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So you’re talking to a friend, and she tells you how much her toddler is enjoying the new video/computer game/toy.

“It’s educational,” she says proudly.

And you wonder, is it really educational? Good question.

In recent years, there has been a big increase in new electronic media products for very young children, including those as young as one month old. A driving force behind this new market is the advertising and package labeling that makes claims about the educational benefits of specific products.

In order to inform the debate on this issue, the Kaiser Family Foundation today released a new report, A Teacher in the Living Room? Educational Media for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers. Their report examines the educational claims of commercially available educational media products (videos and DVDs, computer software, and video games) for very young children and what kind of research has been conducted to substantiate the educational claims.

The report found that the overwhelming majority of the media products for very young children are advertised as being educational for kids. This includes three-quarters (76%) of the top-selling videos/DVDs listed for babies from birth to two years old on Amazon.com, and almost all of the top-rated software and video game products.

The educational claims are sometimes embodied in the titles—like Brainy Baby or Bee Smart Baby—or in the names given to the products themselves, like calling the V.Smile a “TV learning system,” or the cartridges “smartridges.” Products for babies often assert things like “stimulates cognitive development,” or “increases your baby’s brain capacity.” For older children like preschoolers, educational claims include “teaches phonics,” or “teaches geographic skills.” And the computer programs assert educational benefits such as “teaches 45 essential skills,” including concepts such as “sequencing” and “analyzing details.”

Despite all the claims and promises of smarter babies, the report found that there are no published studies on cognitive outcomes for any of the educational video/DVDs, computer software programs, or video game systems currently on the market for children ages 0-6 years. Some companies do conduct in-house research to test the effectiveness of their product, but this hardly serves as an objective proof that the product works.


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