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Do Educational DVDs Really Work?

Research has shown that educational DVDs that promise to enhance brain development and learning may not be as "educational" as parents would like to believe. Read this Buzzle article to know more about why parents should not fall into the marketing trap of buying "educational and learning" toys and media for their child.
Do educational DVDs really work?
"All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching?"
Nicholas Johnson
With an overwhelming variety of educational toys and learning tools in the market, you really wonder if these educational products are actually beneficial for the child. There has been a flurry of educational DVDs in the market that promise to stimulate a child's learning and enhance his/her cognitive skills. Parents feel good (or rather, less guilty) about buying these products for their child. After all, these educational tools try to replicate a parent's job of participating in the child's education, especially when the parent can't be present due to his/her busy schedule.

Moreover, children seem to love these DVDs that contain pictures, words, and loads of stories to fire up a child's imagination. Some DVDs contain fun, sing-along songs or read-aloud words to help the child learn different concepts and words. There are DVDs for children as young as ten to twelve months that teach them different words. Although these are fun for the parent and the child, the question that needs to be asked is whether these DVDs are actually beneficial for the child, as they claim to be.

What Does Research Say?

There are many educational media products that have become popular, thanks to those parents who believe that these products provide a head start in the emotional and intellectual growth of their child. Till recently, products such as the "Brainy Baby" and "Baby Einstein" DVD series were must-haves in many families with young children. Although parents expected "educational" products to give their child some educational advantage, research has shown otherwise.

The Study

In 2010, researchers at the University of California at Riverside conducted a study to check if the DVDs that are marketed as developmentally appropriate for young children were able to facilitate the development of various cognitive skills such as language. The study was published in the May issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Researchers tested 96 babies and toddlers between the ages of 12 and 25 months. A random group of children were provided with Baby Einstein Baby Wordsworth DVD and the other group with no DVD. The Baby Wordsworth DVD supposedly helps children learn 30 English words using puppets and child-friendly scenes. After six weeks, the children went through a number of tests to discern if there had been any improvement in their language and cognitive skills.

The Results

By the end of the six weeks and with the test results, the researchers concluded that there was indeed no difference between the language and cognitive ability of the infants who were repeatedly exposed to the DVD and those who were not exposed to the DVD. There was no evidence to suggest that the children had learned the words specifically highlighted in the DVDs either. In fact, contrary to expectations, it was found that babies who were exposed to the DVD at an earlier age, at approximately 12 months, had lower overall language scores at the end of six weeks as compared to children exposed to DVD at a later age or those not exposed at all. This suggested a detrimental effect of such DVDs on younger children.

This study is in line with several other studies in the past which show that there is no correlation between educational DVDs and childhood development. In 2007, a study led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis from University of Washington found that every hour per day that children spent watching baby DVDs and videos, they learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos.

In 2006, a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission against the use of the word "educational" in Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby DVDs resulted in companies dropping the word "educational" from their marketing strategy. With research to back them up, campaigners threatened a class-action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices unless Disney (which acquired Baby Einstein in 2001) agreed to refund the full purchase price to all who bought the videos believing them to be educational and beneficial for early childhood development.

In 2009, Walt Disney Company offered refunds for all the "Baby Einstein" videos. Four "Baby Einstein" DVDs bought between June 5, 2004, and Sept. 5, 2009 earned a refund of $15.99.

Are Educational DVDs Really Bad?

For several years the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that toddlers under age of 24 months or 2 years should not watch videos or television. And various studies seem to support this advice. However, there are many parents who believe these DVDs really help in stimulating the child and keep him/her entertained.

While it may work as a great babysitter, it is important to limit solitary activities like video games, computer games, DVDs or TV programs. To promote their child's development and cognitive skills, parents are advised to spend time with their child and increase interaction with him/her. For example, if you want to enhance language development, converse with the child, listen, and respond to whatever the child is trying to communicate. Children learn more by interacting with parents and other caregivers, than by watching DVDs.
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Published: December 24, 2013
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