Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wasted Wednesday: Baby Einstein

I think most people know by now that you do not need to buy Baby Einstein videos or any other educational videos in order to help a baby learn. A study showed that babies who watched videos actually knew less words than same-age babies who didn't. Pamela Paul's recent book, "Parenting, Inc.," revealed that these videos were originally marketed more honestly: As something to occupy an infant while the parent gets something done.

Far be it from me to fault a parent who occasionally needs a little electronic babysitting. I see it as a crutch that I try not to use every day, but might occasionally resort to in desperation -- at least with my older child. I do hope to stick with the American Academy of Pediatrics' advice and not show Pebbles any video until she turns 2 (except for the snippets she sees when someone else is viewing).

However you feel about video babysitters, there's no need to invest in an extensive video collection for tots too young to demand specific titles. And I've actually had people tell me they "have" to subscribe to cable TV because "the kids must have their cartoons."

We have a few videos around -- gifts, library check-outs, rummage sale finds. But usually if I need a few minutes or I need Nutmeg (age 4 this week) to sit down and be quiet for a few minutes (often because she is tired and whiny but won't lie down and rest), I turn to two sources of entertaining, commercial-free video: YouTube and family movies.

I realized YouTube's attraction to my kid one day when we were searching for free downloads of the "A Tooty Ta" song so she could dance at home like she does at preschool. I ended up with a bunch of cute kids in home movies doing the same dance moves Nutmeg learned in school. Then there were Dooce's cute animal videos.

These days, I'll run a search for "cute dogs" or whatever Nutmeg's interested in at the moment, and let her watch a short video, sometimes over and over, while I take my phone call or whatever it is I need to do. Sure, I run the risk that someone has appended raunchy S&M videos to the last few seconds of a cute doggie running through the park, but, well, I'm OK with those odds.

Family videos are even better. This year a family we are close to back in our old home of San Francisco sent us a DVD full of short films they'd taken of our kids together with their digital camera. For awhile Nutmeg demanded that video every single day after school. Most days, she got it.