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No, Your Baby Can't Read

By paulabernstein |

early childhood education

Learning to Read?

Have you seen the TV commercials for “Your Baby Can Read?” It’s the one which features babies who appear to be actually reading. It’s a pretty wild sight.

The “Your Baby Can Read” program promises that almost any child can learn to read before they enter kindergarten.

But even if the product works, I can’t see what’s to be gained by teaching babies to read. What’s the rush? Besides, according to NBC News’ “Today,” the system doesn’t deliver on its promises.

As part of their investigation into the “Your Baby Can Read” program, “Today” interviewed 10 of the nation’s top child development and language experts. None of them believed that “Your Baby Can Read” really works. In fact, none of them believed that babies’ or toddlers’ brains are developed enough to actually learn to read (until they are 4 or 5).

“They memorize what’s on those cue cards … It’s not reading,” said Dr. Nonie Lesaux, a child development expert at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Still, despite the evidence that the program doesn’t work, parents continue to fork over $200 for it in hopes that it will give their child an advantage. The company has sold over a million kits.

A hardcore group of parents are defending the early reading program in the comments to “Today”‘s story saying that it really did teach their children to read.

Again, I have to ask: what’s the rush? There is no evidence that children who learn to read before kindergarten fare any better academically in the long run.

What do you think? Would you like to try to teach your preschooler to read?

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photo: flickr/nitdoggx

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About paulabernstein



Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer and social media manager with a background in entertainment journalism. She is also the co-author of Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

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0 thoughts on “No, Your Baby Can't Read

  1. OvertheFence says:

    Well, I don’t agree that no one under 4 can read. My 3-year-old sight reads, and it can’t just be memorization because he sounds out words. But in any case, I agree that it is ridiculous to push kids towards this milestone. It’s not a race, and those that get there first will not do it “best.” All we need to do to encourage readers is limit or eliminate TV, have reading materials in the house, read to our kids, play with our kids, talk with our kids and read ourselves for pleasure. Sounds like a nice house anyway, minus the pressure of “systems” for learning. Sigh.

  2. bob says:

    How else could he write his preschool admissions essay?

  3. Manjari says:

    I love the title of this post. Why can’t people just let babies be babies and kids be kids? There is no prize for doing everything first.

  4. Marj says:

    I’m not sure why memorizing words doesn’t count as reading. It is limited reading, sure, but if you understand it and can identify it in a variety of places, then you know that word, and can read it. I don’t have the program, but I was reading at 3 years old. My parents are both big readers, so that behavior was modeled to me.

  5. IrishCream says:

    I was a really early reader, to the point of ending up in second grade when I was five. I was MISERABLE being with kids that much older than I was. I’ve always loved reading, but having my precocity encouraged so enthusiastically by my mom was ultimately detrimental to my education. I won’t push academic learning on my daughter before she’s school-aged.

  6. Anon says:

    I agree with the comments — earlier is not necessarily better. My parents loved to read, and I just got good genes. So I was reading in the womb. A little cramped, what with all the books, and the experts cautioned my parents against inserting them in there with me, but I was glad to have the entertainment. (Not much to do otherwise, and my parents don’t watch t.v.) Great post.

  7. Sara says:

    My son went from incessantly asking what words said, to sounding out silly 3-letter words with refrigerator magnets, to reading very basic sentences, to reading basically any book he picks from the children’s section of the library. He did all this between 2 1/2 and 3. Now he is slightly over 3 and if he were reading with a class of third graders, I’m sure he’d fit right in – expression and everything. It’s totally bizarre.

    We did nothing to ‘teach’ him to read because I believe it’s not only unnecessary but also ridiculous to have a reading 2-year-old. It has also led to some conversations that I would rather not have had because he’s read things that are way beyond his understanding.

    And I do seriously worry about what happens when he goes to school. Kindergarten is two years from now. In two years, he’ll learn letters? Or be completely out of his peer group for hours a day?

    Sometimes it’s totally cool and useful that he can read all sorts of things to himself, and other times it would be easier if he was just ‘normal’ with the reading stuff.

  8. Sarah says:

    While I think its ridiculous to say that the program works, it is equally ridiculous to say that kids can’t read until 4 or 5. Many kids read before the age of 4.

  9. Triplemom says:

    I totally agree with Sarah, some kids are ready before age 4. It´s the pushing them to do something they´re not ready that I desagree with. Let babies be babies they´ll learn when they´re good and ready for it.

  10. PlumbLucky says:

    I disagree with pushing it at an early age myself. I was an early reader, but that was my own curiousity. I remember asking Mom what words “said” and Mom sounding them out with me so I learned phonics, rather than memorizing what a word looks like. But my parents also declined accelerating me in school because though I could read with the second and third graders…I was a kindergartener who wanted to play with her friends at recess.

  11. luckypenny says:

    Sara – consider putting your child in French or Spanish immersion – that is what I have done with my early reader and it has been great. Enough of a challenge so that she wasn’t bored to tears with her peers who didn’t know the letters of the alphabet.

  12. Black Sheep says:

    I was an early reader (2/12) and read at a college level in first grade. My mom bought us the “Baby Can Read” series and I do use it with my sons and daughter. Both of my boys are visual-spatial learners and were speech delayed, but are precocious with letters and numbers. They enjoy the videos and know a lot of sight words at age 3. I think the sight word reading method is a good one, despite the trend towards phonics based instruction. It worked for me as a kid! That said, I don’t see any reason to rush kids to read either. My kids just seem to enjoy it an it appeares to help them with their speech.

  13. TC says:

    I have a 4 yr old and an 2 3/4 yr old. My almost 3 yr old picks up what the 4 yr old is learning. I’m not pushing her, she’s just participating (hey, we have fun!). So, I think early reading is possible. But, sad that there are enough people who feel the need to do things first or better than everyone else who feel they have to get this product.

  14. amy hughson says:

    CommentsYes, this really works.

  15. Mbaker says:

    While I think my baby can read is a load of crap, my sister taught herself to read without any help from our parents. My son is 3 1/2 and knows how to read. He showed interest in learning so we bought him lots of letters to play and have taught him how to sound out words. He also likes to watch Super Why and have me pause the show before the characters give the answer so that he can try to figure it out. We also play word games in the car like trying to come up with as many words as possible that rhyme with a word and name the opposite. We’ve also started introducing two letter sounds by telling him the sound and what two letters make up the sound. Then we try to name as many words as we can that have that sound in it.


    Another option you might consider is Montessori because it’s uniquely suited to working with kids at their level. In the same room you may have one kid who can read and is learning sentence structure while another kid is learning the sounds different letters make. Because kids can work together or at their own pace with their teacher’s guidance, it works well at meeting each kid’s needs without kids feeling stigmatized because he or she is smarter than or behind his or her peers. Plus it’s hard for a kid to be bored in the classroom because there’s so much neat work to do. My son loves it.

  16. Phaedra says:

    This caught my eye because my mom & I had the exact same ‘What’s the rush?’ thought and many a conversation about what the benefit would be to the My Baby Can Read program (we couldn’t find one except the monetary benefit to the company) I was an early reader that comes from a family of readers and my daughter is an early reader, too. (I did see one comment about challenging children that start out ‘ahead’ in bilingual immersion and that’s exactly what we chose to do for her schooling)
    I obviously think early reading is possible, but I don’t think it is predictive of future success in school or in life. Let kids be kids- it’s shown that PLAY is one of the best ways that small children learn and that’s what we do at home.

  17. Molly says:

    My 18 month old twin nephews can “read” after watching these DVDs…sure they may just have memorized what the words look like (and be able to point them out when spoken, say them when written, etc) but that’s got to give them a leg up when they really do start learning to read. And yes, I do think that’s beneficial.

  18. Molly says:

    And to be perfectly honest, sometimes mommy needs a little break. Having baby watch something that actually engages them in something educational versus zones them out is not bad to have on hand at times.

  19. Jill says:

    Comments I’ve heard it can actually hurt their real reading ability because they have to go back and re-learn phonics and after learning to sight read, it is harder and more frusterating once they really are rady to read developmentally. That said, I have the tapes and they are nice tapes for kiddos, nothing wrong with them, I just stopped the whole “read baby read” thing as soon as I came to my own senses about what it really is.

  20. paulabernstein says:

    Thanks for all of the feedback. My question to those of you who say the program works, what’s to be gained from teaching your child to read at such an early age? Anecdotally, I agree that it’s possible for kids to learn to read on their own before kindergarten, but I don’t think it’s something to push. In fact, I think pushing your kids to read before they’re ready could hurt them in the long run. And, as other commenters have already mentioned, early readers don’t necessarily turn into good readers or successful individuals. For what it’s worth, I was a late and not very good reader and now I’m not only an avid reader, but also a published author.

  21. Linda, the original one says:

    Of my two older children, one read before kindergarten (she taught herself) and one learned to read in kindergarten. There’s really no difference in how well they read now (both love to read and read well above their grade levels.) My third child is in kindergarten and we’ve just started teaching him to read Bob Books.

  22. bob says:

    What you think of your abilities may actually affect what you achieve, so there may be a psychological benefit that could come from a child thinking of herself as a fast learner and a good reader right out of the gate. Perhaps good could come from a positive sense of her abilities, even if the reading skills provide no direct advantage.

  23. Rosana says:

    Ugh!!! I will let my kid enjoy childhood and worry about reading by himself in school. It gives us a good excuse to cuddle with a 3-year old that demands his own space now :)

  24. Marj says:

    Thank you, Black Sheep. I think phonics teaches a basic misunderstanding of the English language. Sound it out is not useful past 1st grade.

  25. lizzy says:

    reading early is a little bit of a curse…i was reading without any assistance by age 3 and insisted on reading every sign on the road, etc. if i couldn’t see it well enough or we went by too fast, it bothered me all day. My brother didn’t read until he was 9 and by the way, he is smarter than i am as an adult. so whats the rush? whats the point? just let kids be kids.

  26. Read Aloud Dad says:

    Reading skills are greatly helped by reading aloud to your kids! Spend time together sharing the best children’s books and there will be a marked difference when the time comes to learn to read.

    Read Aloud Dad

  27. Pumpkin says:

    My son was very inquisitive at a young age – always asking “what’s this say” all the time. I always answered his questions. He was read to every night when is was young. By the age of 3, he was reading simple books. He was tested at 4 1/2 and was reading on a 3rd grade level. He did all of this on his own. Very, very proud of him. He is still a top notch student and earned himself a full college ride.

  28. preggo mommy says:

    My son started reading at 3. Not just books he was read either. He was reading street signs with words like Laburnum Ave and Speed Limit. He has always had an advantage over the other kids in his class because he reads on such a high level. But I do think the teach your baby to read stuff is crap. A child will learn to read when they are ready and I’m not trying to rush my kids.

  29. edro says:

    Seriously? Thats their argument? Its just memorization?! Uhm…if I’m not mistaken when you memorize something you just LEARNED. My son is a freak of nature so I wont expect anybody to believe me let alone compare a kid to mine. My son is a week shy of his 1st birthday and has been walking for over three months and ‘running’ for most of it. We have had the whole series since he was about four months old and he loves it. He will bring the cards and books to me and fuss at me until I go over them with him. He makes sounds in tone with the songs and even says hi and bye while waving to his dvds in the set. If I could teach him how to get off of our bed safely before he could crawl effectively then I know he is capable of much more. I tell him to clap, grab his ear, point to what he wants, give me hi-five, and he does it all. hates the word no though, and is real stubborn about it especially when it comes to pulling the cats tails. Memorization is the beginning of learning and my kid loves to learn.
    Dont believe naysayers. Immerse your child in these activities and you’ll see stuff that will blow your mind. $200 is a little steep though and when I saw an ad in Bed, Bath and Beyond this past X-mas season selling it for Half that I was pissed. But what price can you put on giving your kid a good foundation that you had a first hand account of and were responsible for. Hell I remember my 3rd birthday even now after thirty years and I remember all the books I got that day and how I didnt stop reading for weeks. By the time I was in second grade I was tutoring kids in 5th grade on reading. Its not a race. But being quick out the gate sure helps.

  30. Canuckmom says:

    It’s amazing that everyone who commented here was either an exceptionally smart kid or has an exceptionally smart kid…

  31. Canuckmom says:

    I’m glad my kids can’t read; makes it easier for me to hide things from them.

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