Moms Columns & Blogs

Study: babies can't learn to read

Written by Jane Henderson

St. Louis Post-Dispatch


Experts have warned for years against spending money on a program called "Your Baby Can Read!" []But parents still don't seem to believe them: More than 1 million have bought the program, which with DVDs and flashcards costs about $150. It says that babies as young as 6 months old can start learning to read.

A "Today" broadcast (see the clip) in 2010 warned parents that the little rugrats were just memorizing pictures of words:Dr. Nonie Lesaux, a child development expert at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education told "Today":

"They memorize what's on those cue cards ... It's not reading.""It's an extraordinary manipulation of facts," said Dr. Maryanne Wolf, director of Cognitive Neuroscience at Tufts University.

This year, researchers are still trying to save parents the money of buying cue cards for kids in diapers. A recent study involved 117 babies. Half of the group used DVDs, books and flashcards and half did not. The Washington Post (see story) said:

"In 13 of 14 assessments, which included the ability to recognize letter names, letter sounds and vocabulary, the researchers found no difference between the two groups. The one category in which there was a difference: The parents of children exposed to the reading product were convinced their children were, in fact, learning new words and reading.

"'The results really surprised us,' says Susan Neuman of New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, who led the research, which involved babies 9 to 18 months old. 'We thought that at least some rudimentary skills would show up, but none did.'"

Some parents disagree, swearing their babies can read. The Washington Post wrote:"The 'Your Baby Can Read' Web site cites 14 studies and reports attesting that the program works, though none have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.Of course that doesn't mean parents shouldn't cuddle with babies while reading them books. The babies love the closeness, may learn new words, and like the pictures (and how some board books taste).

Reading to babies helps them learn to enjoy books. Just realize it normally takes 4-6 years before they are ready to read to you.

Jane Henderson is book editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Follow her online at and on Twitter @stlbooks.

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