If you ever have insomnia you might see an infomercial in the early morning called Your Baby Can Read. The commercial features 18 month old babies reading words from flash cards and even a 3 year old reading a chapter book. The website claims “Studies prove that the earlier a child learns to read, the better they perform in school and later in life.” So is it a miracle product or fake?
First there are some outright falsehoods in the advertisements for Your Baby Can Read. For example, studies have actually shown that early learning to read has no impact on later academic achievement
. And some studies
caution that pushing academics early can actually cause regression in learning. Second, the website claims that founder, Dr. Robert Titzer, has published studies. A little misleading. He has published in scientific journals but NOT about infant reading.
However, given all those misleading points, the videos aren’t “faked” per se. Those babies have really learned to say the correct word when their parent shows a given card. But is that reading?
Aellyn learned to do the sign for touchdown when she was only 6 months old. We enforced it by giving her praise by way of clapping whenever she did it and, like Pavlov’s dog, she responded to the reinforcement and spent weeks doing nothing but. Aellyn can also recognize objects (“where’s your belly?” or “where’s mommy’s nose?”). With these same to skills of conditioned response Aellyn could be taught to respond a certain way to any visual cue. Given a few more months when her vocal cords catch up she might be able to actually say touchdown when we show her a football. The letters TOUCHDOWN are just symbols that she could also learn to recognize.
What Aellyn can’t know is what it feels like to sit on a hard wooden bleacher in weather so cold your teeth are chattering. As you hunch over in your coat with a blanket on your lap all normal rules of personal closeness fad away as you huddle with strangers. But not strangers – comrades in arms; fellow crusaders braving the elements for that all important thing – Your Team. She can’t know how you pound your feet to We Will Rock You, not just because it is tradition but because the 3 pair of mittens you are wearing would muffle a clap too much to send the right message to the enemy on the opposing stands. And then you are on your feet! Jumping up and down with your new best friends/body heat sharers! Your Team just won the game with a last second…Touchdown!
Only reading can impart that without the firsthand experience.
Reading isn’t so much a skill as it is an art. Like music or dancing you can “do” it all right and still not get it. And forcing the skill of music, dance, and reading without the passion of the art robs a person of the real power. I want Aellyn to learn that books are like a portal to yesterday, tomorrow, dreams, the soul, knowledge, wisdom, sorrow, beauty.
Your Baby Can Read just can’t do that.
Other ways to make sure you children never learn to love reading (click the image to enlarge):
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