Academic journal article Childhood Education

Educating Your Child While You Drive: Assessing the Efficacy of Early Childhood Audiovisual Materials

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Educating Your Child While You Drive: Assessing the Efficacy of Early Childhood Audiovisual Materials

Article excerpt

Recently, a common topic for master's and doctoral thesis projects addresses the presumed benefits associated with educating young children--as early as at birth or even in their prenatal phases--by using commercially available materials. Educators, many of whom are also parents, appear to be fascinated by the idea of accelerating children's learning through early education, and they are convinced of the effectiveness of such commercially available educational programs as Baby Einstein and BabyPlus, as well as such books as Doman and Doman's (2001) How To Multiply Your Baby's Intelligence (originally published in 1984).

Baby Einstein, for instance, primarily targets children from 3 months to 3 years of age, and the program consists of various audiovisual materials (e.g., DVDs, CDs, computer games, etc.) and toys, which allegedly accelerate the cognitive development among children while ensuring healthy affective development and creativity. Similarly, a series of books and workshops stemming from Doman's 1984 book, How To Multiply Your Baby's Intelligence, provides instructions for parents to begin teaching their infants, right after birth, a wide variety of knowledge and skills, such as English and other languages, mathematics, and music. BabyPlus markets to even younger children-those who are still in their mothers' wombs. It is designed to be placed on a pregnant mother's stomach and plays various sounds. The company claims these sounds serve as "auditory exercises" that help facilitate the brain cell maintenance in the fetus and increase the brain activities of the baby upon birth. In fact, the company website claims that babies who receive the treatment will enjoy "... an intellectual, developmental, creative, and emotional advantage" (www.babyplus.com).

The commercial efforts by these corporations--in particular, Baby Einstein, now a division of the Walt Disney Company--prompt people to spend tens of millions of dollars annually, and it is said to be a $1-billion-per-year business (Madsen, Van Abbema, Allen, & Schmidt, 2006). Parents and teachers are not the only ones to be impressed with the incredible claims these companies make (also see Reynolds & Temple, 2005). For example, former U.S. President George W. Bush was so impressed with the Baby Einstein line of products that he acknowledged the contributions made by the company at his State of the Union address in January 2007. Despite the great enthusiasm with which these commercial early education programs have been received, however, we--as educators and scholars--need to objectively evaluate such programs before forming preconceived opinions or establishing policies based on the claim made by these program developers that exposing children, often passively, to various stimuli via DVDs, other media, and toys enhances their "intelligence." In other words, although the presumed correlation between early exposure to "stimulating environments" and intelligence may seem intuitively sound, we need to approach such claims with caution, particularly given our roles as leaders in the education communities. Before proceeding, however, it should be established that the current discussion is not meant to challenge the concept of early childhood education altogether. In fact, many programs are carefully designed to create optimal environments for each child's development, and such programs are clearly different in their theoretical grounds, design, and delivery. Therefore, the current discussion does not extend to such programs.

None of the products noted above, incidentally, has been developed by or in collaboration with child developmentalists or education researchers. Rather, they represent purely commercial efforts to market their products and services for profit. This, in and of itself, does not make a product undesirable or ineffective, of course. However, it should be noted that absolutely no empirical evidence in the scientific community substantiates the claims made by any of these products in the prenatal infant, or early childhood education context. …

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