Educational DVDs – Do they work?

It has been noted by researchers that the producers of educational DVDs claim to use research based child development learning principles, but in fact, the developers do not, as a rule, consult child development experts in making their content. There is no end to the amount of inter-active computer videos, programmes, educational DVDs and so on that claim to be just what your child needs to learn vocabulary, reading and maths.

Educational DVDs – What the Experts say

The results of educational DVD research is sketchy and inconclusive at best, but the research thus far shows that the content of a lot of DVDs is not based on well-researched, professional input. That means the DVD producers can claim whatever they like about the wonders of the educational abilities your baby or toddler will gain from the DVDs they’ve produced – sometimes outrageous claims!

At any age, your child will learn more through human interaction and learning than by watching educational DVDs. A study of 1000 babies found that those babies who watched over 2 hours of DVDs per day, educational or not, had poorer language abilities and assessment results than babies who watched no DVDs at all. (Christakis & Zimmerman, 2007)

The long and short of it: There is no substitute for a parent and family setting to educate babies, toddlers and small children. In addition, almost all experts agree that children under two years of age should not spend any time watching TV, Computers, DVDs, phones, tablets or any other electronic devices.

Remember too, that every time your baby is glued to a tablet, he or she is not crawling, not active and not learning holistically, which can translate into attention deficit issues, sleeping difficulties and obesity problems later on.

The Smartbrain programme that we endorse is often carried out to remediate and reverse the effects of too much media exposure and to enhance the reader’s fixation span, so that he or she can read and de-code words faster, by practising phonics and not whole word memorization (i.e. word guessing).

What happens when a child falls behind because of too much media exposure?

Later on, parents feel that speed reading media courses or other reading DVDs and programmes will help their now-behind-child. However, one-on-one instruction with a trained facilitator is the way to establish a reading and maths foundation, especially in a remedial setting. A computer simply is not as effective, despite the attractive words and pictures that are just a mouse click away.

With correct motivation, children can go from apparent non-reading and concentration to fluent reading in a very short time. Instruction with us here at SmartBrain, from babies to adults, is gentle, continually assessed and has been proven, over and over, to be extremely effective when it comes to school readiness or remedial intervention.

Using Educational DVDs and other media positively

This article is not meant to suggest you should never switch the TV on, or that you should never allow your child to be exposed to media of any kind. However, as mentioned already, experts agree that simply passively watching media is not advisable for under two-year olds. Please resist the temptation to use the TV or DVDs as a baby-sitter! Don’t delude yourself into thinking that an educational DVD or computer will fast track your child’s brain development!

Some experts say that if you do use interactive media, this should be done with a parent, with the parent involved in communication and play. So sit your baby or toddler on your lap, watch a little or play a little with him or her and then talk about what is happening. The child will feel secure, know what he or she is doing and have the comfort of interacting with mom or dad.


Zero to Three 2012, AAP 2011, Stamm 2007

Technology and Kids – How much, How soon?

There is no question that computers, phones, tablets and mobile devices are part of the lives of everyone in our global village!.

But what do the experts say about introducing technology to babies and toddlers? How do we get the right balance? Read on to find out what studies by professionals in child development have to say on the subject.

The impact of technology on the developing brain

Babies learn through social interaction. There is no substitute to normal stimulation using all the senses (taste, smell, sound, touch and sight).

A baby’s brain is not high-tech, their brain development, movement, emotional and language development is inter-twined and milestones are accomplished at a certain pace.

In the first three years of a child’s life, there are critical windows of opportunity. If a baby is not exposed to certain experiences in order to learn a certain skill, these skills will be lost forever.

Scary, right?

For example: Language must be learned before the age of five, if this is not accomplished, there will be immense difficulty, if not an impossibility to develop language later in life.

To substantiate this claim, there have been instances where children have not learned to speak at all, usually children in the homes of abusive parents. Look at the case of Genie. Genie was a feral child, whose father strapped her to a potty or chair in a straight-jacket for years, and refused to allow her to make any sound at all. She was not spoken to, not cared for and had no social interaction, except when her father beat her. At the age of 13, she was rescued by Child Protective Services, but she had virtually no physical abilities beyond those of a toddler. She was severely underweight and couldn’t speak.

Despite intensive educational input from that moment on, Genie never learned to grammatically construct a sentence, because her window of opportunity for language fluency was gone forever. Read the full article at Psychology Today. This highlights the importance of being aware of these critical developmental stages, and maximising them to the full, if you want your child to be bright.

At the beginning of life, a baby’s brain is around a quarter of the size it will be as an adult. In the first 3 months, the baby’s brain will grow around 20%, based on his/her experiences. Everyone, not just parents, notice the huge difference in development between a baby of 5 days and a baby of 5 months of age!

This development, along with many other developmental milestones is dependent on parents or caregivers’ interactions, not technology’s interventions.

Technology versus Real Life Experiences

Allow your kid to be retro! Meaning, let them play outside with friends, spend summer days swimming and adventuring outdoors. Let them play in a wendy house or tree house, let them stimulate their imagination through books, as old-fashioned as that may seem.

These activities help them to develop creativity, problem solving skills, social skills, physical development and will help to turn them into intelligent, capable, creative and rational adults. Can a TV, tablet or phone do that for your child?

I’m not suggesting that technology should never be used or introduced, just limited. And not used as a baby-sitter!



AAP 2011 Child Abuse and Brain Development


Reading Problems in Children – Why?


It’s a pretty well known fact that a child will struggle with ALL learning subjects if he or she cannot read well. It has a direct impact on their studying, writing ability and comprehension. The result is that the child may then spiral into having low self-esteem, with attention problems and disinterest in school in general, perhaps even resulting in behaviour problems.
When there are gaps and the child falls further and further behind, it makes it very hard to catch up. A remedial facilitator may have to go right back to a first grade stage even though the child having the reading problems may be in the fourth grade.

Causes of Reading Problems in Children

There are several reasons why children have reading problems. The reasons mentioned here have been taken from several studies on the subject and the references for these will be hyper-linked at the end of the article. In short, the causes of reading problems can be summarized as follows:

  • Dyslexia – This is a fairly common problem with kids who have reading problems. It means that they have difficulties in recognizing letters and knowing the phonics of the letters, and then cannot sound out new words. Dyslexic children form alternate neural pathways in the brain in order to decode words.
  • Poor readers sometimes rely on memory for whole words rather than strategies to help them decode words. This leads to constant difficulties in accuracy, fluency and comprehension. This type of reading problem appears to be more common in disadvantaged schools and communities. The child may guess at words that look similar, for example reading ‘when’ instead of ‘where’.
  • There are some children who have some eye convergence and eye tracking difficulties.
  • Attention deficit issues, which means the child is easily distracted, unable to sit down for longer than a few minutes and concentrate. In this case, reading material needs to be very engaging, children need to be able to see and feel that they are progressing and lessons need to be short.
  • Children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or have little or no parental input or simulation, or perhaps come from a dysfunctional home, can often be behind when it comes to coping with reading and school in general.
  • Insufficient experience with books or no exposure to reading instruction before first grade.
  • Foreign language kids forced to be in an English school without enough experience in the taught language. For example, Zulu, Lingala or French speaking kids put in a grade one class in an English school, when they can’t understand English properly.
  • Premature babies or babies with a low birth weight can sometimes have attention problems or struggle to learn when older.
  • Poor teaching quality on the part of a teacher.  Under-performing teachers, or teachers who have too many pupils, too great a work-load may not enjoy their job or they may not show enthusiasm for reading, which in turn will affect the children.
  • Too many moves to different schools can result in instability and this may result in a child falling behind in school.
  • Absenteeism, due to bad health or family issues may result in the child missing out on instruction and then finding it hard to catch up.
  • Foetal alcohol syndrome where a mother has been drinking heavily throughout her pregnancy.  This can result in behaviour problems and other abnormalities.  Foetal alcohol syndrome is thought to be the leading cause of mental retardation.

So these are the causes, but what can be done? Take a look at how the SmartBrain remedial program  has been proven to work.


Can you over-stimulate baby? Four ways to calm your baby down


As much as babies need a lot of stimulation in order to develop intellectually, babies can in fact be over-stimulated when they cannot relate to new sights or sounds already in their memory.

Over-stimulation can be frustrating and confusing for a baby.

Think of it this way – imagine if you took a trip to a foreign land. As you leave the airport, imagine the sounds, noises, confusion, signs and that you can’t read, language that you don’t understand, the hustle, the bustle, cars honking on the opposite side of the road, people shouting, perhaps at you! Would you not be confused?

Now imagine you are a tiny baby exposed to a situation where there is so much going on. Babies are trying to make sense of their world and disturbing activities, perhaps stress on the part of the parent, adapting to lights, colours, sounds, temperature changes, tactile stimuli, movement, auditory and visual stimulating during the early weeks can make them actually confused and upset.

Stimulation – when and how much?  How to calm your baby

  • Everything is new to your curious and lively baby and they can absorb huge amounts of information, but parents have to be careful not to overdo it. Look for cues to see if timing is wrong. For example, if your baby is sleepy or hungry, now is not the time to introduce new toys.
  • Plan your outings to the store or to friends well, otherwise the experience could be ruined for all by a screaming baby!  Pack drinks, snacks, toys and extra clothes.  Don’t ignore your baby if he or she is getting upset by being over-handled by adoring family members or friends!  Head off to a quiet space outside or in a separate, quiet bedroom so that the baby can calm down.
  • Pre-empt your baby’s needs and they will seldom cry.  Parents generally learn quickly when it’s time to feed or change their baby, be alert to the cues that come from your baby and take breaks if you need to.  Make sure your baby keeps up with regular naps and sleep times.
  • Don’t introduce technology too early.  Let them learn about the world around them naturally, like patting the family dog, banging on a pot with a spoon, crawling and discovering things around them without feeling like they need to be in front of the TV or phone at their early age.

The SmartBrain program recommends short bursts of stimulation, in a specific area, such as 15 minutes a day (5 minutes at a time) of reading and maths flashcards, in a loving, home environment. This will, in a positive and gentle way, accustom your small baby to learning, virtually from birth, without being a traumatic experience.

As a baby becomes habituated to certain stimuli, repetition is vital because that is how the neural pathways connect permanently and helps the child to remember new information.

Critical Period Brain Development – What is a Window of Opportunity and what does this mean for your child?

A baby and young child’s experiences and environment can change brain development.

This strong statement is backed up by hard science and the data has been compiled using technologies such as MRI, CT and PET scans.  A child’s brain is highly sensitive and susceptible to environmental experiences.

What does this mean when it comes to learning and absorbing information? What is a “Window of Opportunity” and why is this so important? This is really interesting, so read on!

Critical Period Brain Development

A child will preserve neural connections that are constantly reinforced, both positively and negatively. For example, each time an experience is repeated, it establishes a track in the child’s brain and the synaptic lesson will not be reversed. If critical times for learning are missed or not exploited, they may never be recovered.

For example, the window of opportunity for acquiring a new language begins to shut down when a child reaches five years of age. If the window of opportunity is utilized from age 0 – 5, a child will absorb languages simultaneously, easily, without effort and will have the ability to speak in the correct accent.

Fast forward to a child who is a teenager when he/she learns a language. They will speak the new language with a foreign accent, because they did not learn the language during the critical time or window of opportunity for language acquisition.

These crucial periods impact all areas of learning, not just language. A child has the amazing ability to become capable at maths and music as well as to develop intellectually and socially, if neural connections are reinforced in these areas. This doesn’t just happen all by itself of course, the child must be exposed to and in fact, taught from birth, if a parent wants to exploit the learning ability in their child, potentially making them gifted or even a genius! 

What negative experiences can do to a child’s development

Studies show that ongoing abuse and neglect in children under seven years of age, will result in permanent behavioural and personality changes, and that these changes can even affect their physical growth and development. The result is that a child could eventually become alcohol dependent, emotionally detached, have negative feelings, be angry, hostile, experience sexual problems later in life, be impulsive and/or a risk-taker.

Parents – school should not start at seven years of age and it should not just be left up to teachers! If you want a well-rounded, happy and even a gifted child, provide them with a loving, warm, happy environment, and use the window of learning opportunity to expose them, every day, to reading, maths, languages, music and other stimuli that will give your child an incredible head start in life! Take a look at some of the Smart Brain programs that can help your baby and child here:

References for this article:

Dr. Gail Gross, (Phd in Psychology, Dr. of Education)

Webmed  – Child Development

Teach your baby to read – Is it possible and should you try?

Babies have the ability to learn languages without the immense effort it takes adult learners. This means they absorb foreign languages, written languages or even sign languages. Babies have rapidly developing brains, which enable the to absorb not only languages but masses of other information, all before they turn 5 years old. To teach your baby to read is possible and will give the child an enormous head-start when it comes to formal education.

The ability of babies to absorb huge amounts of information, is generally referred to by experts as the Critical Period or Window of Opportunity. Skills, such as learning to read and maths skills, can be acquired with no effort on the part of a baby or young child, especially if the method used is a lot of fun, with a lot of conversation and cuddles. Even when babies are still in the babbling stage, they are learning a lot about language by interacting with adults who respond to the sounds they make.

By stimulating your baby you are growing and strengthening the brain and its connections, called synapses. These are all very important in the development of your child’s intellect.

With a strong foundation of language development, as well as conversation, story time and read-alouds, in addition to the excellent programs available here on Smart Brain, children will have a head start in decoding and understanding printed text.

Take a look at this recent study, which show the vital importance of shared reading, and the importance of exposing your child to both a quantity and quality of books from an early age.

Link to reading study here

Teach your baby and young child to read, how?

The best time to start developing your child’s mental capacity is around the age of 3 months, because a baby of this age can recognize very complex and highly variable forms, such as a chair, a table or a human face and there is no reason why he/she cannot learn to recognize the form of a word, which is much less complicated and less variable.

Glenn Doman is the founder of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential (IAHP) and his methods are aimed at helping parents to unearth the amazing and vast potential in their child. He  is the author of the book, How to Teach your Baby to Read, and states in this book that a baby learns first to recognize large objects and then gradually becomes able to classify small objects. Babies can soon learn to recognize words if they are written large enough, according to this author. When two year olds were exposed frequently to naming some object, in tangible and written form, they were found to recognize the these words associated with these objects,  without difficulty.

Again, a baby starts learning in the womb, and by five years old a child has the potential to have learned several languages fluently, including languages in their written form!

Here at SmartBrain, there are several courses to help babies, children and children with learning difficulties. Click on the links, and you will see a review on each pack, information on how the programme works and instructions for parents on exactly what to do. Pricing  very reasonable and the cost is a small price to pay if you consider you are investing in your child’s future success.

Teddy Pack

Cow Pack

Puppy Pack

Bunny Pack

Don’t pass up the opportunity to give your child the best possible head-start in doing very well academically and in life-skills, the effort put in to making these programmes work for your child will be well worth it in the long run!

Literacy Statistics in South Africa – Take a look at these shocking results

According to a December 2017 article in the Sunday Times,  four in five Grade 4 pupils in South Africa fall below the lowest internationally recognised level of reading literacy‚ and South Africa comes LAST out of 50 countries in the Pirls Study,  (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) which shows that after 4 years of primary school education, kids are falling through the cracks, for sure.

There has apparently been no significant progress in improving children’s reading skills since the last survey five years earlier.

“Being able to read is the key to academic and future success‚” said Celeste Combrink‚ acting director at the University of Pretoria Centre for Evaluation and Assessment‚ which conducted the South African leg of Pirls.

“If you can’t read‚ your opportunities in school or after school will be limited‚ which is why reading should start at a very young age.”

Read about the Pirl Study here:

In order to remedy these shocking statistics, SmartBrain’s immediate objective is to train Reading and Learning Therapists who operate from a SmartBrain Learning Centre or Pre-School in South Africa as well as abroad. Once qualified, these therapists will assist learners with their phonics, writing, vocabulary and comprehension and/or study techniques and will provide courses on Early Brain Development, Remedial Training, Study and Memory Techniques, as well as Adult Basic Education.