Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Baby Einsteins - I don't think so

What finally brings me back to the blog - the headline I heard today on NPR - "Baby Einstein videos shown to delay learning!" Yes, finally the research is showing what the "ditch the TV"" proponents have warned about (among other things), that interaction with a live human being is the most important thing for children and TV is not a substitute for that.

Here are a few choice quotes from the TIME article:
Led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis, both at the University of Washington, the research team 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. "The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew," says Christakis. "These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos."

"Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn," says Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "They don't get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development.

As far as Christakis and his colleagues can determine, the only thing that baby videos are doing is producing a generation of overstimulated kids. "There is an assumption that stimulation is good, so more is better," he says. "But that's not true; there is such a thing as overstimulation." His group has found that the more television children watch, the shorter their attention spans later in life. "Their minds come to expect a high level of stimulation, and view that as normal," says Christakis, "and by comparison, reality is boring."

Ewan and I started reading about TV when our oldest was still small and have tried to make media a very occasional thing. Erin did watch Sesame street when she was still under 5, but we were happy that we weaned all of us off of TV and now we don't even own one. Of course, we can still get sucked into watching comic sketches and other funny things on youtube. In our hearts I think most human beings would like to escape reality and it is easier to "interact" with the TV rather than real live people who might say the wrong thing or otherwise offend. But, for us, keeping the video to a minimum (and making it not too pleasant by having to watch on a tiny computer screen) has been a good choice and one we have not regretted. We all read and create much more than we would if there was a TV in our living room.
Now if all that wasn't enough, another study shows that all the marketing geared toward children is working. If food has golden arches wrapped around it, they think it tastes better.



  • At 3:55 PM, Anonymous Field Learning said…

    While I agree that there is no substitute for a parent taking the time to teach their children at a personal level, there have been studies that show music can actually increase brain function in people of ALL ages. It seems only logical that you would want to target people as early as possible with this music, no?

    Just my two cents! :)

  • At 8:23 AM, Blogger Kathy said…

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, music is great and does the mind a lot of good. The point of the article I referred to (been awhile since I've read it as this post is 5 years old) was not about music but about how content is delivered. The idea that sitting our very small children down (kids 2 and younger) in front of a video featuring "educational content" will make them smarter was what this particular article was addressing. At the time (and maybe now, I'm not as in touch with the pre-school crowd at the moment) there was a lot of emphasis on starting our children's formal education at a younger and younger age. Especially in the twos and under it seems that what they really need is facetime with a loving and devoted caregiver. Now, if that caregiver sings a few songs while holding that wee one (as has been done for generation upon generation) all the better. I don't believe that music needs to be targeted to them through a video series, but a very amateur rendering of a simple folk song by someone who loves them might serve that purpose just as well or better.


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