Walk down the aisles of any toy store, and chances are you’ll see an assortment of claims on the boxes. Some products say they'll teach babies about phonetics and reading. Some toys claim to help children develop math and problem-solving skills.
But researchers say many claims are just that. Remember the craze over the Baby Einstein series? The videos paired classical music with images of playful puppets, toys and scenery and became hugely popular because they were thought to be educational. After several studies failed to prove learning results, the Walt Disney Co., the owner of the company, offered refunds in 2009.
Despite the Baby Einstein controversy, analysts say some companies have not reined in their claims. Last month, a Canadian company began selling the VINCI, a tablet computer designed to teach babies as young as 1 week old. Its tagline: “Inspire the genius.”
The educational toy market is vast. Sales of toys for infants and preschool-aged children jumped 6 percent, to $3.2 billion in the U.S. last year, according to figures compiled by the market research firm NPD Group.
“I don’t see them slowing down,” said Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children’s Technology Review, a sort of Consumer Reports for children’s products. “There have been dozens of products that have claims, sometimes in the title – JumpStart, Brighter Child, Smarter Baby, the VINCI, Baby Mozart. All these titles allude to giftedness.”