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Turning Baby Into Baby Einstein

Do educational products for babies really give babies an advantage?
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WebMD Feature

In any given day, 8-month-old Anthony Esposito can be found clapping his hands, dancing, and chiming in to tunes pealing from his collection of videotapes. The Staten Island, N.Y., infant is apparently a big fan of the Baby Einstein series, with titles like Baby Mozart, Baby Shakespeare, and Language Nursery making regular rounds in his family's VCR.

"These tapes have a lot of colors and shapes that hold his attention," says Anthony's mom, Lejla. "It's funny, because if I stand in front of him to distract him, he'll move his head to look behind me to continue watching the show."

Across the country, in Alameda, Calif., 17-month-old Lauryn Nakamura seems to be equally riveted with her Baby Einstein products, says her mother, Lilybell. Not only does the toddler watch the Neighborhood Animals DVD, but she also responds to matching flash cards, eagerly identifying creatures and their sounds, as seen on the show.

The Baby Einstein line of videos, DVDs, flash cards, software, books, CDs, and educational toys has captured the attention of many infant households. After two years under the Disney label, 27% of kids own at least one of the brand videos, according to a recent Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation survey of more than 1,000 parents.

Yet Baby Einstein isn't the only product to have moved into the now-hot neighborhood of goods claiming to promote children's intellectual development. If browsing through toy store aisles and online baby sites is any indication, the amount of educational merchandise for kids -- especially for newborns to preschoolers -- has exploded in the last few years.

This week alone, Amazon.com's top toy sellers include teaching materials such as the LeapStart Learning Table, Bake-A-Shape Sorter, Learning Drum, and Hug and Learn Baby Tad.

Some of these may simply be souped-up variations of old gadgets or based on the latest technological wizardry. Nonetheless, today's electronic and educational gizmos and programs are getting a lot of kid and parent attention.

The Kaiser survey found that children 6 months to 6 years spend an average of two hours a day with screen media, mostly watching TV and videos. The survey is supposedly the first to document media use by tots under age 2.

"There was anecdotal evidence of the trend toward younger and younger kids using media, but there had not been any national documentation of it," says Vicky Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "This was important to do because we know how critical these very early years are to children's development."

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