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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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