Can Your Baby Read?

Full disclosure. My baby cannot read. Since he is two years old, I’m pretty much okay with that. Nevertheless, I could not stop myself from wondering if I may be holding his literacy development back once I started hearing about Your Baby Can Read!, a popular infant and toddler reading program.

It seemed sudden and ubiquitous. The commercials were on at the same time I happened to be watching television. My closest, longtime friends reported that they had bought the package, and that “It really works.” A clip in a reality show I watched showed a beautiful, hip, multi-tasking mom using it with her one-year-old and, by golly, it did indeed look like the little one, who had just learned how to walk, was reading flashcards!

The idea of using flashcards with my child to help him read was not appealing to me, personally. I consider myself a book lover — flashcards never kept my own attention while growing up. But I deeply respect my friends’ recommendations and my husband was interested in the program, too. And, of course, we don’t want to cause our pride and joy to be left behind if all the other kids are doing it, right?

A November 2010 segment on the Today show helped me to relax. It featured several child development experts from top universities, such as Harvard, Tufts, and NYU, who said that parents have to keep their expectations in check when it comes to infant and toddler reading programs like the Your Baby Can series. The programs are not necessarily harmful (except maybe for all that DVD screen time that the manufacturers suggest), and can even be fun if we focus on the interactive, quality time aspects of it and not make it the absolute only reading materials we share with our children. Yet, according to the experts interviewed, expecting our infants and toddlers to do anything more than memorize cues on the cards and the screen could lead to real disappointment. The worst that could happen is that we think that our children are somehow “less” for not being able to read as well as the children featured in those commercials.

Apparently, there are some small children who learn to read very early on in life, just as there are some children who walk earlier, talk earlier, and use the potty earlier than others. However, as parents, we can feel safe in expecting our children to become developmentally ready to read around the ages of 4 and 5. Until then, we will do well to build a foundation for literacy by talking with our children, reading to them daily, and playing with them.

In my opinion, if I am able to say, “My first grader can read!” I will consider it a joy, especially if he likes reading the same kinds of books as I do.

Some facts about Your Baby Can Read!

• It was developed by Dr. Robert Titzer, who received his Ph.D. in Human Performance from Indiana University.
• Titzer first offered the program for sale in 1997.
• The program uses pop-up books, DVDs, and sliding flash cards. (A number of parent-made websites and blogs show how families can make their own materials.)

Categories: Books and Literacy