Do Learning Videos Help?

Do videos touted as educational programming for babies and toddlers help them learn? The makers of those products claim they do, but studies suggest they may have a negative impact on early language development.

The University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute evaluated babies and toddlers ages 8–16 months and toddlers ages 17–24 months to look at the relationship between the amounts and types of media viewed and language development.

While most television viewing appeared to have no impact on language development in either group, an hour of the baby/toddler DVDs watched per day corresponded with a 17-point drop in language development in the younger group. That translates to 6–8 words out of 90 on the researchers' evaluation.

A Surprising Result

The only medium associated with the drop was the baby/toddler videos, and only on the younger group. It raises a key question: Does the content of the videos cause the drop, or is it something else?

The study's authors offer several theories:

  • Because the videos are meant to help with learning, parents of children who display early problems may use the videos more often.
  • Parents who rely on the videos extensively may not provide an environment that is as language-rich as those who use the videos less.
  • The content itself may be the problem. Often, the DVDs contain lots of images and little dialogue.
  • The amount of time spent watching the DVDs reduces the interactions needed for healthy language development.

Researchers also looked at the effects of reading and storytelling on language development. Children in the younger age group who were read to or heard stories at least once a day showed an increase in their language development over those who were read to or who heard stories less often. But the positive effect of reading was much smaller than the negative one associated with the baby/toddler videos.

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