes to early language learning.

Odds Bodkin
Author, Storyteller, Educator

To Odds Bodkin's comment: C'mon, let's get real. Not saying that storytelling is bad, but either is a small dose of DVD. How can you say, "Videos, by their very nature, weaken very young children's minds, as has been pointed out by these studies. 1-2 year olds are too young to differentiate objects within a flat screen". ????

The science you and everyone points to is a SHAM! Please, if you want to hear the truth, go see http://www.junkscience.com/ByTheJunkman/20070823.html

And exactly where is your science that shows 1-2 year olds can't differentiate objects on a flat screen? My kids can and so do many of my friends' children.

I think you are way too quick to jump on a bandwagon that sounds logical and right, but the reality is not all DVDs are created equal and there absolutely is POSITIVE science to support the use of DVDs under the age of two. I just resent anyone who can make such strong claims and not know the facts.

I just heard that Brainy Baby had a University study and peer review that was positive. That agrees with my findings at home. But , the point is this... nobody is saying that DVDs will replace storytelling, reading or parental interaction. Nobody is locking their kid in a room full of DVDs and say "stay here until you learn something".

DVDs are a very useful teaching tool to be used in conjunction with everyday teachable moments. Why are we buying into this fear agenda?

Come to think of it, my grandparents had similar feelings and fears. They were against 16mm films in classrooms, power steering, microwaves and The Beatles. Seems as if there are always a few people willing to bash new ways of learning and expressing ourselves, just because they are either uncomfortable or don't know how to use the new tool.

How about we just let parents use the brain they have and do whatever works for their family? Their kid won't get ADD or grow 3 heads. It's time to put this silly subject to bed.


Well, if you'd taken a "fair and balanced" approach about this topic you would've mentiioned the recent BRAINY BABY University of Texas study that says their dvd's DO teach and children DO learn. This debate is so extremely skewed from the get go and the so called "science" involved here has been compromised by political interests within the field and comes down to outright lies. Too many parents attest to the benefit of using educational dvd's as an enhancement to their child's educational experience and I think it's scandalous how opinionated and duped the media has become where this topic is concerned. For those interested, take a look at an article on http://www.junkscience.com/ByTheJunkman/20070823.html to explain the ridiculousness of the UW study done three years ago. Here's an exerpt:

"...they weren’t collected from a representative sample of the general population. Study subjects were drawn from limited geographic area on the basis of telephone number availability. Telephoned parents could decline to participate. Moving past the study’s questionable data, the researchers' technique for measuring child language development also is problematic. While the so-called MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory, or CDI, seems to be a reliable assessment tool for older toddlers, its application to 8- to 16-month-olds is not so reliable, according to a study published in the journal Child Development (March-April 2000)."
See for yourself. I might add to that Baby Einstein has ALWAYS offered refunds on their products prior to the CCFC's conspiracy. Parents hopefully will continue to use their God given instincts about parenting much in the same way an animal would know exactly the timing to ween and to nurse. Parents like me are insulted that someone "out there" needs to do a study for us to know whether our kids are learning or not - when we know that they ARE! Gimme a break.



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