Baby and toddler education technology – is it bunk?

The New York Times does a great cover story about all the technology products that make strong and unsubstantiated claims about how much smarter they’ll make your baby.

New media products for babies, toddlers and preschoolers began flooding the market in the late 1990’s, starting with video series like “Baby Einstein” and “Brainy Baby.” But now, the young children’s market has exploded into a host of new and more elaborate electronics for pre-schoolers, including video game consoles like the V.Smile and handheld game systems like the Leapster, all marketed as educational.

Despite the commercial success, though, a report released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “A Teacher in the Living Room? Educational Media for Babies, Toddlers and Pre-schoolers,” indicates there is little understanding of how the new media affect young children – and almost no research to support the idea that they are educational.

“The market is expanding rapidly, with all kinds of brand-new product lines for little kids,” said Vicky Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Foundation. “But the research hasn’t advanced much. There really isn’t any outcomes-based research on these kinds of products and their effects on young children, and there doesn’t seem to be any theoretical basis for saying that kids under 2 can learn from media.

In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended no screen time at all for babies under 2, out of concern that the increasing use of media might displace human interaction and impede the crucially important brain growth and development of a baby’s first two years. But it is a recommendation that parents routinely ignore. According to Kaiser, babies 6 months to 3 years old spend, on average, an hour a day watching TV and 47 minutes a day on other screen media, like videos, computers and video games.

Others have less restrained marketing: The “Brainy Baby – Left Brain” package has a cover featuring a cartoon baby with a thought balloon saying, “2 + 2 = 4” and promises that it will inspire logical thinking and “teach your child about language and logic, patterns and sequencing, analyzing details and more.”

“There’s nothing that shows it helps, but there’s nothing that shows it’s does harm, either,” said Marcia Grimsley, senior producer of “Brainy Baby” videos.

Incredulous italics mine, of course.


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