Your Baby Can Read--But Why?

As reported by ABC News, "Your Baby Can Read" has shut their doors in light of a possible Federal Trade Commission investigation over false claims.  This is a company that preyed on parents; those from a lower socio-economic status who desperately wanted to give their children a head start, those who wanted to brag about their babies' skills, and those who just believed the company's claims.   At $200 a pop, they purportedly made a fortune off of these parents.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association for the Education of Young Children recommend NO screen time for children under the age of two.  However, if parents followed the instructions of the Your Baby Can Read program, their children would be subjected to as much as 200 hours of screen time in their first two years of life through this program alone.  

Screen time issues aside, is the program valuable?  Yes, an infant can be trained to mimic words that they see printed.  But does this qualify as reading?  I can watch "Dora the Explorer" with my Goddaughter and learn to greet people with "hola".  But does that mean that I can speak Spanish?  Absolutely not.  It's the same idea.  Providing a response to a few words in isolation doesn't make a child a reader any more than Dora makes me a Spanish-speaker.

Reading is  a complicated process that combines aspects of memorization with decoding skills.  An early program that focuses solely on memorization can establish some bad habits in young children.  Many of my reading students have great difficulty with the vowel sounds in words; they often just skip over the letter and inserting whatever vowel sound seems right to them.  This is because they see the word as one whole piece rather than individual sounds that combine to make a word.  Memorization is simply not an effective way to learn to read.

The other, even more basic piece of all of this is:  Why would we want our children sitting in front of television screens when we could be snuggling with them and reading to them?  THIS is how we establish pre-reading skills.  We show children how wonderful it is to read and show them the basics of the alphabetic principle--we read from top to bottom, left to right, letters make distinct sounds that combine to form words, and print represents meaning.  I would much rather my child learn that from warm interactions with me than from my television set.