The Baby Einstein line of products includes CDs and DVDs of culturally-literate subjects, such as classical music, poetry, and art, designed to encourage interaction between a parent and her baby or toddler. This year, the company celebrates its tenth anniversary. P&C recently sat down with Julie Clark, founder of Baby Einstein, to talk what motivated her to start the company and the philosophy behind its products.
P&C: When you started out, you wanted to create products that offered interactive experiences for you and your daughter to discover the world together. What experiences in particular did you have in mind at that time?
Julie Clark: We did all the things that everybody could and should do with their children — going outside, to a museum, listening to music, dancing, or just talking all the time to your baby. I had come out of the world of teaching literature and art, and I wanted to find a way to expose her to those things.
P&C: What specific activities or books did you use to try to accelerate your daughter’s learning about literature and art?
Clark: One way was by reading to her all the time, things like Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and all those beautiful rhyming things that could kind of expose her to language the flow of language and things like that. But I was finding that there wasn’t a super-baby-friendly way to expose her to classic things, like poetry by Langston Hughes, or Shakespeare, or classical music.
P&C: Baby Einstein has received recognition from Dr. Toy, Parents’ Choice Award, AMBY, and more. What do you feel is special about your product line that makes it stand apart from other educational toys for babies?
Clark: I think that Baby Einstein was the first time that anyone had really thought about the classics again. That’s why I made it — I was a mom, not a producer at a big company. Prior to making Baby Einstein, I couldn’t find out there in the world of babies — or at least my baby — anybody who was doing this exposure to classical music, or putting the words of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in a baby board book. Nobody had done it before, so I think the uniqueness of our product really spoke to a need in the marketplace.
P&C: The Baby Einstein products are made from a “baby’s point of view.” Tell me more about that?
Clark: It’s almost like putting a camera up to your eye like you’re going to shoot a picture of a flower, say, and you’re really focusing just on that one thing. That’s what I was trying to do with all the visuals in Baby Einstein — really isolate objects and toys and things that I thought would be interesting for a baby to look at. It was funny, because those weren’t always things that people would naturally put in front of their baby. It might be something like a lava lamp, and you would think, Oh that’s dangerous! Of course you don’t want your baby playing with it. But just to look at it?
P&C: How can parents best use Baby Einstein products to interact with their babies?
Clark: That’s always been a bit of a conundrum. Has there ever been criticism? Of course there has, in everything. [Critics say things like] It’s a video for a baby, that’s terrible, that’s terrible. But the reality is, a video can be very much like a book. For example, if you hand a baby a board book and you leave the room, it doesn’t do any good for your baby. It’s exactly like a video. If you put in the video and leave the room, it’s not doing your baby the kind of good that we’re trying to do. We’re trying to use it as you should use a book. Earlier on, I coined the term “video board book,” and that’s really what it was supposed to be, right down to having a video screen that has page turns in it so it was just like a book. The goal was to have a parent sit with their child in their lap as if they were reading a book together, but this particular book had a multi-sensory approach. It had images that moved, it had sound, it had music. So it wasn’t better than a book, it was just an extension of what a book is.
P&C: What might you say to a parent who is considering using Baby Einstein, but is curious about how they might play a part in the learning process?
Clark: Our goal was really to make something that parents and children could do together, just like reading a book. So you sit with your baby in your lap, you look at the pictures and talk about them, just like you do when you have a book in front of you. So that was really the goal. The music added the element of being able to dance with your baby, or clap your baby’s hands to the rhythm. All these things that we know are really good for children to do.
P&C: What is your response to those who say that babies don't “need” toys for enhanced development?
Clark: I don’t think that it means if you don’t have toys, you’re not going to develop. Of course you are. But I think, like everything, if you can give your child things that they enjoy, that’s a good thing. They’re enjoying them. So should a baby sit in the kitchen and stack pots and pans and bang spoons together? Absolutely!
P&C: What’s the best parenting advice you have ever given or received?
Clark: It’s probably changed over the years, and I’ll tell you what it is right now. It’s probably really clichéd, but my kids are now 13 and 11. I just picked up my older daughter from three weeks away at camp, and what I’m constantly saying to people is to love it. Love every second. Now that they’re no longer babies, I miss that close dependence, that love, that utter awe of you, that you are everything to this child, and that’s just a really amazing place to be. They just love you so much, and I guess my best advice is to remember that. I know it’s really hard when you’re in the middle of it and there’s a poopy diaper on the airplane or something worse; but there’s going to be a time when they’re out on their own and you’re proud of them, but you also kind of miss the little baby part of them too. That, for me, is a huge one.