In 1997 Julie Aigner-Clark became frustrated with the lack of baby and children's products out there with which she could share her love and knowledge of art and classical music. She desperately wanted to share with her little daughter the wonderful worlds of Beethoven, Shakespeare, Monet, and the like. But everything out there was for older kids or adults. Julie finally decided to do something about that and shot the first Baby Einstein video in her home. It was called the Baby Einstein Language Nursery. She chose the name because Albert Einstein was a man with passion about music, the arts, and made important discoveries. With classical music as the soundtrack, Julie depicted real world images, mostly colorful and engaging children's toys being played with. It was elegant in its simplicity, the perfect thing to fetch the interest and attention of babies. There were no complicated characters or plotlines to contend with, things babies wouldn't understand anyway. The videos and DVDs are, in a sense, created from a baby's perspective. The wondrous colors and images served as a vehicle to drive classical music and other important humanities into their heads. There was an interactive element to it if the child viewed it with an adult. It was especially effective is the child had some of the toys depicted. She worked closely with a man named Bill Weinstein, who was in charge of reorchestrating the music of the classical composers to appeal to the young ears that would be listening to them.

Word of mouth was very helpful to Ms. Clark in Baby Einstein's early years. Word quickly spread of this wonderful video from parent-to-parent and suddenly Baby Einstein was a success! Julie's venture became the Baby Einstein Company, LLC and she expanded and developed an entire suite of developmental products including DVDs, music CDs, toys and games. Parents loved the Baby Einstein products because it not only exposed their little ones to the beautiful world around them but they also exposed them to foreign languages, as many of the DVDs either have French and Spanish words intermixed with English or they can be played in either French or Spanish. It would also be remiss not to mention the Baby Einstein puppets, the only actual characters in the videos. The two most popular are the lion and the giraffe. They are simple in their construction and make the babies laugh with their silly little antics and expressions. Not long after Baby Einstein became well known, none other than the Walt Disney Company began to take notice.

In November, 2001 Disney acquired Baby Einstein. With the backing of such a huge corporation, the budgets for the DVDs and videos expanded and more Baby Einstein products were created. Toys and other juvenile products were created and distributed around the world, making Baby Einstein an international success. In 2005 Little Einstein was introduced. Basically it is Baby Einstein grown up a little, products meant for toddlers and preschoolers. They include images more mature tykes can understand and songs they can sing while still introducing them to the world around them in a form they can digest easily, as Baby Einstein has done for babies.

Below is a complete list of all the DVDs and/or videos that have been produced by Baby Einstein as of mid-2005.

  • Baby Einstein Language Nursery: The aforementioned first Baby Einstein video that combined playful images and foreign languages with classical music and art. It embodies all of the original vision of Julie Clark. Appropriate for babies of all ages. Multiple award-winner including Parents' Choice "Parents' Choice Award" (1997)
  • Baby Mozart Music Festival: Appropriate for babies one month and up. It was named Video of the Year (1998) by Child, Parenting and Specialty Retailer magazines. It combines Mozart's favorite compositions with colors and toys...and of course the puppets.
  • Baby Bach Musical Adventure: Pretty much like the Baby Mozart, only with Bach compositions. It has won many awards, including the Dove Foundation Family Approved Seal
  • Baby Van Gogh World of Colors: This exposes the babies to the full spectrum of rich and vibrant colors via the works of the late great Van Gogh with selections of classical music from his era as a backdrop. Its awards includes a Kids First! Endorsement.
  • Neighborhood Animals: Babies are introduced to the various animals that live in and around the home like dogs, cats, and frogs. The music is from the 19th and early 20th centuries. This is appropriate for age 1 year and up. Its awards includes a Kids First! Endorsement.
  • Baby Newton Discovering Shapes: It introduces babies to five shapes to the music of Vivaldi. Its awards includes a Kids First! Endorsement. For ages 1 year and up.
  • Baby Santa's Music Box: Holiday music from around the world! Appropriate for ages 1 month and up.
  • Baby Shakespeare World of Poetry: Poetry is depicted in motion surrounded by playful real world imagery. It is a recipient of the Dove Foundation Family approved seal among other accolades. It is for 1 year and up.
  • Baby Beethoven Symphony of Fun: This is much like the Baby Bach and Baby Mozart videos in that it includes some of Beethoven's finest works like Symphonies 1, 5, 6, 8 and 9. Winner of Dr. Toy’s 100 BEST Children’s Product 2002. For ages 0-3.
  • Baby Monet Discovering the Seasons: This DVD introduces the little ones to the four seasons with the music of Vivaldi and Monet's art stylings. For six months and up.
  • Baby Galileo Discovering the Sky: A fantastic introduction to the sky above including the sun, clouds, stars and even galaxies. Winner of iParenting Media "2003 Great Holiday Product Awards" (2003) and features music by Mozart, Chopin, Strauss and Tchaikovsky.
  • Baby Neptune Discovering Water: This Parent's Choice Recommendation (2003) introduces babies to water and features Handel's Water Music.
  • Baby MacDonald A Day on the Farm: Introduces children to the sights and sounds of the farm and intermixes live action animal shots with the puppets. For ages 9 months and up.
  • Baby Noah Animal Expedition: This Parents' Choice "Parents' Choice Approved" (2005) award-winning video/DVD takes your child on a musical voyage around the world to meet over 20 animals in their natural habitats. For ages 1 year and up.
  • Baby da Vinci From Head to Toe: This interesting show introduces babies and toddlers to their bodies from their heads to their feet in Spanish, French and English. It features compositions by Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel. Parenting Magazine - "Parenting Mom Tested!" Video of the Year (2004) and Parents' Choice "Parents' Choice Approved" (2005).

As for my personal experience with Baby Einstein, Baby Beethoven was the first one we purchased and it is my son's favorite. We have been playing it for him since the time he was a month old until now (he's nine months as of the writing of this article). None of the others seem to hold his interest as long and Beethoven garners the biggest smiles from him. I think this is because it was made in the period where Disney came in and gave Baby Einstien a bigger budget but it was maintaining much of Julie Clark's original vision: a perfect combo of classical music and images they enjoy. It is more refined than the early videos and I think that the later ones, like Baby Galileo and Baby da Vinci, while interesting in their own right, just don't adhere as much to Ms. Clark's intentions. It is clear to see as the videos are more and more "Disneyfied" that they become visually more spectacular but no longer, or hardly, incorporate the elements that made Baby Einstein a success in its early years. If you watch them in chronological order, you see less and less of Julie's influence as the DVDs/videos become more of a production.

Perhaps most telling of this gradual process of pushing Julie Clark out of the picture is that the intro that Ms. Clark narrates for Baby Beethoven starts out "Hi, I'm Julie Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein Company. For more information about our developmental programs..." On the later videos, even though it's still Ms. Clark's voice, this has changed to "For more information about our developmental products for toddlers and preschoolers..."

All in all, Julie Clark had a wonderful idea for a business and a product. Not only has Baby Einstein obviously been very good for her, it is also a great thing for babies and toddlers everywhere. As we are finding out more and more, the younger you are, the more like a sponge your brain is and the earlier you start introducing it to information, the better -- but it has to be entertaining and pleasing to their young eyes. And Baby Einstein recognizes this concept perfectly. As a father who has been reading to him since he was still in the womb, I am very happy to have them for my son. And so is he.


Baby Einstein products are available on their site (there is a full shopping cart system set up). You can also find them at any local Toys "R" Us. As with anything, you can find them on Ebay and get good deals on them, but as with buying any DVDs on Ebay, buyer beware. Do your best to make sure they have the proper region code and that they are authentic and not knock-offs because a lot of Baby Einstein products you'll find there are being sold from outside of the US.

UPDATE: I like Ereneta's writeup and agree with a good portion of it. I know mine wasn't very critical and maybe I should have been more critical (I DO realize that this is not the greatest thing since sliced bread). But now it's a nice, balanced node at least, one highly critical and one more informative with some praise. And we do like to flip on the classical station in the car for him so he can hear the real stuff.:)

The brilliance of the Baby Einstein product line is in its branding strategy, beginning with its name. What parent would not want their child to grow up to become another genius like Albert Einstein?

(Historical note: Albert Einstein did not watch colorful videos with playful puppets and soothing classical music. He may have learned to play the violin by the age of five, but he did so without the use of instructional video.)

Baby Einstein is shrewd: they never, not in any of their promotional literature, claim that their products are designed to make babies smarter. In 2005, in an article in the Chicago Tribune, Baby Einstein VP of Marketing Rashmi Turner admitted that "Baby Einstein DVDs are "not research-based" and the company does not have any data showing that children learn anything from watching them." (In the same article, Dr. Susan Linn, psychologist at Judge Baker Children's Center and Harvard Medical School, said simply: "the baby video industry is a scam.")

But names have a powerful association. So they licensed the name of Einstein, because they knew that "Baby Couch Potato" won't move as many units.

Their web site states:

Baby Einstein products are specifically designed to engage babies and provide parents with tools to help expose their little ones to the world around them in playful and enriching ways — stimulating a baby's natural curiosity.

The videos are described as being from a baby's point of view-- and while that means mostly close-ups of colorful toys that swing, rock, spin, or move to keep their attention, I fear that what my infants are learning about the world around them is not so enriching:

  • That wind-up toys and spinning tops keep time to classical music
  • That nothing should appear in your visual field for longer than thirty seconds
  • That all of the toys featured in the video are available for sale

When my children were born, and when they were infants, I spent much of my time exposing them to the world in what I hoped was a "playful and enriching" manner... but this involved talking to them, holding them, touching them, and taking them outside. I didn't pipe in classical music while I was doing so (and probably overdid it on the bluegrass and old-timey fiddle), but with my pediatrician's developmental checklist, I was watching for the ability to track Daddy's finger with his eyes, not to distinguish Bach from Tchaikovsky. Funnily enough, there was also no box marked "teach child how to watch television."

 

Baby Einstein positions itself as the leader/creator of the "infant developmental media category" and this is no doubt true. But this category is a marketing concept, not a child development one. An infant has many cognitive needs. His brain is rapidly preparing for the onset of language, as well as coping with the challenges of depth perception, vocalization and auditory feedback, recognizing parents, developing a proprioceptive map, turning towards sounds. None of these neurological steps and developmental milestones require the assistance of a video product, whether from Baby Einstein, Baby Genius, Calm Baby, or the other companies that have sprang up to fill the category. (Although perhaps showing my child the video will serve as prima facie evidence of my love for him, and letting him watch it will build the trust and intimacy so important to a secure, emotionally healthy child?)

"Baby Einstein videos are designed for parents to use with their babies so they can explore and discover the world together."

Julie Aigner-Clark meant for her videos to be teaching tools, "interactive blackboards" for parents to watch with their children and simultaneously talk, touch, and sing along with. But in practice, and intentionally or not, the videos serve a much more useful function for sleep deprived parents like myself: it allows them to take a shower for five minutes, or catnap on the sofa, without feeling guilty about strapping the wee bairn into the bouncy seat and leaving her alone. After all, she's absorbing "cultural" information, like how badly designed puppets can cavort to Beethoven played on a Casio*.

In August 2007, The Journal of Pediatrics published a study (Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Two) by Drs. Frederick Zimmerman, Dimitri Christakis, and Andrew Meltzoff of the University of Washington and and Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute. The study found that among toddlers ages 17 to 24 months, there was no significant effect (good or bad), on the results of a standard language development test, the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory. However, for infants ages 8 to 16 months, for each hour a day watching DVDs or videos designed for babies correlated with lower scores on the inventory, understanding an average of 6–8 fewer words than children who did not watch the videos.


In May 2006, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the FTC to act upon what they saw as deceptive advertising on Baby Einstein/Disney's part. By the time the FTC was ready to rule, in December 2007, Disney was embarassed enough to have revised their marketing copy on the Baby Einstein website, and so the government dismissed the complaint. However, facing a class action lawsuit, and further bad publicity from the Campaign, in 2009 Disney announced it would refund the money of any parent in the past five years who had purchased a Baby Einstein video.

 


The puppets: I understand that babies are fascinated with puppets. I understand that therefore you might choose to include puppets in a video for babies. However, the Baby Einstein puppet corps are a sad introduction to the ancient art of puppetry: Their eyes are small, and too far apart. While I'll admit that Jim Henson's Muppets are far too verbal and kinetic for infants, at least the size of their eyes and the distance to the nose re-create the neotenic proportions that young minds will respond too. Secondly, although the Baby Einstein puppets feature bright colors, the synthetic material they are made from has minimal texture. A cursory examination of puppets commercially available for infants and toddlers shows a preponderance of fur. The puppets in these videos then bear little resemblance to any puppets they might encounter in real life (...except for the Baby Einstein™ puppets available for sale on the Web site!). Finally, the puppetry in the videos is terrible, although whether this is due to failure of talent on the part of the puppeteers or a failure of design is unclear (but I suspect both). Given that these are simple hand puppets, there is of course a limited range to what can be performed. But the puppets appear to lack intention of movement, character, or even a simple objective. They move towards an object, or another puppet seemingly with no volition of their own-- the flatness of the eyes makes it difficult to ascribe any motivation to the puppets.

* The music: Baby Einstein arranges Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven to be "pleasing to baby's ears," which also means "severely annoying to grown up ears." The nuance and complexity provided by orchestral or chamber recordings are replaced by spritely, tinny arrangements for studio synthesizers. There is no evidence that the Mozart Effect has any applicability to infant brain development, and even in the research that has been done, no one ever suggests that "simplifying" the music is better for babies. If you want to expose your child to classical music, why not play the real thing instead of a dumbed down version?

Sources:
Julie Henry and Philip Sherwell. "Disney offers millions of parents Baby Einstein refunds." The Telegraph. October 24, 2009. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/children_shealth/6425271/Disney-offers-millions-of-parents-Baby-Einstein-video-refunds.html> (accessed March 29, 2010)
Nell Minow. "Are 'educational' baby videos a scam? Research lacking to support claims." Chicago Tribune. December 14, 2005. Reprinted at: <http://blogfromthepond.blogspot.com/2005/12/are-educational-baby-videos-scam.html> (accessed December 2, 2008)
Timothy Noah. "Baby Einstein's Quasi-Recall." Slate. October 25, 2009.<http://www.slate.com/id/2233556/> (accessed March 29, 2010)
Joel Schwartz, "Baby DVDs, videos may hinder, not help, infants' language development." University of Washington Press Release. August 7, 2007. <http://uwnews.washington.edu/ni/article.asp?articleID=35898> (accessed December 2, 2008)

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