Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn--and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less

Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn--and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less

by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff
Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn--and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less

Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn--and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less

by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff


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In Einstein Never Used Flashcards highly credentialed child psychologists, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., with Diane Eyer, Ph.D., offer a compelling indictment of the growing trend toward accelerated learning. It's a message that stressed-out parents are craving to hear: Letting tots learn through play is not only okay-it's better than drilling academics!

Drawing on overwhelming scientific evidence from their own studies and the collective research results of child development experts, and addressing the key areas of development-math, reading, verbal communication, science, self-awareness, and social skills-the authors explain the process of learning from a child's point of view. They then offer parents 40 age-appropriate games for creative play. These simple, fun—yet powerful exercises work as well or better than expensive high-tech gadgets to teach a child what his ever-active, playful mind is craving to learn.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594860683
Publisher: Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 08/25/2004
Edition description: REV
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 282,339
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Kathy Hirsh Pasek, Ph.D., is a professor in the psychology department at Temple University, where she directs the Infant Language Laboratory and participated in one of the nation's largest studies of the effects of childcare. She also composes and performs children's music. She currently lives in Ardmore, PA.

Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., directs the Infant Language Project at the University of Delaware, where she holds a joint appointment with the departments of linguistics and psychology. Together, she and Dr. Hirsch-Pasek were featured on the PBS Human Language series and are the authors of How Babies Talk. She currently resides in Wilmington, Delaware

Diane Eyer, Ph.D., is a member of the psychology department at Temple University and is the author of Motherguilt and Mother-Infant Bonding. She resides in Bucks County, PA.

Read an Excerpt



ONE SATURDAY MORNING, 6 months into her first pregnancy, Felicia Montana headed to the mall with her friends to shop for the basic gear she'd soon be needing for her baby. What she got instead was a crash course that could be called "The Science of Modern Parenting 101."

Her education began in a store with a rainbow-colored sign, which had seemed like the right place to start shopping. In fact, that was the store's name: The Right Start. "That's exactly what we want for our baby," Felicia thought as she and her friends headed in. But by the time they left, she didn't know what she wanted anymore.

Felicia quickly noticed that the list of "must-have" baby-care equipment these days runs into far more exotic territory than the old standards of diaper bags, strollers, and car seats. Should she buy flash cards with images on the front and words on the back that offered "the best way to communicate new knowledge to your baby"? If so, which flash cards were more effective—the "Baby Dolittle" animal-identification cards or the "Baby Webster" vocabulary cards? Her friends, experienced mothers, all felt strongly about their babies' favorites.

"Jeremy knew all his animals by the time he was 18 months," Anna bragged.

"Alice liked 'Webster' better—she was using some big vocabulary words when she was 17 months," Erica boasted.

Once Felicia made that decision, should she buy the Baby Einstein, the Baby Shakespeare, or the Baby Van Gogh videotape, which offered "a unique introduction to the culture of language, music, literature, and art"? Or would her baby need all three? And what about the Brainy Baby video, designed to develop both the left and right sides of her baby's brain "between 6 months and 36 months"?

All of these products seemed to carry lofty promises to improve her baby's development if she bought them—but she also felt an unspoken hint of dire consequences if she didn't. After all, Babybrain gives babies the "intellectual edge needed to excel academically and professionally." Isn't parenting all about giving your children every possible advantage?

By the time she emerged back into the mall, her nerves were jangled and her confidence shaken—and she would feel even more unsettled once she got to the bookstore.

Felicia's husband, Steve, had asked her to pick up a few books on parenting. He wanted to be well-read on the subject so he could be an equal partner in raising their child.

Once in the bookstore, she went to the parenting section and picked up the first book her hand fell upon. Prenatal Parenting promised to provide guidance for "fetal parenting," including a chapter on "becoming a brain architect." Felicia slid the book back into its slot on the densely packed bookshelf and put her hand to her forehead, pondering her own aching brain.

Fetal parenting? Brain architecture? This is what new parents are supposed to worry about now? Felicia found herself becoming increasingly anxious about her baby's intellectual development—before her child was even born!


As Felicia now knows, the race to turn children into the most talented kids in their classroom begins even earlier than the crib—it now begins in the womb. Magazine articles coax expectant parents to exercise during pregnancy with the promise that it will enhance their babies' intelligence. Ads on the next page urge them to buy foreign-language CDs to play to the unborn children. Many parents wouldn't flinch at learning that fiber-optic tubes could be used to televise educational courses to "pre-infants" still floating in the womb! Fortunately, we're not at that point—not yet, anyway.

Once these babies are born, the push to move them as quickly as possible toward adult competencies intensifies. They're prodded to pick up reading skills faster, add and subtract sooner, and even master obscure tasks like identifying the faces of long-dead musical composers years before they'll need this information (if they ever will).

The baby-educating industry has found a receptive audience of parents eager to enrich their offspring. One survey shows that 65 percent of parents believe that flash cards are "very effective" in helping 2-year-olds develop their intellectual capacity. And more than a third of the parents surveyed believe that playing Mozart to their infants enhances brain development.

Obviously, parents have been listening to the toy companies' marketing pitches: The baby-educating toy category is now a $1-billion-a-year business. Business is so good, in fact, that companies such as Baby Einstein, which was purchased by Disney in 2001, are extending their product lines, including a "Little Einstein" line aimed at 3- to 5-year- olds.

The pitch has even penetrated into some unlikely audiences. "My grandmother- -in an old-age home, mind you—sent me a mobile that plays Mozart and Bach," reports Diane, a San Francisco mother of a 2-year-old and a newborn. "My grandmother said she wanted my baby to be at the top of his class!"

Once these infants get older, many graduate to more extensive—and expensive—learning opportunities, including violin lessons, riding lessons, private grade school, and private tutors.


In today's world, the prevailing message is that it's no longer sufficient for infants and toddlers to learn independently as they have for millennia, via their own curiosity and a little help from family members when teaching opportunities arise.

However, these little ones are merely the youngest residents of our modern, sped-up, competitive society. Adults are urged to work longer and more productively than their employers' rivals. We eat prepackaged meals nuked in the microwave and schedule our leisure time into blink-and-you-miss-it vacations. Adults hear the message that getting more done faster is better and pass the pace right on down to their kids.

Consider a day in the life of a typical American family—let's call them the Smiths. Marie Smith, a schoolteacher, wakes up at 6 A.M. every day. In the next hour, she'll dress the kids—Gerry, 11, and Jessica, 3—fix breakfast, do housework, and catch a few minutes of TV news before driving Jessica to day care. Her husband, Brian, leaves for McDonnell Douglas at 6:20 A.M., dropping off Gerry at basketball practice on his way to work. Marie picks up Gerry at 7:35 A.M. and they walk to her school, where she teaches kindergarten and he is in the fifth grade.

After work, Marie picks up Gerry at 5 P.M. from his after-school program and Jessica at day care. She buys groceries and often searches for supplies, such as poster board or colored marshmallows, that Gerry needs for homework projects. At 6 P.M., she interrupts her dinner preparation to drive Gerry to soccer, his church youth group, or his guitar lesson. Finally, the pressure ends around 7:30 P.M. when Brian arrives home with Gerry, after a commute of at least an hour, so that they can have dinner together.

Unfortunately, this type of rushed schedule seems to be the norm rather than the exception. One monumental change in family life in recent generations has been the rise in the dual-career family. In 1975, 34 percent of mothers with children under 6 were in the workforce. By 1999, that number had nearly doubled, with 61 percent of mothers in the workforce.A large portion of those working moms were mothers of infants. And of course, we know that most dads have been working outside the home for more than a century. But society is now demanding that both parents not just work, but put in longer hours.

In fact, Americans are now working harder than almost anyone else in the world, including the Japanese. According to a 1997 study by the International Labor Organization, fathers were working an average of 51 hours a week, while mothers were working 41 hours per week.

It's not surprising that a survey of parents found that 25 percent said they had no time for their family due to the demands of their jobs. Yet the fact is, time-use studies show that the amount of time mothers spend with each child has barely changed over the last 50 years. What has changed is what parents typically do with their children during that time. Increasingly, it is ferrying them from one "enriching" organized activity to another. They are often in the car, going to activities or playing the role of "soccer moms and dads," cheering and coaching their children from the sidelines.

This gave rise to the idea of "quality time"—a term that originated in the 1970s. Parents quickly picked up on the concept, since "quantity time" is at such a premium. Moms and dads have maximized their quality time with their children by creating the "organized kid"—one whose every moment, it seems, is productively scheduled.

Unfortunately, we're not having much fun at parenting, which should be one of the greatest joys of life. And as we'll see shortly, this vamped-up atmosphere of forced activity and learning isn't good for our children, either. In a recent Newsweek magazine article, one mother of four asserted that she spends so much time driving her children to activities that her 1- year-old is practically being raised in the family minivan. "When he's not in the van, he's somewhat disoriented," she explained.

Families are apparently so busy stimulating their children, they increasingly have little time just to enjoy one another. Perhaps it's not surprising that one New Jersey town, Ridgewood, felt compelled to declare one winter evening "Family Night." With the support of school administrators, the town canceled all sports activities, homework assignments, private lessons, and even religious classes so that parents and children could simply spend time together at home.


To understand how the race to produce smarter children at a younger age began, it's helpful to take a brief look at attitudes toward child-rearing throughout history. Until the early 19th century, there was really no acknowledgment of childhood as a separate period before adulthood. In fact, artwork from that period shows children dressed as miniature adults. The writings of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau indelibly altered our view of childhood. In his now classic book Emile, Rousseau wrote, "Childhood has its own way of seeing, thinking, and feeling, and nothing is more foolish than to try to substitute ours for theirs." This view, coupled with the movement from field to factory, led to the advent of mass education, which was an effort to prepare youth for the working world.

With the birth of child psychology at the end of the 19th century, the idea that children could be studied and improved began to take hold. In the 1940s, a plethora of scientific journals devoted to studying children appeared. In his famous book Baby and Child Care, published in 1946, Dr. Benjamin Spock used his clinical eye and common sense to offer parents a blueprint for how to rear their children. The advice industry was born.

After World War II, when Rosie the Riveter returned to the hearth from the factory, she needed to think of motherhood as valuable work that required special knowledge and training. Parents began to rely on child development experts for information on how to raise their children. In fact, at the White House Conference on Children in 1950, experts were worried that parents had become too dependent on expert advice! Beginning in the 1970s, as the number of dual-career families increased and as information about child development exploded, parents wanted to be certain they were making every moment with their children count. Faced with a sense of dwindling family time, parents turned to child development experts to find out how to best prepare their children for life.

Initial doubts about the effects of accelerating children's development ("early ripe, early rot") gave way to a complete endorsement of the practice. Titles such as Bring Out the Genius in Your Child by Ken Adams and 365 Ways to a Smarter Preschooler by Marilee Robin Burton, Susan G. MacDonald, and Susan Miller became part of the familiar landscape in neighborhood bookstores. The focus on engineering our children's intellectual development had spiraled out of control. We were witnessing an ironic return to our past: taking childhood away from children and treating them like miniature adults.

Warnings about this threat to childhood have been sounded within the halls of academe and beyond. Writers put pen to paper, like David Elkind, professor of child development at Tufts University and author of the now classic 1980 book The Hurried Child. More recently, Professor Laura Berk at Illinois State University added to the literature with her stunning book Awakening Children's Minds, and author Ralph Schoenstein brought us humorous anecdotes in My Kid's an Honor Student, Your Kid's a Loser. But what is a parent or teacher to do in response to the warning signs? How can we change the behavior the experts are worried about? Acknowledging the situation is only the first part of the solution. At the annual meeting of the International Conference for Infancy Studies in the summer of 2000, many urged that, as a group, developmental psychologists respond to the growing crisis. The mountains of research that demonstrated infant capabilities and that revealed newly discovered skills in preschoolers were being misinterpreted and misapplied. Research designed to reveal the inner workings of the human mind for scientific inquiry was being used to market product lines that promise to transform Baby into Super Baby.


Parents who don't want to participate in all of the accelerated opportunities and activities for their children often feel anxiety in this new childrearing climate. As parenting itself becomes more competitive, many moms and dads worry that their children could be left behind if they don't take advantage of every available opportunity.

One acquaintance of ours will soon be moving to suburban Tucson, Arizona, to run a preschool. Her current school has an "emergent curriculum," meaning that subject areas emerge from children's interests and are more experiential than academic. "When I give parents tours at my current school, I say that we're not doing worksheets and direct skill work. They ask if their children will be prepared for school, and I explain that they will, because they will have been given a chance to be curious and explore," she says. "They'll say that this is fine, and then, half the time, they come back later and say, 'Why aren't they using computers? Why aren't the children reading?' As an educator, I know that blocks are truly the building blocks of literacy, math, and other forms of learning. But parents come in and say,'They're playing. I want my kid to be working!'"

Despite her firm beliefs, our acquaintance is even starting to feel the pressure in how she should raise her own children. "Where I'm going, the parents are really high-powered heavy-hitters who put a lot of pressure on their children," she explains. "I know being low-key is okay, but if everyone else has their children playing the violin by the age of 4, will I doubt the decisions my husband and I have made?"

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