Overextended Infants

by Crystal Smith

Brainy Baby. Bilingual Baby. Baby Babble Speech Development. Baby Bumblebee Smart Baby Series. So Smart. And let’s not forget Baby Einstein.

Not familiar with all of these? Neither was I until curiosity drove me to look into the vast array of educational media for infants and toddlers. I was quite astounded by the sheer number of these products. And they are products — please do not overlook that point. They are designed to prey on parents who have, through various crafty marketing campaigns, been made to feel that their infant will fall dangerously behind the rest of the babies in playgroup if he or she is not subjected to a heavy dose of videos, flashcards, CDs, and books.

What can babies learn from these products? Check web sites like www.babyclassroom.com to find out. The Brainy Baby Left Brain VHS series focuses on “such cognitive skills as logic, patterns, letters & numbers, sequencing, analyzing details, and more.” The Bee Smart Baby Vocabulary Builder claims that there are (unnamed) studies proving that teaching an infant sign language may raise IQ scores significantly. And if sign language isn’t enough, you can use that series to introduce your 4-month old to Spanish, German, French, and Japanese. Many of these products indicate that they are useful for children who are late talkers or have a speech delay, and for those children these media may indeed be very helpful. But the underlying message in the vast majority of these materials is that you should buy them to make your child smarter; to make your child talk and read at the earliest age possible.

We hear a lot in the media about overextended children who are faced with pressures to be involved in sports and other pursuits, and to do homework, and to get good marks. I see from these products that this push to engage children in some sort of activity, to make them excel and stand out, begins at a startlingly young age. It is only natural for parents to want the best for their children. There is nothing wrong with some educational media and toys. And, in my opinion, a child can never have enough books. But I have to wonder if we have lost sight of the simplest method of developing language in children – face to face interaction . Isn’t it obvious? The best way to teach your child to communicate is to communicate with your child. You do not need a video, CD, or flashcard as an intermediary. Touch your child, talk to your child, let your child see your face and your mouth moving.

Next time you think about picking up a Baby Shakespeare or Bath Math video, think twice. Why not go home and read some nursery rhymes to your child or play a counting game with his fingers and toes? I guarantee a much more rewarding experience for you both.

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©Crystal Smith. Crystal is a technical writer and novice freelance writer. Her new web site is under construction but she can be reached at goatfish1968@hotmail.com.