Baby Einstein – For Child Minding Or For A Child’s Mind

Background: The Baby Einstein series is a set of DVDs aimed at children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years. Using mostly puppet characters, with the occasional inclusion of children, the DVDs focus heavily on stimulating children’s senses through sight (mostly through showing bright colorful toys and real world objects from a child’s point of view) and sound (primarily that of classical music though everyday object sounds such as bells and animal noises also play an important role). Poetry is also often used, generally in English, but in the original DVD called “Baby Einstein” (and later rebranded as “Language Nursery”) poetry and nursery rhymes from other languages are employed as well. In addition to the DVDs the company produces many other learning toys and educational multimedia – some of it connected to the DVDs and others not but all aimed at that age range.

 

The series has nothing to do with scientist Albert Einstein but was named that (a fee being paid for the branding rights to Einstein’s estate) in an apparent appeal to parents, in the hopes of convincing them that buying these DVDs would give their children an early age advantage towards genius. Interestingly, one of the best known stories about Einstein himself is that he was a total academic failure as a kid and only came to his own once he’d grown up, such that connecting him to learning precociousness is rather ironic. Whether the branding ploy worked or not, however, their products became highly popular and Julie Aigner-Clark their creator had herself a very profitable business that at one point was estimated to be in the range of 400 million dollars and their market penetration such that a full 1/3 of US households with babies had at least one of the DVDs. The company has since become a subsidiary of the Walt Disney company. In 2008 it was charged that the DVDs don’t have a provable effect on making kids smarter and there was threat of a class action suit by those whose children had watched the DVDs and had failed to become geniuses. The issue was eventually settled out of court with Disney agreeing to give a refund for a limited number of DVDs to those parents who wanted to return their videos for such. While many parents chose to take advantage of this, there are no clear statistics for those who returned them because of disappointment and those who did so because their kids had outgrown them or had had them on video and had moved to DVD meanwhile etc. The fact is that the series continues to be popular today, long after Disney allowed the refunds and many parents chose to hold onto their copies rather than return them.

 

Site Review: This is a nice but controversial series.  It originally claimed to use methods that would improve your child’s mind but later testing placed this assertion in doubt. Perhaps the most telling point in the debate over this claim was Disney’s offer (see above in the background section) to refund the costs of the product to unsatisfied purchasers.

 

A large part of the controversy surrounding the videos is whether or not children of the target ages for which they are intended (i.e. the pre-toddler set) should be exposed to television at all. Many researchers assert that the only point to these videos is to use them as electronic baby sitters as the child is to young to retain anything out of the material. They claim that at these ages children should not be exposed to any television at this point in their development.

 

Whether or not the series actually does all the things originally claimed for it, its content is certainly pleasant and attractive to children even as old as 3 or 4 (depending on the child of course) and they will learn from them. Putting aside the (important argument) of whether children of the ages of the series’ target group (infants to 2 year olds) should be exposed to television, the concepts being taught and the method of doing so certainly have value when done in an off-the-screen environment and so even if the child doesn’t watch the videos they can give a parent ideas for off-TV activities for that age.

 

Keep in mind that for good or for bad the videos also serve as a full length commercial for the company’s other products. Both the toys used in the videos as well as the puppet characters that star in the videos are available as merchandise from the Baby Einstein Company.  It’s not in a pushy way by any means. Their concept is to use toys and they might as ell use their own developmental toys as well as any others. Furthermore it gives you a chance to see the toy in action and even to see how a child naturally reacts to the toy. Nonetheless, it’s useful to remember that you are being marketed to so that the temptation you feel to buy your kids these toys isn’t about your being greedy or a spoiling parent. Your desires are being manipulated by a very slick advertising campaign.

 

MyKids Experience: My children enjoyed the titles in this series to a greater or lesser extent. By this I mean that they all enjoyed videos IN the series but each child responded more to certain ones than others.  My daughter, who today is more language oriented, favored the ones with more talking on them such as baby Shakespeare and Baby Newton while, for example, one of my now more artistically minded, but less linguistically facile sons tended to favor the ones with just music such as Baby Mozart and Baby Bach. The children also responded well to the puppet characters I bought them from that appeared in the videos and at a young age those were among their favorite toys.

 

It seems to me that the episode that gave the greatest value overall was the original video, originally called “Baby Einstein” and then (later on as the entire series and brand took on that name) recast as “language nursery.” In this DVD the kids are taught classic nursery rhymes and poems of various cultures and in six or seven different languages.

My older kids remembered many of them years later.

 

Anecdotal: Soon after buying her the Baby Newton DVD, I was pushing my (then under 1.5 year old) daughter in the street one day when she suddenly pointed her finger and said “Otagon.” I followed her finger and sure enough she was pointing up at an octagonal shaped stop sign. Clearly, at least in this case, the video’s creators had succeeded in transmitting the concept of shapes on the screen strongly enough as to enable her to apply it to something she saw outside the screen and outside the framework of a world made up solely of clearly defined shapes.

8 Responses to “Baby Einstein – For Child Minding Or For A Child’s Mind”

  1. Beth Ainsley Says:

    Wow what a nice article! I used Baby Einstein with my older son years ago when they were just starting to put out the first few. Now, I’m delighted to see upon visiting your shop that there are a whole lot of new ones that didn’t exist at the time. My son responded very well to the language nursery one (yes it was also called just “baby einstein” when I bought the video) and I was planning on buying that anyhow but now I’m going to try out some of these other new ones as well. Thanks for the review and the heads up about the new DVDs and thanks in general for this nice site. I’m trying out some of the shows you reviewed for older kids with my older son and he’s enjoying them (and truth be it told so am I).

  2. Mary Andra Says:

    my daughter is a bit of a Baby Einstein addict! Until she was about half a year old Baby Mozart was often my sanity’s savior! Now that she’s older I’ve started to get her some more of the titles in the Baby Einstein series from the local toy shop. Your review of the show was wonderful and I definitely plan on getting the baby einstein language nursery DVD at some point (though i think she’s too young now) but some of the other DVD titles in your shop look promising and I didn’t see those in the store so looks like you have yourself a customer :-).

    I love the idea of this site and as a first time mom I can see this is going to help me find educational tv shows for my daughter as she grows. Keep up the great work and thanks for sharing!

  3. Kara Lensley Says:

    I would recommend the Baby Einstein DVDs for their value as a kids educational TV show to any parent with young children to entertain or relative with a youngster they’re looking to buy a present for. My daughter started watching these when she was 9 months old and is still enjoying them at 2 years plus – sometimes she’ll even choose it over cartoons or more mature kids educational TV shows such as Blues Clues of Bear in the Big Blue House. The Baby Einstein DVDs have taught her some of her first words as well as shapes and color names and gotten her excited about animals of all kinds. And that’s before even going into how fond she’s become of the music. How many kids do you know that would rather listen to classical music than standard kiddie music of the Barney the purple dinosaur variety?! I highly recommend this as a top kids educational TV show and I’m very impressed with your site. As the mom of a first child just heading into the world of kids educational TV I can see that your site is going to be a great resource in finding good kids educational TV shows for her to watch. Bookmarked!

  4. Brandi Donnan Says:

    I think that the Baby Einstein movies are a wonderful first introductory kids educational TV experience for kids using with its friendly use of puppets, blend of colors and music and in the later DVDs sound as well. This is a first rate series and I’m glad you’re not one of the naysayers preaching doom and gloom about kids and TV. Just because something’s on TV doesn’t make it bad (as my parents might have you believe. A good kids educational TV show can teach as much or more as other forms of stimulation. This is a well written piece you’ve done here and a well thought out site and I intend to follow your writings in the future and use the educational TV shows you suggest and which my kids find they enjoy. Good job to you!

  5. Crystal Anka Says:

    I simply think this is a wonderful series. Of course its not a kids educational TV show as such is it because it’s not really a TV show but I think your fans (me among them now :-)) can excuse you for including it on a site about kids educational TV shows. After all half the time in this day and age we’re working from DVDs anyhow rather than TV (even when the DVD is from an educational TV show like with those DVDs you have in your store).
    My children have learned so much from Baby Einstein in my opinion though to me the most important part is their early appreciation of classical music and associating it with positive things.

  6. Faye Melga Says:

    I have to agree with Brandi. I don’t know this series specifically (though the clip you’ve posted looks promising – I’ll check the series out thanks) but just in general there’s no problem with kids educational TV shows as a medium for teaching. Obviously you shouldn’t be using it as just an electronic baby sitter but if you’re using it as a tool, sitting with your child and discussing what’s happening on the screen kids educational TV shows can be a wonderful aid to parents in expanding their kids world just as your blog on kids educational TV has now expanded MY world (to include baby Einstein :-)) for which I’m grateful.

  7. Francine Crolip Says:

    Kids educational TV shows are a sadly neglected area and I just wanted to tell you how much I’ve been enjoying your site with its refreshing thoughts and charming anecdotes about your children. How fortunate they are to have a father with such an interest in the educational TV shows they watch!

  8. Sally Knox Says:

    The biggest knock against Baby Einstein seems to have always been as to its value to kids as an educational TV show. In my opinion though what’s the worst that can happen? That the images are a waste? That the kid’s too young to pick anything up? If nothing else the music will definitely be absorbed and give them an appreciation for that kind of music in a pleasant way. And if they become adept in several languages, learn shapes and colors and animals so much the better. If not that’s ok too. The damage is only if you see kids educational tv shows as a replacement for your parenting and expect to put the kid in front of it all the time and educate them that way. But that’s the same problem with ANY kids educational tv show – not just the Baby Einstein DVDs!

    In my opinion too much of a mountain has been made of a molehill on this issue but all credit to you for giving a fair and balanced review of the DVDs. I look forward to reading more such reviews of educational tv shows here in the future.

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