The only sign language Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky knows is likely to get him thrown out of most public places.
Our reviews of Baby Einstein: Baby Beethoven (published November 6th, 2008), Baby Einstein: Baby's First Sounds (published April 30th, 2008), Baby Einstein: Discovering Shapes (published August 8th, 2007), Baby Einstein: Lullaby Time (published November 2nd, 2007), and Baby Einstein: Numbers Nursery (published August 12th, 2004) are also available.
See and sign with baby!
This was about the time that I thought I was done with Baby Einstein. I have always liked this series of toddler DVDs. My daughter and I watched them, and she developed her fascination with the world—animals, outer space, language, art—in part from our time together talking about what appeared on screen. While she has since graduated to Disney's television series Little Einsteins, my son has now inherited the ten or so Baby Einstein discs she used to watch. And all the music CDs. And the toys. And the many books. (This very evening, he demanded I read him a Baby Einstein book about cats six times. Did you know that cats are warm and soft to hold?)
Because we already have so much Baby Einstein stuff around the house, I have not been keeping up with the most recent releases. I know that Disney has steered the DVD series into narrower topic areas: body parts, the seasons, orchestral instruments. The formula still remains generally the same, with friendly puppets, happy children (for the first few years, founder Julie Aigner-Clark's own tots), and brightly-colored toys parading around to twinkly classical music. I was curious to see whether Baby Einstein has changed now that Disney has so aggressively expanded the franchise into many other product areas: bath books, party goods, even sunblock lotion.
The major difference with My First Signs is the presence of actual adult human beings: actress Marlee Matlin, and lots of parents practicing signs with their children. Puppets usually don't have fingers, so I guess the producers figured that the kids would need help learning the basics of ASL. My own experience has been that American Sign Language is excellent for children still developing their language skills. Try dealing with an 18-month-old child strapped to a booster at the dinner table. Do you want more? Do you want a drink? Another piece of banana—or is it chicken this time?
The children are a bit older than the toddlers usually playing in these videos, probably because they were more proficient at ASL. The classical music is still there (Schumann, Haydn, and such). Lessons are divided thematically, dealing with names of family members (like mommy and daddy), meal time words (like drink, cereal, and more), play time (like help, ball, and friend), and bed time (bath, story, and so forth). The program is not a comprehensive effort to teach your child how to communicate with sign language. Rather, it provides just enough vocabulary that a little one still trying to form words can be understood. If this means less crying, throwing toys and food, and general frustration—from you or your child—then it is well worth the effort.
The bonus section includes Matlin (with Julie Clark's voice dubbed in) sharing two additional sign language lessons, one grouped by opposites (boy/girl, up/down) and one with more advanced words (potty, hurt, love). There is an additional practice lesson for the sixteen words included in the main program as well, though this rushes by pretty quickly and is probably intended to refresh parents more than their kids. The extra puppet sketches might amuse the little ones, but they have negligible educational value compared to the main program. Instead of a message about the Baby Einstein company, as we used to get on these discs, instead Disney includes a plug for Little Einsteins. Given how easily Disney could have used this entire series to plug their own products (the only Disney reference I recall ever seeing in any of these DVDs is a two-second shot of an EPCOT fountain in Baby Neptune, and you'd only recognize it if you'd been there many times), I suppose they can be granted one commercial.
More than other Baby Einstein DVDs, First Signs is not meant as a babysitter. These sign language lessons are of no value if you do not watch along, learn the signs yourself, and practice them with your child. Even if you already have a few Baby Einstein DVDs and thought you did not need any more, you will find First Signs one of the most flat-out useful entries in the series. And if you do not own any Baby Einstein discs, this should be the first one you pick up. Even if you don't think your little ones should watch television at all, you might still consider picking this up so you can learn sign language and teach your children. In short, First Signs may be the most helpful and important product Baby Einstein has yet released. Even more than the sunblock lotion.
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