March 5, 2010 / 12:29 AM / in 8 years

Educational DVDs don't help toddlers' language: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Putting children in front of educational DVDs does not help boost their language skills, according to a U.S. study that focused on one product, the Baby Wordsworth from the Walt Disney Company’s Baby Einstein series.

While The Baby Einstein Co does not make educational claims, it notes on its web page that the Baby Wordsworth DVD is a “playful introduction to words and sign language.”

A study by researchers at the University of California, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, put the DVD to the test with one and two-year-olds.

For six weeks, 88 children were randomly assigned to either watching the DVD a few times a week or not at all. Researchers then tested the language skills in each group based on how many words the children knew according to their parents and how well they did in a lab test.

At the end of the period, toddlers who had watched the DVD fared no better than those who hadn‘t.

Children in both groups understood about 20 of the 30 words highlighted in the DVD, on average, and spoke 10. Their general language development showed no difference, either.

The researchers also asked parents about their childrens’ television viewing before entering the study. The earlier a child started watching Baby Einstein DVDs, it turned out, the smaller his or her vocabulary was.

The Baby Einstein Company emphasized in an e-mail to Reuters Health that it “does not claim educational outcomes.”

On its web page, it notes that its products “are not designed to make babies smarter,” but rather “to engage babies and provide parents with tools to help expose their little ones to the world around them.”

The study’s finding is in line with earlier research, said Rebekah Richert, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, who led the study, but it is unclear if the DVDs themselves are responsible.

Parents who place their kids in front of the screen could be trying to remedy slow language development, or they could be using the DVDs as baby sitters, cutting back on social stimulation.

“A lot of children, particularly when they’re young, seem to have these kinds of (DVDs),” Richert told Reuters Health. “My take-home message would be to encourage live interaction between parent and child.”

Although it is not well understood how watching television affects language, Richert and colleagues wrote in their report that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than two stay away from the screen.

Some experts have even suggested that baby videos might be harmful by impeding social and cognitive learning.

Reporting by Frederik Joelving of Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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