Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Baby Einstein - not the solution to all your problems...

I have always been an outspoken critic of the Baby Einstein DVD's. I have never seen the point of them. Or rather: put on the DVD and let the little tot's enjoy them, but don't think for a second that they will help them become early speakers - and definitely not the next generation of Einsteins.
Ever since my first encounter with the DVD's, which was about 7 years ago, I have had a hate-relationship to these annoying so-called learning-stimulants because of that very reason: they want you to think that you are providing a learning-tool for your child that you are not capable of giving them yourself. After years of believeng that TV was bad for kids, and that they needed active play-time instead, suddenly, the creators of Baby Einstein wanted you think that you are a bad mother if you didn't let your child watch TV every day.

When Baby Einstein was released, there was an influx of otherwise TV-aversed mothers who suddenly thought that TV might not only be OK but necessary for their kids development of essential verbal skills. In fact, they felt that if they didn't put them in front of Baby Einstein, their kids would miss out on vital skills. Would they not qualify to the pre-school of their choice if they didn't welcome Baby Einstein in to their home? Would their kids fall behind in high school? Because children who watched Baby Einstein, the creator would have you believe, where not only much more advanced in their vocabulary, they where more likely to have adopted multi-lingual skills that they might never be able to adopt if they were to start a few years later.

I never for a second believed in this philosophy. To me it was blatantly obvious that the little child in front of the TV who, passive and silent, watched a spinning top while listening to classical music and a monotonous voice reciting the name of the color blue in five different languages did not learn a single thing about languages, never mind develop their speech.
Although not a huge fan of TV for under 2's, at some point of the day (usually around 5pm, when my kids where tired and dinner needed attention), I would turn on the TV. Tellytubbies, In the Nightgarden or Fimbles (OK, so I am British, so you have to bear with my choice of BBC productions here) did a lot more to engage my kids than Baby Einstein would ever do. Not only did my kids respond to what they watched and heard on the screen by interactively wave, dance, say 'hello' and 'goodbye' etc, after a little while they became bored and distracted and started to play with their toys again. If I wanted my children to talk, I would have to interact with them myself to get the conversation going.
The kids I knew who watched Baby Einstein, on the other hand, sat placidly and stared at the screen for longer periods of time, without a sound coming out of their mouths. There was no interaction, and no stimulation. OK, so my oppinon isn't exactly scientifically researched, it's a mere subjective train of thoughts, but recently I have read two articles that confirmed my believes that only interaction from grown-up's - not DVD's - will help stimulate your child's speech.

Research on Baby Einstein and evidence that the DVD's won't work as speech-stimulants, can be found in the book NurtureShock - New thinking about children, written by PO Bronson and Ahsley Sherman (Twelve, 2009). In the chapter 'Why Hannah talks and Alyssa doesn't' the authors present a wide range of research on speech and also dispels the common myth that if we subject our children to language, regardless of the medium, they will absorb it and eventually use it actively. They argue that instead of feeding our kids with constant chatter, we need to "notice what's coming from the baby, and respond accordingly - coming from his mouth, his eyes, and his fingers." In other words, to raise verbal children, the parents, should keep quiet, and instead listen and respond to our children.

And in an article recently published in the New York Times stated that Walt Disney Company acknowledge the fact that the fact that then DVD's are not educational and will therefor offer refunds to any parent returning a Baby Einstein DVD.

So, don't be afraid to use the TV as an electronic baby-sitter when you need to. But do it in honest. Don't try to dress it up with the argument that your kids will learn something from it. To really get them going, get down on the floor and start to interact. Quietly enter your child's world and start to listen to what they have to say instead.


  1. Blah, blah, blah, these dvd's are great - It's all a matter of opinion.

    My two year old insists on watching these when I need a 20 minute gap. He hums to the music, identifies all the colours, shapes, movements etc. They do stimulate your child, but if you are under the impression they turn your little one into a genius you yourself are not that smart!
    I spend a a lot of quiet time listening and interacting with my son, engaging in indoor and outdoor activities daily, and these dvd's just add to his enjoyment of learning. Everything in moderation!

    I own the entire collection, and think they are well worth the money spent!

  2. Hi, good for you - you found something that works for you, and that you like - I find them annoying, irritating and pointless.
    It is good that we live in a world where choices are endless:)

    Take care,
    angry mother

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