Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Is Brainy Baby not so brainy?

It is, of course, the perfect story for snarky journalists: A recent study by researchers associated with the University of Washingon in Seattle concluded that for every hour per day 8-16 month old infants spend watching Brainy Baby and Baby Einstein type videos, they know 6-8 fewer vocabulary words than other children their age. You can read one story (of hundreds) on the topic here.

Everyone loves to make fun of the Baby-Industrial Complex (yes, I bought a Bugaboo stroller... and an Ouef crib...) The explosion of Baby Einstein videos purporting to make one's child smarter is certainly a data point in this trend, and no one can accuse the University of Washington researchers of not knowing how to generate PR. Imagine -- a video designed to make your kid smarter makes your kid dumber! You can hear the snickering seeping out of the newsprint.

But of course, it is almost impossible to prove causal relationships with anything involving childhood intelligence or achievement. The researchers asked about Baby Einstein because these are the videos that babies watch. My guess is that every hour per day that babies spend parked in front of "Days of Our Lives" or "What Not to Wear" likewise corresponds to fewer vocabulary words... as does the number of hours per day they spend parked in front of a blank wall. It's interaction with other people that sparks vocabulary development. If children are watching TV instead of interacting with adults, then they probably will have learned fewer vocabulary words at some arbitrary age.

But TV-v-pleasant-and-educational-adult-interaction is probably not the exact choice many people are making. Small children can be exasperating. If the choice is Baby Einstein v. mommy losing it and teaching the child some very interesting words, I'd say Baby Einstein is the way to go. The videos don't make your child smarter. But I doubt they, specifically, make your child less articulate either.


Anonymous said...

I firmly believe in exposing children from very young to varied stimuli, be they picture books, videos, CDs, CD ROMs, children's TV programmes or interaction with people. If at any one time, a particular medium is the most convenient, say, videos while mom cooks dinner, make sure it is not the same video, or videos of the same series, all the time. It is monotony and predictability that limit intellectual and speech/vocab development, not a particular video. Look, what happens if only one and the same picture book is read to the child for weeks on end?

Anonymous said...

We never owned any brainy baby videos. My kids watched shows like “The Magic School Bus”, “Arthur” and “Sesame Street” or ”The Muppets” special topic shows before age two. They were only allowed to watch in moderation- two half-hour videos per day and were read to at least that long on a daily basis. I did not favor the Walt Disney videos because they were too long and “entertainment” only.

I’m not suggesting that these videos made my kids gifted, but I do believe that my high-maintenance gifted children picked up quite a bit of the information the videos presented (supposedly for older children) while they gave me a much needed break.


Lisa M said...

This is the first positive spin I have seen to this story. I have seen it discussed at great length on 2 homeschool boards I frequent and the overwhleming repsonse has been " I knew TV was the devil!". My son has watched Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby and many other educational shows and while I also agree it did not cause his giftedness it certainly helped supply him with more knowledge than I could have in his young infant life. I was/am always there hwne he watches a show to interact and I believe if you use TV as a tool instead of a babysitter it is almost as valuable as a book or any other interaction you can give.

Anonymous said...

Yes, TV makes kids easier to take care of. Probably a shot of whiskey would do the same thing.

What the availability of TV and videos too often does is allow stand in the place of adequate supportive care arrangements. Before the parent turns on the video I would urge them to ask how would they solve this problem of the child needing attention if not for the availability of video? Would they have a babysitter? A neighbor? Would they go outside and take a walk? Would the child need to (gasp!) actually fill a few moments with quiet reflection or play?

What we've found is that when TV/video isn't on the list of options available people find ways to live with it happily. And, nonscientific as it is I'll note I have observed a difference in attention span and willingness to stick with tasks based on how much kids were in front of screens when they were young.

mathmom said...

If the choice is Baby Einstein v. mommy losing it and teaching the child some very interesting words, I'd say Baby Einstein is the way to go.

You got it! I didn't put my youngest in front of Baby Einstein to make him smarter. I put the video on to give me a few minutes of peace and quiet! For a short while, he loved the videos and I got my peace and quiet. He still likes classical music, particularly the pieces he was exposed to early via Baby Einstein, so I think that was one good effect we observed from them. Used in moderation, like anything else, I don't really see the harm in them.

At 6yo now, he's plenty articulate too!

Anonymous said...

We can find positives and negatives in everything! As a parent and a mother with a Master's Degree in Education, I, too, agree that children should not be left in front of the TV for hours a day. But, I must say, I am a strong supportor of QUALITY Baby Educational Videos that use CLASSICAL Music. (DO not purchase the Baby Einstien Numbers DVD - they really missed the point on that one - taking away all classical music and showing no actual humans in the dvd. They know they messed up on this one as they have even emailed me to that affect.) My first born is now 4, and I do not say this just because she is mine, but she is extrememly intelligent for her age. She acts and responds on the level of a 8-10year old. Do I credit the educational videos for all of this, absolutely not, because I spent hours after hours reading to her, singing to her, etc. To sum this up, I do think the videos are good, but as a teacher, I believe 100% that it is the effect of CLASSICAL music that stimulates the brain. I played it several hours a day. Today my four year old is reading, writing, knows all 43 Presidents by name, knows the states, etc. USE CLASSICAL MUSIC - even if you are not a classical music lover. There is organization in the music, which encourages organization in their little brains.