It does appear that the trend toward teaching very young children -
even infants - is growing. In fact, the move toward intellectualizing
very young children is affecting the business world as well as causing
parents to question whether they are doing enough to "challenge" their
children's brains! Needless to say, there are opinions on both sides
of this issue.
BABY EINSTEIN - PRO AND CON
"Who would win in a fight, Baby Einstein or Barbie? Baby Einstein
isn't a character, just a brand, so this imaginary fight wouldn't be a
fistfight. It'd be a fight for mindshare and market share. It'd be a
fight for dollars."
"In fact it is a fight for dollars. Every day, in Targets and
Wal-Marts across the country, these two brands go at it. Which one do
you give your kid? It depends on how old your child is, obviously, but
it also depends on what kind of parent you are. As any good Supermom
will tell you, Baby Einstein is the choice of parents who want their
daughter to speak Swahili by 7th grade and go to Harvard. They leave
the Barbies for other people - people who, they imagine, just want
their daughter to have a smile on her face and go to a great state
So who's winning?"
Read "Baby Einstein vs. Barbie," By PO BRONSON & ASHLEY MERRYMAN. Time. 2006
Baby Einstein is not without it's critics!
"The making-your-baby-a-genius movement is as hot as ever within the
parenting community, but it is not without its critics. Earlier this
year, the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood (formerly Stop
Commercial Exploitation of Children) complained to the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) - the US government agency that
regulates radio and television broadcasting -and filed a lawsuit
against Baby Einstein and other similar content companies, citing
"The watchdog group bases its allegations on an American Academy of
Pediatrics recommendation for children under the age of 2 years old to
not watch any television. According to the group, only 6 percent of
parents are actually aware of this recommendation and yet 49 percent
believe that educational videos are "very important in the
intellectual development of children."
"Despite criticism, the baby-education concept and brand is hardly
limited to the US. Baby Einstein products were introduced a few years
ago in Japan and China. And two young Canadian entrepreneurs, inspired
by the brand, are hoping to recreate its success by developing a
similar line for the Arabic-speaking Muslim world."
"Yet for all the hoopla over Baby Einstein and its diverse product
offerings, actual revenue is still relatively small when you consider
other products catering to kids. Although the company sold $200
million of products last year (according to Time magazine), the
ever-effervescent Barbie brand sold over $3 billion."
Read "Baby Einstein Smarty Pants," by Alycia de Mesa. BrandChannel.
November 2006. http://www.brandchannel.com/features_profile.asp?pr_id=309
The following is a somewhat comical, but very interesting opinion from a parent!
READ "The $165 Million Scam: What Parents Should Know about Disney's
Baby Einstein," By Anne Anderson Walker.
Do infants really benefit from banging on a computer keyboard?
"Computer programs designed for the diaper set - including infants as
young as 9 months old - are carving out a niche in the nation's
flourishing educational software market.Known as "lapware," these new
software programs enable a baby seated on a caregiver's lap to bang
away at a keyboard or move a mouse while watching on-screen images and
listening to computer-generated songs.
"Manufacturers are billing the products - which have developed into a
multimillion-dollar business - as a great way for parents to bond and
interact with their young children. They say the programs also tap
into infants' desires to mimic other household members who use
"I think it's a pretty grim picture," said Jane M. Healy, the author
of the 1999 book Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children
and What We Can Do About It. Ms. Healy, who believes children should
not use computers until age 7, said she has heard that babies are
being strapped into infant seats and put in front of the computer. "If
you have time to hold a child on your lap, you should be playing with
them, reading with them, dancing with them, and laughing with them,"
"Ten years ago, the typical educational software product was most
appropriate for children between the ages of 7 and 12, according to
Ann Stephens, the chief executive officer of PC Data, a Reston,
Va.-based market-research firm. Since then, the age range has crept
lower and lower. In 1999, sales of software labeled as appropriate for
preschool children - ages 3 to 6 - totaled $309 million, Ms. Stephens
Read "Computer Companies Give Birth To 'Lapware' for Babies," By
Michelle Galley. Education Week. 2000
"Lapware' introduces babies to computers," by JULIE MORAN ALTERIO. THE
JOURNAL NEWS. August 2005
"Computers and the Very Young," By Patricia Cantor, Plymouth State
College, Plymouth, NH. Focus on Infants & Toddlers, Summer 2001, Vol.
13, #4 http://www.acei.org/inf.vol.13.4.htm
INFANT AND TODDLER VIDEO GAMES
Do they really foster intellectual development?
"Video games are good for your 3-year-old. Or so claim several
companies hawking new electronic games for preschoolers this season,
despite critics' contention that tots need to spend more time on
physical play, and not practicing virtual ABC drills."
"Turn game time into brain time," asserts a magazine ad for VTech's
V.Smile, a joystick-controlled system that plugs into the TV. Its
television ads feature parents telling kids they can stay up past
bedtime and get dessert only if they put in their video time. It dubs
the plastic game cartridges "smartridges because they will make you
smarter," said VTech's vice president of marketing, Julia Fitzgerald.
"They all purport to be educational, but I have yet to see a video or
computer game with educational software backed by any scientific
research," said Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and
Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston. "They're backed by market
research about what parents will buy."
"Are video games really an educational boost for preschoolers?" By
Stephanie Dunnewind. Seattle Times. December 11, 2004
Also read "See Baby Touch a Screen. but Does Baby Get It?" By TAMAR
LEWIN. New York Times. Dec. 2005
Educational video / game market
Battling for market share:
"Brainier Babies? Maybe. Big Sales? Definitely." BusinessWeek Online. 2004
"That?s Entertainment," By Cliff Annicelli. Playthings -- 9/1/2006
Also read "Not playing around: Scientists say video games can reshape
education." CNN 2006
"The gaming industry has already figured out that educational games
don't make money in the consumer marketplace. The new approach would
instead market them directly to schools. Doug Lowenstein, president of
the Entertainment Software Association, said there will soon be 75
million Americans who are 10 to 30 years old -- an age bracket that
grew up on video games."
"Common sense tells us that a medium so basic to the lives of these
'millennials' has potential beyond the living room," Lowenstein said.
"We would be crazy not to seek ways to exploit interactive games to
teach our children."
The scientific group called for action from the business and academic
communities, too. The potential is enormous, agreed Don Blake, a
technology analyst for the National Education Association, which
represents teachers and other classroom professionals. But when he
thought about how games would work in class, questions kept popping to
mind. How much training would teachers receive? Who would persuade
school leaders and the public that games aren't a waste of time? Would
education schools add serious gaming to the curriculum? Ultimately, he
said, teachers need to see games as a way to help - not as a threat.
The following article highlights the opposing positions taken by
childhood experts concerning one of the latest trends - tutoring
Read "Experts At Odds Over Early Learning - Preschool Tutoring Is
Growing Business." May 4, 2006
Also read "Tutors for Tots - More families like the idea," By Jodi
Helmer. The Christian Science Monitor. April 2005
"A growing number of parents across the country are enrolling
preschoolers in tutoring programs, hoping that early education will
prepare them for school and help them to become successful students.
"Children can achieve greater success in school if they get an early
start in an academic program," says Dean Bradley, the vice president
of instruction for Kumon North America in New Jersey. "The program] is
interactive and fun for the children and helps them get a head start."
But some critics argue that structured academic programs for
preschoolers are doing more harm than good.
"There is no research that shows that early academic programs have a
lasting positive impact on children," says David Elkind, professor of
child development at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. "In fact
studies show that the high pressure of early academic programs can
result in children with higher anxiety levels and lower self-esteem
who are not doing any better academically."
Tutoring programs aimed at preschoolers exploit parental anxieties and
undermine parental confidence, says Dr. Elkind.
"Parents are being told that they need an expert to do everything,
including teaching their little ones how to read and write before they
are ready," he says. "Parents should teach their children by
responding to their questions and initiatives; they should not be
pressuring them to learn."
"But despite questions like those raised by Elkind, such programs are
gaining in popularity."
INFANT SIGN LANGUAGE
And how about communicating with your infant before they have learned
their first word?
From "Baby Sign Language." UC Davis Health System
"Wouldn't it be fascinating to get a glimpse inside the mind of a
baby? Seventeen years ago a UC Davis researcher stumbled upon a way to
communicate with a baby before the baby could speak. And today, "Baby
Signs" as its called has become a global phenomenon, and it's been
proven to give an edge to children even beyond babyhood."
"ACREDOLO AND HER RESEARCH PARTNER, DR. SUSAN GOODWYN, ARE TAKING A
CLOSER LOOK AT BABY SIGN LANGUAGE TO SEE IF IT ACTUALLY HELPS INFANTS
COMMUNICATE EARLIER, AND WHETHER IT CAN HAVE AN EFFECT ON VOCAL
LANGUAGE. THEY STUDIED CHILDREN IN TWO GROUPS, ONE THAT LEARNS SIGNS
AND ONE THAT DIDN'T. WHAT THEY FOUND WERE SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER
ABILITIES IN THE CHILDREN WHO KNEW BABY SIGNS."
"These children are understanding language sooner and they are
learning to speak sooner than the control group children."
"AND THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF BABY-SIGNS LAST WELL BEYOND BABY-HOOD.
INFANTS INVOLVED IN THAT FIRST STUDY EIGHT YEARS AGO ARE NOW IN THE
THIRD GRADE. THEY TOOK AN IQ TEST THIS SUMMER. KIDS WHO USED
BABY-SIGNS SCORED AN AVERAGE OF 12 POINTS HIGHER THAN THOSE WHO DIDN'T
- A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT FINDING."
"Now what it means is that this jump start they had in communicating
somehow was a cumulative positive effect."
From "Getting beyond goo-goo, ga-ga: Signing helps infants speak with
their parents," By Edith Z. Alderette
"Parents throughout the nation have turned to teaching sign language
to pre-verbal babies in order to increase communication between
parents and their children. As interest and popularity swells in the
practice, classes have popped up in San Jose, offered in mother
support groups, local churches, and people's homes. Many local
caretakers at nurseries and child-care centers have also recently
begun using sign language to communicate with toddlers."
"The trendsetter of baby signing is Joseph Garcia, who started
researching the benefits of sign language in early childhood
development in 1985. He was inspired when he visited the family of a
deaf friend and saw a 10-month-old baby communicate with his deaf
parents using American Sign Language. He later made this the topic of
his master's thesis. During his research, he discovered that hearing
children begin replicating signs as early as eight months, with some
exceptional children doing so as early as six months. He found that
infants may lack the motor skills necessary to produce spoken language
but don't lack the conceptual ability to understand and use language."
See "Baby Sign Language - Connecting With Your Baby Before He Can
Speak." Baby Care Connection. May 5, 2006
Here are just some of the books and videos that feed this new trend!
"Sign Language for Babies and Beyond." (Video)
"Baby Talk: A Guide to Using Basic Sign Language to Communicate with
Your Baby," by Monica Beyer. 2006
"Jump-start language and learning skills with this simple and elegant
guide to using sign language to communicate with your preverbal baby.
Imagine averting a tantrum because your baby was able to communicate
her desire for a favorite toy without tears, or simply sharing in your
baby's wonderment at the sight of a bird on a tree-before he has even
uttered his first word! Generally, children do not develop the motor
skills necessary to speak until they are two, and yet they are able to
communicate using sign language as early as six months....."
"Baby Sign Language Basics," by Monta Briant. 2004
OH NO! I DIDN'T TEACH MY BABY SOON ENOUGH!
Is it really true, as some early learning advocates claim, that there
is a "window of learning" that slams shut past a certain age? Many
From " EXTREME PARENTING - Does the Baby Genius Edutainment Complex
enrich your child's mind - or stifle it?" by Alissa Quart. Atlantic
Monthly, July/August 2006.
"In the last decade or so, this emphasis on early development has been
touted by celebrity foundations like Rub Reiner's Parents' Action for
Children, whose slogan is "The first years last forever." This,
coupled with the findings of several studies and an aggressive federal
information campaign, has generated rising awareness of the crucial
"But recently scholars have cast doubt on this time frame as an
absolute. William Greenough, whose much-publicized studies of brain
development in rats in the eighties helped pave the way for the
current obsessions with sensory "stimulus in infants, is a vehement
critic of the new overemphasis on early learning. His research
supports the idea that the brain continues to he plastic - still
developing - after infancy. Indeed, many neuroscientists now deny that
even adult brains lose plasticity."
"It's important to point out that windows of development do not slam
shut, as the earliest versions of [Parents' Action for Children] and
the Birth to Three movement suggested" says Bradley Schlaggar, a
pediatric neurologist at Washington University in St. Louis. One
implication of that claim, he says, is that "when the development
window? are thought to slam shut, parents may feel that the case is
closed, and must try again with the next child."
"Schlaggar and many of the other neurologists, cognitive scientists,
psychologists, and child-development specialists I spoke with
questioned the idea that educational toys or DVDs accomplish what
their makers claim. In a study by a University of Massachusetts
researcher, a sample group of infants learned to use a puppet from a
live teacher, white another group studied a video. The tots who had a
teacher learned to use the puppet immediately, but the infant
video-watchers had to view the instruction six limes before they
learned the same skill. As Charles Nelson, a professor at Harvard
Medical School and a preeminent scholar of the infant brain, puts it,
"There is no proof of the value of the early-enrichment toys and
videos in terms of brain science."
HOW ABOUT JUST USING GOOD OLD BLOCKS?
According to the Child Health Institute, blocks offer plenty of stimulation!
"Forget all the media products for babies on the market and go for the
classic building blocks, suggests a new study linking playing with
blocks with improved language acquisition in toddlers. The Child
Health Institute at the University of Washington released results
Thursday from a six-month clinical trial showing middle- and
lower-income children 1.5 to 2.5 years of age who engage in block play
scored significantly higher on an internationally recognized scale
measuring toddlers' language development."
"The team of researchers, led by pediatrician Dr. Dimitri Christakis,
also found on any given day these children were more than 80 per cent
less likely to watch television than children in the control group,
who did not receive blocks."
"Noting "an increasing number of media-based products are making
unsubstantiated claims they can make children smarter, more literate,
or more musical," the study takes direct aim at companies like Walt
Disney's Baby Einstein Co., which markets a line of DVDs for newborns
"It's a critical period in a young child's development, and everybody
is trying to optimize that development," Christakis said in an
Read "Classic building blocks beat media toys - Toddlers show
improved language skills, study finds," By Sarah Schmidt. Winnipeg
Free Press. Nov 10 2006
HOW FAR SHOULD WE GO IN INTELLECTUALIZING YOUNG CHILDREN?
The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood is committed to stopping
this trend in it's tracks.
"Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood (formerly Stop Commercial
Exploitation of Children) is a national coalition of health care
professionals, educators, advocacy groups and concerned parents who
counter the harmful effects of marketing to children through action,
advocacy, education, research, and collaboration. We support the
rights of children to grow up - and the rights of parents to raise
them - without being undermined by rampant consumerism.
"The Coalition evolved from two events: In 1999, an innovative
conference held at Howard University brought together a diverse and
interdisciplinary group of activists, academics, educators and
healthcare providers concerned about the corporate influences on
children. One year later, a number of conference attendees gathered in
New York City to protest the Golden Marble Awards, the advertising
industry?s celebration of marketing to children; the Coalition was
"Since then, CCFC has been at the forefront of a growing movement to
protect children from commercial exploitation."
Read more about the Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood
SHOULD BABIES HAVE THEIR OWN TELEVISION CHANNEL?
From "TV channel for babies? Pediatricians say turn it off," by
Janine DeFao, SF Chronicle, September 11, 2006
"Now, infants can pull up a bouncy chair, grab a bottle and have
round-the-clock access to the nation's first channel for babies,
BabyFirstTV, featuring three-minute segments designed for babies as
young as 6 months."
"The satellite channel, which debuted on Mother's Day, touts itself as
a "learning experience" for babies and their parents with
developmental benefits. But it has come under fire from child
development experts who say the claims are false and fly in the face
of the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation of no TV at all
for children under age 2.
"I had that appalled, shocked reaction. (Babies) are these wide-open,
defenseless, clueless targets," said Berkeley child psychologist Allen
Kanner, co-founder of the national group Campaign for a
Commercial-Free Childhood, which has filed a false advertising
complaint against the channel with the Federal Trade Commission.
But some parents have had the opposite response. Kathy King, a
Sacramento-area mother of two, signed up after coming across a free
trial. "They were both mesmerized," the middle school science teacher
said of her sons, 2-year-old Wyatt and 10-month-old Wesley.
But "babies watching baby videos and DVDs is a huge unknown," she said.
"In essence, we're conducting a big experiment on this generation of
kids before we know what the impact of these media are," Rideout said.
That's one reason the American Academy of Pediatrics has no plans to
modify its recommendation that children under 2 engage in no "screen
time" and that toddlers watch no more than two hours of quality
programming each day, said pediatrician Don Shiffrin, who heads the
group's communications committee.
"Children need to live in a three-dimensional world, not a
two-dimensional world. They need interactions with caregivers, not a
screen," said Shiffrin, of Bellevue, Wash.
See the controversy over providing what is considered "intellectual"
childhood programming to very sick children in Boston Children's
Read "Pediatricians criticize use of TVs in hospital," By Barbara F.
Meltz, Boston Globe.October 16, 2006
CONCERNING SMART TOYS
Some references that might be of interest:
"Learning in the robotic world: Active or reactive?," by Doris Bergen.
Childhood Education, 2001
"Smart' toys helping to make smart kids: a different type of
interface," By Lydia Plowman and Rosemary Lucki
"Technology and the Very Young: Lapware, Smart Toys, and Beyond," by
Leah S. Roderman. Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.
May 1, 2002
For some very interesting overviews of the trend toward teaching
young children through the media, read the following:
"A TEACHER IN THE LIVING ROOM?" EDUCATIONAL MEDIA FOR BABIES, TODDLERS
AND PRESCHOOLERS. Keiser Family Foundation. DECEMBER 2005
Abstract: "In recent years, there has been a big increase in new
electronic media products for very young children, including those as
young as one month old. A driving force behind this new market is the
advertising and package labeling that makes claims about the
educational benefits of specific products. A Teacher in the Living
Room? Educational Media for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
examines the educational claims about commercially available
educational media products (videos and DVDs, computer software, and
video games) for very young children and what kind of research has
been conducted to substantiate the educational claims."
Kaiser Family Foundation - "Zero to Six." Welcome and Keynote Address.
October 28, 2003 (83 pages)
I hope this information has helped answer some of the issues you
raised. Let me know if you need additional help and I will do what I
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