- There are no magical products that are effective in teaching an infant to read.
- Flashcards teach memorisation of words, although this is not bad, it is not reading.
- As a parent, set realistic expectations.
- Reading books aloud each day can do more to expose infants to richer words and more frequently.
You may have seen those phenomenal ads that boast about teaching your baby to read. There’s a smiling mother and a bubbly infant cuddled together in front of a pile of cards. The mother holds up a card and, amazingly, this tiny genius reads the word aloud.
As this scenario plays over and over again, you are soon convinced that these miracle cards are a must-have for your own child. Now before you pull out your wallet, let’s stop and think about a few things.
Is there really a product that can teach your baby how to instantly read like a pro? Should there be such a product? The quick answer is: no. Like the old saying goes, if it seems too good to be true then it probably is. The truth is that early literacy skills develop over time. There really isn’t an effective way to turn your baby into a child prodigy overnight.
Can you teach a baby to read? No, babies cannot be taught to read despite any products claiming otherwise. However, reading aloud a book each night is the single biggest advantage a parent can give to their baby and has proven to significantly improve language and cognitive development at later stages.
Babies Have Amazing Brains
Don’t underestimate your baby’s natural ability to learn. The human brain is automatically wired to take in information, especially during the first 3 years of life. According to the CDC , “Children are born ready to learn, and have many skills to learn over many years. They depend on parents, family members, and other caregivers as their first teachers to develop the right skills to become independent and lead healthy and successful lives.
How the brain grows is strongly affected by the child’s experiences with other people and the world.” Many parents mistake the idea of being a child’s “first teacher” as offering literal lessons and structured activities. The truth is that your baby’s brain is constantly acting as a sponge, soaking in everything that goes on in the environment.
The best way to teach your child is through real interactions, and a learner-friendly home with plenty of opportunities to explore.
Although you may have to wait a bit longer to make use of those handy flashcards, rest assured that your child will develop the literacy skills that he or she needs. When parents talk, sing and play with an infant, this lays the foundation for language development.
While babies don’t actually see words during this interaction, they learn how to connect words with people, feelings, objects, etc. Saying “ma-ma” or “da-da” as you gaze into your baby’s eyes not only introduces new words, but it creates a social bond that those speedy reading programs just don’t offer.
Setting the Right Expectations
Revisiting the question of whether or not reading programs should exist for babies, let’s address the issue of age-appropriateness. The fact is that most children won’t become fluent readers until the age of 6.
While younger children can certainly recognize and even memorize a few words in print, these words have no real meaning. This is because they lack the decoding and reading comprehension skills that are typically not learned until Kindergarten.
So the problem with those get-smart-quick schemes is that they create unrealistic expectations for parents. They present the illusion that your baby is an expert reader when, realistically, they have many years left to achieve this goal.
It is also important to keep in mind that your baby is--well--a baby! Infants have a typical attention span of 2-3 minutes. The idea of keeping a baby interested in a long series of flashcards is pretty far fetched for this reason.
Reading programs can mislead parents into thinking that they can somehow beat a baby’s biological clock. They can’t. Infant activities should be brief with little or no boundaries, allowing little learners to explore within their own time frame.
Some examples include offering a variety of soft blocks, stacking rings, rattles and water toys. These age-appropriate activities will provide more of a baby-friendly learning experience than any reading program.
Learning to Read Starts with Reading to Your Child
Rest assured that if you’re reading bedtime stories to your baby, those literacy skills are already developing. There’s no need for any magical software, apps, flashcards, etc. Babies pay special attention to sounds, pictures and words as you read to them.
This leads to more skills such as print awareness (the understanding that printed words have a meaning), critical thinking, and phonemic awareness (the ability to hear sounds in spoken words). Plus, research has shown that babies who are read to as early as 8 months old have increased language abilities by the time they reach a year old.
Pointing to pictures, tracking words with your finger, and using word repetition are just a few ways to support your baby’s development while reading. Learn more about the developmental benefits of reading to children .
Another important factor when it comes to reading to your baby is the book selection. Babies need books with bright, colorful pictures, large print and a small amount of text. This helps them to stay engaged and participate. Be careful not to choose books that are too long or difficult for babies to understand and follow along.
Board books, pop-up books and books with touchable sensory features are best for the infant reading experience. Keep in mind that babies may not be interested in a rigid reading routine. Zero to Three recommends that parents should be flexible when reading books to infants.
“Let your baby ‘read’ her own way. Your baby may only sit still for a few pages, turn the pages quickly or only want to look at one picture and then be done. She may even like to just mouth the book instead of reading it!
Follow your baby’s lead to make reading time a positive experience.” (Supporting Language and Literacy Skills from 0-12 Months, Zero to Three). Over time, your child will learn how to listen and participate in longer stories. The best way to support this skill is through patience, consistency, and reading at least once a day.
Using Flashcards to Teach Babies
So should you abandon flashcards altogether? While there is no actual harm linked to using the “drill method,” there is also no real science supporting the idea of using it with babies.
Flashcards are typically used for memorization and practice. Babies don’t need to prep for a pop quiz or recite an important speech. What they do need is exploration and real interactions. It might seem pretty impressive to see a baby read the word ball from a flashcard, but this is a shallow learning experience.
Think about how fun it would be for the baby to touch, bounce and throw a ball instead. This is a greater opportunity to not only learn the word ball, but to get a visual and physical representation of the object as well.
Over the years, babies can connect the written word ball to this familiar experience. This will, in turn, help them to read and write even more about the word (i.e. I threw the ball) in later years.
Flashcards are not the enemy, however. Using flashcards as visual aids can be an effective teaching strategy for older children. Toddlers and preschoolers often learn numbers, letters and basic words this way. Flashcards can also be very helpful for teaching math concepts in the elementary school.
But it’s best to hold off on this teaching method for now. Babies can learn just fine without flashcards.
Efficacy of Reading Products
You’re probably a bit confused by now. If reading programs don’t work, then what’s the truth behind those commercials? Are the those baby geniuses from popular YouTube videos part of a hoax? Actually, what you’re seeing is not a bunch of camera tricks. Babies can indeed memorize and repeat words. The problem is that this is not truly reading.
You may recall a popular product called Your Baby Can Read. This program took the world by storm in 1997, leaving viewers astonished by the sight of a baby reading basic words. TV and radio ads for Your Baby Can Read circulated constantly. Eager parents jumped at the opportunity to give their babies an educational head start.
The program was even endorsed by “medical professionals.” Your Baby Can Read eventually sold many DVDs and flashcards to countless parents over the years. This came to a screeching halt eventually when parents made a huge discovery: their babies could not read. These parents soon took charge against the company in a class action lawsuit.
According to the complaint, “scientists who have tested the product’s claims have found that infants using the systems are not reading, but rather memorizing shapes of the letters presented before them.
These doctors and scientists claim that there is no evidence that the Can Read Systems’ memorization process increases a child’s ability to read and comprehend.” There is even an ongoing lawsuits against Your Baby Can Read .
The final verdict: just read to your baby. There is no secret formula to literacy development. It just happens. Keep enjoying those bedtime stories and sharing real magical moments with your child. You may not get those super quick results that you’d expect from a reading program, but the long-term benefits are never ending.