Videos for infants

by Irving Lazar, Ph.D.

What is the value of videos designed for 0-3 year olds?
What is reasonable and unreasonable to expect?

Learning is a cellular imperative of children and other young mammals. We can impede learning, but we cannot stop it. Learning begins at birth, and probably in the third trimester of pregnancy. A great example is pictured in the video "A Baby's World," in a segment in which the father of a ten-minute-old infant holds the baby at eye level, catches his eye, and then sticks out his tongue. The infant watches this, and then sticks out his own tongue. Our task in raising...and infant is to optimize the conditions for learning, and providing them with the opportunities to learn the things we want them to know. We, as adults, determine what we're giving them to imitate and what behaviors we are rewarding. We must not forget that a major task we have is to socialize the child, and we start that early. So we must be aware of what we are ex-posing them to, what we give them to imitate and what behaviors we reward.

We want our children to learn about the world as a whole; not simply a list of specific actions and habits. We want them to relate what they learn in one situation to new situations. Indeed, that's what happens in the family. Each experience is captured in many senses; and each sensory dimension is sent to the part of the brain that controls that sense and stores those sensations. If the experience involved many senses, a web of neurons will be formed between the sensory areas that enables the child to recall the whole event, and to retrieve it through any of the sensory connections. Think of the mind as a having a filing system. If you file a book only by its title, you have no other way to locate it. If you cross-file it by author, topic, title and other characteristics, you then have many ways to locate it. The same is true with memories. If an event engages many senses, then it is both easier to recover from memory and easier to relate to other learnings. Nature gives us a perfect model in what happens in nursing. All the baby's senses are simultaneously involved while the discomfort of hunger is being reduced, and all the while the baby is staring at the mother's face, and
associating the pleasure of being fed with mom. Multi-sensory experiences thus become easier to recover, to use and to relate to other and to novel situations. A video only stimulates hearing and vision. You cannot build a web from two points. The idea that listening to Mozart while the mother is pregnant will make babies smarter is really silly, although the mother may well enjoy Mozart, pregnant or not.

Can a parent or other care giver use videos designed for infants to raise their IQs?

The simple answer is no. If anything, they can overuse them to decrease IQ. IQ is not a genetic trait It is measured by a test which simply finds out what the child already knows. That is why vocabulary is the best single predictor of IQ. The score itself has no predictive power before the age of 6. You can't tell from a 4 year old's IQ how well they're going to do in school unless they have extremely high or extremely low scores. But if they have extremely high or low scores you already know that by their behavior. If videos are used sparingly, and in connection with real experiences, there may be valuable learning, but only in
connection to real experiences.

Why are there infant tests then?

Originally it was believed that intelligence was a physical trait, like height, and that it would increase with chronological age as long as you fed it. until the child matured and reached his maximum. The idea of IQ is a nineteenth century idea and up until the 1950s that was the belief and for many people, it's still the belief. But in the 1940s it became obvious from research that IQ could be modified from experience. Harold Skeels and Rene Spitz, in separate studies, showed that both intelligence and personality were profoundly and permanently influenced by the amount of early human contact in the first year of life. Infants raised in orphanages were most likely to either die of emotional neglect or become profoundly retarded and disturbed later in life. That's why infant orphanages were abolished in the United States, and why group care of infants can be dangerous if there are insufficient care-givers.

What the IQ test measures is what the child has already learned. What the tests don't tell us anything about is why the child hasn't learned specific kinds of things, or even how he goes about learning. Because we know that children have many ways of learning and different ways we hear and see things, if the learning opportunities don't match up to what the children's learning style is then he/she is going to have a difficult time learning the materials presented. There's a whole new way of looking at learning that's popular in Europe, and beginning to catch on here. It is called Dynamic Assessment. Instead of looking at what the kid already knows it looks at how a the child goes about learning and perceiving and solving problems. Unlike the IQ test, the test looks at the process of learning rather than what has been learned. It tells the examiner where the child's strong
points and weak points are and how the child goes about learning and understanding, so it tells the teacher where the kid needs help, and which strengths can be built upon.

What can a parent do to increase his child's IQ?

First of all, see that the child has a small group of caring adults who the child relates to .Emotional security is the bedrock of intellectual achievement. Yes, I know that there are brilliant people who have had tortured lives. Imagine what they what they could have achieved without the torture! Second, Because children learn from models and through imitation, let them see the world you want them to learn about. Front-facing carriers lets the baby learn about things outside his crib. Visiting other people tells him about people and how they differ.

From the beginning the child needs to be talked to while being held Later, they need to be read to. And they need to be taken places. They need to see things, and feel them, and touch and smell them...and they need encouragement in their explorations, along with protection.

So where do videos come in?

Videos come in as one of many experiences. Babies have very short attention spans, and it is unreasonable to expect them to watch an entire 30 minute video. There's not much learning going on because that audio/ video experience is not tied to anything else. They like to watch babies and animals but it's not in a context of the real world. Initially, babies don't know the difference between what's real or unreal but then they discover that the doggie in the video can't be petted, doesn't smell like a dog, doesn't feel like a dog, and if you gurgle at it, it doesn't respond to you. A real puppy will lick you, make noises and feel soft to touch. On the other hand, a moderate amount of tv exposure is not going to hurt a kid. If tv exposure is most of what a child is getting, then it's skewing the child's level of experience because TV doesn't present a whole experience. As an example, consider the fact that our most primitive is smell. We're usually not aware of how much smell affects us unless we experience an unpleasant or
extremely pleasant smell. Smells are unique, and play an important role
in most of our perceptions. You can't smell a video.

Let's talk about the APP recommendation that children under the age of 2
don't watch tv or videos at all. What do you think of that?

I think it's unreal. TV sets are on most of the waking hours in many households. I think we have to place limits on exposure and with children under two. If you're watching tv with your baby, keep the baby busy with something else or tell the baby what he's looking at. As for the infant videos I think they're fine if you need the baby distracted while you wash your hair, fix dinner, or something like that. If what happens on the video ties in with something else in their life, then there's even going to be more interest from the baby. For example, if you have taken a trip to the zoo and then watch a video about a zoo you can tie it into the zoo experience by talking about it. Now will that raise IQ? No. What will raise IQ is building vocabulary. But that's not enough by itself. It's when the parent is talking to the baby along with the video that the baby will benefit.

What do you think about the parents today who are concerned about accelerating their children's learning and are trying desperately to get their children reading at young and younger ages.?

What they're doing, often, is turning their kids off to learning the stuff being pushed. Kids want to learn and what you want to do is to give them opportunities to learn. If you're reading to them, they'll get the idea that those squiggles on the paper mean something. They gradually learn what symbols are all about and then they'll use them. But they have to discover it on their own. Forcing them makes it an unpleasant activity. If learning these things is the requirement for getting them their mother's love then they are likely to wind up resenting the mother. The best predictor of the child's reading ability is the number of books in the house. If they see their parents reading, then they'll want to learn to read. There's only about 3% of kids who can learn to read comfortably at age four and there's about 3% who can't learn at age 8. If you're reading to a kid from early on, that's entertainment. You go through stages. The child wants you to read it over and over until he has it memorized. In due course, he will actually begin to recognize particular words. Gradually, he starts picking up the letters for certain words. And then he's ready to learn. With most kids, that's around age 6. The reason we start school at age 6 is not by accident, it's based on when kids have the visual-motor and language necessary to be able to read. If you make demands for the child to learn to read before he is ready then you're raising expectations that the kid cannot meet. His ensuing feelings of failure will diminish his urge to learn and his dependence on his parents for their approval can breed resentment that he is not loved for himself and what he can do. Parents need to remember that their children really want to please them, so setting barriers that are too high can be counter-productive. Videos and other media can be tools within a learning atmosphere; they cannot substitute for teachers and real people and immediate approval for accomplishments. Indeed, in a well designed plan to teach something, the intervals of difficulty should be so small that failure is simply not likely to occur.


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