Products Claim Babies Can Read
You’ve seen the pitch, DVDs and book packages that cost more than $100 will teach your months-old baby how to read. The sellers of these DVDs claim that their learning system for babies and toddlers take advantage of a young brain that can “effortlessly learn and absorb mass amounts of information” – and they even have videos and anecdotal stories to prove it. “Your Baby Can Read” and the “BrillKids Learning System” are examples of these products.
In the last few years, some of these products received complaints from the FTC and class-action lawsuit threats for “deceptive advertising”. Despite these, the creators of the program still insist that their products work, and many parents willingly fork over cash and strive to work with their babies to follow the program instructions.
What are the purported benefits in teaching baby to read?
Parents believe that being able to make their babies read words give their children a head start in literacy. Indeed, leaning to read is a great skill that makes it possible for a child to learn what he or she wants to. Parents believe that by making their babies early readers, their children will be ahead of other kids in intellectual development, and consequently in success in life.
“Tiger parents” also believe that kids learning to read words early will provide stimulation that will accelerate brain development. This, so far, is not supported by science.
Other parents just want their babies to master the feat of reading words, which will make them proud, and will be a source of affirmation that they are parents who are bringing up talented children. It will also a great feeling to show off their babies’ skills to friends and relatives.
Some parents, having limited time they can devote to their babies because of their work, face pressure to make the most of their “quality time” by attempting to “teach” them, instead of just sitting with them.
Can babies really learn to read?
A study by New York University compared a group of babies aged 10 to 18 month who used flashcards, DVDs and books to those that did not, and found that there was no difference in the reading ability of both groups. The researchers did not see a difference in recognizing letter names, letter sounds, vocabulary, words identified on sight and reading comprehension – skills that are associated with actual reading. The only difference is that the parents of babies who used the reading product were convinced that their babies were actually reading.
Susan Neuman, who led the research, doesn’t believe that babies can read, because the babies are not developmentally prepared to learn how to read. She thinks that the use of the baby reading products is a waste of time and money.
According to Wiley Blevins, an expert in teaching early reading, the earliest he has ever seen a child actually learn to read – combining letter sounds and putting them together into a word – is 4 years old. He says that what babies who are “reading” do is seeing words as pictures.
“It’s not what we in the academic community would say is reading because it’s not transferable.”, says Blevin, “It relies on what you’ve memorized,” Blevins says. “It could be a smudge on the page reminds them that it’s the word ‘cat.’ ”
According to play and parenting psychologist Dr. Amanda Gummer, “Proper literacy involves more than just reading — you also need comprehension and communication skills — ideally verbal and written. The big question for me is whether a comparable level of comprehension is developing at the same time.”
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Why driving baby to read early may be harmful.
Dr. Gummer also fears that pushing a child to read early can put him or her off for good. If children concentrate on reading too early, other areas of development may suffer. She also fears that babies might be stressed when they should be having fun and learning through play.
Psychologist Professor David Elkind, is worried that very young children who are taught to master a tricky skill such as reading too early might not be able to cope, and their parents might send signals to children that they are failures.
Instead of Pushing Babies To Read, Do These Instead
It is understandable for parents to push kids to be the best they can be, starting with teaching them to read while still a baby. However child psychologists say that they are not developmentally prepared for it.
However, there are activities that deliver the same benefits – cognitive development, early reading skills and in the long run, reading performance – that parents are trying to give their babies when they try to teach them to read words early. These are activities with babies’ brains are ready for, and in fact are craving for:
- Read books to your baby – Reading books in a stress-free manner, and in a way that he enjoys promotes emotional bonding, and gives him a positive impression of reading. This results in encouraging him to read in a way that he is able to manage the pace of reading development himself.
According to a study published in Pediatrics, children who had been exposed to home reading showed significantly greater activation of a brain area that is “all about multisensory integration, integrating sound and then visual stimulation,” according to Dr. John S. Hutton, the lead author and a clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Reading to your child builds brain networks that will serve him long-term when he transitions from verbal to reading, among other benefits.
Another study from the NYU Langone Medical Center suggests that the quantity and quality of book reading in early infancy predicts the size of a child’s vocabulary and early literacy skills like name writing, beginning sound awareness and early reading skills.
- Talk to and interact with your child – Talking to your child has a lot of benefits, among them is being able to build vocabulary and gaining actual understanding of words in their context.
Speaking to your baby fires up those important synapses in the part of her brain that handles language. The more words she hears, the stronger those mental connections get. That process can strengthen your child’s future language skills and her overall ability to learn.
A study published in Pediatrics found that toddlers whose parents spend a lot of time talking and listening to them have better language skills and higher IQ a decade later. It also suggests that greater conversational turns are more important for developing brains than simply being exposed to words.
- Play with your baby and let your child play– Playing with your baby involves talking and engaging with him, which helps him develop early language skills and build his brain.
A 2007 study from the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the University of Washington found that toddlers who played with blocks scored higher on their language assessment. The study’s authors theorized that block play may have replaced other activities that don’t encourage language development (such as television and baby DVDs) and may even improve attention capacity.