It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Wolfgang Rolls Over

“I hope you like Mozart,” says dad. Zach stomps along the hall carpet, holding a block in each hand. Not just any blocks, mind you; these are Baby Einstein blocks.

A woman I met in the park this summer told me how she had been pigeonholed by an Earnest Mommy at a playgroup. “Do you have Baby Einstein?” EM queried. Never having heard of this line of toys, videos, books, CDs, and goodness knows what else, non-Earnest mommy thought she was joking. Gesturing toward her then three-month-old daughter, she said, “Oh, yes, a genius all right – an Isaac Newton in the works. Got that gravity thing down pat!”

Dead silence. The Earnest, as we’ve noted before, have no sense of humour.

Einstein blocks: One has the words of colours on five of its six sides. The other has pictures in the same colours on five of its six sides. Match the correct picture with the word, and a soft and joyous female voice identifies the picture and colour.

On the sixth side of each block – the only sides in which young Zach has any interest at all – show three maniacally grinning cartoon animals. In tuxes. Grouped around a perspective-challenged piano. One waves a violin in a rather worrisome manner.

When these two sides are put together, the blocks produce eight bars of Mozart. Disco Mozart. Mozart ramped up 30 beats per minute. Electronic, beeping Mozart. Mozart as produced by electronically enhanced manic chipmunks on speed.

Yes, I do like Mozart. Love him, in fact.

Which is why those blocks have been put away.

November 29, 2005 - Posted by | Developmental stuff, parenting


  1. My anthropology prof last year was telling us about Baby Einstein. He’d just had a little girl (their first) and was amazed at the number of Baby Einstein things he was getting from friends and family. His response: “She can’t even burp on her own yet”. It killed me.

    You just have to hate the butchering of classics.

    Comment by Haley | November 29, 2005 | Reply

  2. If your kid is a genius, wouldn’t it be obvious sooner or later? And can you really affect them by the kind of blocks you give them anyway? I’m all for providing stimulation to kids, but I did old fashioned things like cuddle them and coo at them … but what do I know?

    Comment by Simon P. Chappell | November 29, 2005 | Reply

  3. I really don’t care for most of the Baby Einstein Mommies I’ve met. Now, that’s not saying that every one of them is the same, but it’s just a little worrisome that they all seem to think that all you have to do is plunk the kid in front of the video (there are videos! Of singing and music and words!) and he/she will learn colors and musical stuff.

    Helloooooo…how about letting that sink full of dishes sit there for ten more minutes and read a book about colors to your kid??

    Oh, sorry. I’m judging again.

    Comment by misfit | November 29, 2005 | Reply

  4. I love the parents who are trying to ‘boost the baby’s IQ.’ I want to loan them my too-smart-for-his-own-good five-year-old for a weekend so they can see what Life With A Gifted Child is REALLY like.

    At our house, we’re working on dumbing the kids down. You know, by letting them watch MTV instead of Baby Einstein (I’m joking, really, but I think Mistfit is right–READ TO THE BABY. BUILD A TOWER WITH THE BLOCKS. PUT MUSIC ON AND DANCE. That’s all it takes–and it’s fun).

    Comment by Susan | November 29, 2005 | Reply

  5. Oh, Susan…wait till he’s eight. My god, I didn’t think it could get worse but IT GETS WORSE!

    Oh, wait. Sorry. No, I mean, wait till he’s eight! It’s fabulous! See me, with my martini?!

    Comment by misfit | November 29, 2005 | Reply

  6. Haley: “She can’t even burp on her own yet” – I love it!! I do hate the butchering of the classics. If you want your child to develop a love of Mozart, then for heaven’s sake, give him the REAL THING. listen to it with him because you love it. If you view Mozart as a dose of nasty but necessary medicine, be sure your child will grow to feel the same way, and what will have been accomplished?

    Simon: I agree 100%. There is nothing magical about Mozart; there is nothing “enriching” about cramming your child chock-full of facts before they’re two. True intelligence isn’t measured so much by how much you know, but by how you evaluate, adapt, synthesize what you know – making connections, thinking laterally, all that good stuff. Knowing all your colours by 18 months matters not one whit in the long run.

    Misfit: Or pulling a step stool to the sink, and letting the child “wash” the plastic items, commenting on their colours and shapes as you go? Life is one long learning experience. Videos are life experienced at a one-step remove, usually (though not always) a second-rate choice.

    Susan: It’s my belief that a person’s baseline intelligence can be squelched or encouraged – but it can’t be created, or even raised, by externals. Absolutely horrific neglect can suppress its expression, perhaps even its full development, but 99% of kids aren’t in that environment.

    So, try all you like to dumb down your kid, but it won’t work. (This from the mother of a couple of “gifted” kids.)

    Misfit: Wait till he’s twenty! Really: by then things settle, they’re getting the intellectual stimulation they thrive on, and – you ready for this? – they’re probably living on their own!!

    The independence of your children can be intially scary, but also exhilarating, and makes you oh, so proud! That, and there’s one fewer pairs of shoes to trip over in the front hall.

    Comment by Mary P. | November 29, 2005 | Reply

  7. My sister did the Baby Einstein thing with my niece — I avoided commenting as she played those silly videos over and over while we visited. Of course, my silence ensures that if we ever do have children those’ll be one of the gifts or hand-me-downs we receive. Sis is definitely an earnest mommy, but to her credit, she certainly spends lots of time doing things with my niece. And my niece (at age 2) seems to be a happy and rather intelligent child.

    Comment by aaron | November 29, 2005 | Reply

  8. Aaron: Well, there are earnests and earnests, of course. Competitive earnests are the worst of the worst, because it’s an ego thing that they be proven right by the excellence of their child, no matter what the cost to that child. Then there are the sweet ones, who just want their child to have the best, richest, happiest, most rewarding life possible (like most parents!), and believe in this type of “enrichment” as the way to ensure that. I’m sure your sister sits firmly in this second category.

    However, I shudder at a child watching videos “over and over” before they’re even two years old. It’s so counter to the best way a child learns – which is through interaction with real, live, warm and breathing human beings, and interaction with tangible, tactile, manipulable reality.

    Comment by Mary P. | November 29, 2005 | Reply

  9. That’s funny. I was going to say Mozart would turn in his grave, but he probably wouldn’t mind at all.

    I don’t know if Wolfie, Josef, CPEB and co. are boosting my IQ, but they are certainly increasing my happiness. Yours too I trust.

    Comment by robmcj | November 29, 2005 | Reply

  10. We received a baby Einstein video as a gift for Ella a couple of years ago. I watched it, shut it off and put it in a closet. It was a little strange for me.

    That said, it would be dishonest for me to not share my Earnest Mommy story. Before Ella was born, we were fortunate to be given almost everything. I did decide, however, to splurge on a mobile for the crib that did everything but guarantee my child’s early admission into Princeton. She hated it, as did daughter #2. I certainly didn’t get my “cost per wear” with it! I now ignore statements on a toy that claim it makes a child better/brighter/happier/smarter.

    Comment by Misfit Hausfrau | November 30, 2005 | Reply

  11. robmcj: They are indeed. What I should have mentioned but forgot was that once I’d chucked the blocks in the bin by the door, I turned on the Real Thing, followed up by some Haydn. Ah, the sweet sounds of civilization in the midst of savagry!

    Hausfrau: I think probably everyone is a little Earnest, in that everyone wants the best for the child, and wants their child to be the best they can be. Gah! I sound like a commercial for a health club, but you know what I mean.

    You’re talking to the me with twenty years of parenting experience, after all, by which time if you haven’t gleaned a little perspective on it all, there’s no hope for you!

    I’ve had a few of those purchases too, I confess – and they all ended up where your Baby Einstein video did. LOL Live and learn!

    Comment by Mary P. | November 30, 2005 | Reply

  12. Baby Mozart, I’ve found, is as useful or useless as any other video or CD out there.

    When I only had one child, I watched other people’s children part-time for a bit. One mother was shocked to find us all dancing with Elmo one day when she had specifically BROUGHT HER Baby Einstein video to our home.
    Another mom had never heard of the whole company.
    My daughter never saw one of them until my son was born.
    I thought it gave my son an edge, later, when we got a Tchaikovsky computer game and he had it mastered in a day.
    As it turns out, he is not so much of a musical prodigy as he is a computer game wiz.

    Comment by LoryKC | November 30, 2005 | Reply

  13. Rebecca was picking out Twinkle, Twinkle on the piano one day and I said “that’s Mozart”. Then I had to back it up. Somehow I found whatever the composition was and now I’ve forgotten once again.

    They enjoy the bouncy, spirited classics and much of Mozart and Haydn would qualify. I want them to appreciate music so I keep them exposed,one way or another.

    I do have children’s classics cd’s for them (excerpts of familiar things) and they do listen. And I tell them when a cartoon or ad is using “classical” music and I usually can tell them what it is and drag out the cd.

    I have no room at all to talk, however, My cell phone plays Mozart’s “Turkish March” Oops – it just rang – I forgot I changed it to Ride of the Valkeries. My husband gets serenaded by Beethoven and “Fur Elise”.

    But Mozart blocks? NO. NO. NO.

    Check the blog when you have time. Changed have been made.

    Comment by Granny | November 30, 2005 | Reply

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