Ever since a lawsuit forced the Disney Company to withdraw claims about the educational value of their Baby Einstein videos and offer a refund to parents who had bought them, the evidence against such instructional DVDs for toddlers continues to mount. Adding to the growing field of evidence out there is a research paper that shows just who is king when it comes to educating our toddlers.
A new study set to be published in Psychological Science found that children who regularly viewed a popular educational language DVD for one month, with or without their parents, displayed no greater word comprehension than those who didn't watch the programs. Judy DeLoache, the director of the study out of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, concludes that "the degree to which babies actually learn from baby videos is negligible."
More revealing was the fact that youngsters involved in the study DID show a word-learning advantage by the end of the allotted period if-their moms and dads spent a month trying to teach their children words from the DVD through normal communication, without ever playing the program for their children. The fact that children learn better from their parents than they do from a DVD should highlight the importance of social interaction in learning--for ALL kids, but for infants and toddlers especially. If you're looking to make kids smart, interaction with an adult beats out watching a screen every time.
Why parents think they work
There are a few reasons why parents may be quick to believe their children are learning from such videos:
1) The target age group (young toddlers) for videos such as the Baby Einstein series conveniently coincides with a spike in language learning that naturally occurs between one and two years of age. so as a toddler hits this window of cognitive growth and their language explodes, parents often mistakenly give credit to the videos for language development that would have happened regardless.
2) Kids may very well like the videos, and many parents mistake liking for learning. One mother in the study says of her daughter: "She loves the blasted thing. It's like crack for babies." Because tots can seem so captivated when they watch such videos, parents mistakenly assume that attention=learning.
3. This brings us to our third misperception: That what's good for older kids is good for baby. Many parents look to the success of programs such as Sesame Street, (Which do have some educational value), and mistakenly assume that the same principles would apply toward educational DVD's for babies and toddlers. This isn't the case. Preschoolers have undergone several key developmental milestones, which allows them to better absorb and interact with learning on TV. Screen learning is still far less superior for preschoolers than learning from the real world, but children can learn their alphabet or other key skills through a well-produced educational program.
Yet for kids under age three, this interaction is missing. They see bright colors, pretty pictures and sounds that are entertaining, but they don't readily grasp the relation between what they see on the screen and things in their physical world. It's something they may look at and find entertaining, but not something they relate with and learn from.
More harm than good?
None of this means the videos are bad per see...at least in moderation. They are what they are: an entertainment DVD whose educational value is either negligible or non-existent. The reason child development experts have been so up in arms over the issue is primarily because companies have been tricking parents into thinking that there is a magical television program that will make their babies smart, and the last thing American toddlers need is more TV time sitting in front of a screen. More screen time = less parent interaction time, and in this regard, they can be worse than useless; they can actually be harmful. But as long as you keep television time to a minimum and ensure it's not replacing time that would be spent in hands-on activities or social interaction, it's perfectly find to let your child watch them on occasion.
1. Bruce Bower, "DVDs poor at teaching kids words," Science News, Sept. 25, 2010, Vol. 178(7):15