In the morning, I turn on the television to catch the early news while I get ready for work. Often there is an infomercial on about, the Teach Your Baby to Read program. I’m a big believer in teaching young children to read and have done a certain amount of research and development on family involvement and parent teaching, so I’m interested, especially in a program that promotes itself as being produced by a “scholar” in the field.
As much as I want parents to guide their children’s early reading, this is a program I would not recommend; in fact, I would even discourage its use. It is just not the right way to go. Parents could do better things with their money and their time, including actually helping their kids in ways that could get them reading before they start school.
The National Early Literacy Panel conducted a thorough review of research on early interventions (implemented any time between birth and kindergarten). We found no research on this program, and I did a quick check for newer studies recently, and that came up zilch as well. In other words, there is no evidence that this program works.
But isn’t the creator a scholar in this field? Well, it appears that Dr. Robert Titzer does have a Ph.D., though he apparently has never done any work on literacy at any level (the four papers he has published in his career seem to not have much to do with any aspect of teaching babies or anyone else to read).
What troubles me more than the lack of research (most programs lack research) and the lack of credentials (you don’t need good credentials to come up with a good idea), is the lack of correspondence with what we know about teaching children to read.
We know that decoding-based programs give kids a clear learning advantage, and that such teaching can profitably begin as early as age 3 (perhaps earlier, but let’s get some studies on that before plunging ahead). Memorizing words does have a role to play in kids’ learning, but it is a relatively small one. Nevertheless, Teach Your Baby to Read instead of helping kids to understand the alphabetic system and to develop phonological awareness and decoding skills, puts its major initial focus on word memorizing. It’s not harmful to teach words like that, but that isn’t the most effective way to go.
We know that children need to develop a lot of language ability during these early years. The National Early Literacy Panel found that early language development was particularly important in later reading comprehension development. Focusing children’s attention on such a narrow aspect of learning so early on shows a real lack of priorities.
I started working with my own daughters on reading on the days that they were born. I read a lot to my children during those early years, as did my wife. We sang to them to, and told stories to them, and played language games. By the time they were 3-years-old we were writing down their “stories” and reading those back, and we were teaching them letters and sounds (and, yes, some words, too). We got them writing their own names and trying to write stories, and so on. Both girls were able to read before they entered kindergarten.
Parents if you are willing to spend $200 on your children’s literacy development then buy some books (and supplement these with what you can get from the library), magazines, writing materials, letter blocks , etc. But invest more than your money. Instead of locking your child up in a play pen and turning on a DVD (yeah, they really do that), read to them, talk to them, sing with them, carry them around the house explaining everything to them.
When they are toddlers and can talk so much that you are going a little out of your mind, try teaching them some letter names. By the time they are three you can spend a little time each day ( more if their attention allows) working on letters and sounds and words, but just a little (when they wander away, time is up).
Reading is more than just memorizing words; it requires decoding—and that is, decoding words you do not already know how to read. Reading is more than just decoding, it requires decoding text towards comprehending the message. The babies in the commercials are cute, but they are not reading by any definition that I know.
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