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Turning Baby Into Baby Einstein

Do educational products for babies really give babies an advantage?

Report Card on Smart Baby Goods

Just how good are these educational products for infants and toddlers? It depends on the medium, say child development experts, giving mixed marks to anything from blocks to videotapes to kiddy laptops.

"The toys can't hurt," says John Colombo, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., noting that researchers have found general stimulation to be good for the growth of young minds. "A child's best environment is going to involve both stimulation with materials -- personally, I prefer books -- and personal interaction with parents."

Many, if not all, early childhood professionals advocate for parent involvement, which is why psychiatrist Michael Brody, MD, has a problem with videos, DVDs, and computers.

"Parents, because they're busy, think they could have their kids watch TV, or sit on their laps with their own computers while they're working," says Brody, chairman of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's committee on TV and media, adding that just because something is labeled "educational" doesn't mean that it is.

The so-called educational media can, in fact, be more harmful, because they give parents a false sense of reassurance that their children are learning, says Brody. He explains that there has been no good scientific evidence of the value of smart baby products.

His main protest, though, is with the electronic media, warning that it may provide too much stimulation for kids and may give them a head start in becoming addicted to the tube.

The bottom line is that children need contact with the real world and with human beings, says Brody, giving a thumbs-up to baby dolls, blocks, stuffed animals, and toy trucks. "These give children a greater chance to develop their imagination and motor skills," he says. "They need to touch, experience, and listen."

Physical interaction is so valuable for very young children that anything else -- such as structured games, flash cards, books, videotapes, and DVDs -- can hinder full development, says Stanley Greenspan, MD, author of Building Healthy Minds and a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School in Washington, D.C.

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