Despite Media Companies' Claims, Your Baby Can't Learn to Read: Study03/06/14
THURSDAY, March 6, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Read to your baby,
sing and play games. But don't waste money on programs that claim
to teach infants to read, a new study suggests.
Researchers who explored this new twist on early learning
effectively closed the book on the subject: "These children do not
have the developmental capacity to learn how to read," said Susan
Neuman, the study's lead author.
"They don't understand that something on screen is representative of something in real life," said Neuman, chairwoman of the teaching and learning department at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.
Babies cannot read, agreed Frank Manis, a professor of
psychology and education at the University of Southern California
who studies reading and is familiar with the new research.
"[Babies] generally don't understand narratives or stories until the age of 3 to 4," he said, and they don't acquire the skills to translate printed words into verbal words until the age of 4 or 5. "This means that children don't generally learn to read simple books on their own with adequate understanding until the age of 5 to 6 years at the earliest," Manis said.
Nevertheless, media companies have created a range of products
that claim to teach babies as young as 3 months to read.
In the new study, published March 6 in the
Journal of Educational Psychology, researchers randomly
assigned 61 of 117 infants to a program called Your Baby Can Read,
which included DVDs, flashcards and word books, for seven months.
The babies were 9 to 18 months old. The other 56 infants didn't do
When the researchers followed up, no differences between the two
groups were apparent. As the study put it: "Results indicated that
babies did not learn to read using baby media, despite some parents
displaying great confidence in the program's effectiveness."
The makers of Your Baby Can Read contend that babies can pick up
reading skills through its "multi-sensory and interactive approach
to teach receptive, expressive and written language skills
simultaneously during the child's window of opportunity for
Its manufacturer, a company called Your Baby Can, announced it
was going out of business in 2012 amid complaints about the
program's effectiveness and a federal investigation prompted by
critics of the "genius baby" industry. The program, however, still
appears to be available for purchase.
Before concluding that the super-early reading claims are
erroneous, the researchers used 14 measurements designed to pick up
any fledgling reading skills, Neuman said. "We tried to be as
generous as possible. We wanted to look at the full spectrum of
reading abilities," she said.
On the other hand, "we found no negative effects. The language
of children was not retarded as a result of the program," she said.
Previous research has suggested that exposure to DVDs and videos
could actually contribute to smaller vocabularies in babies,
perhaps because they're plopped in front of screens instead of
interacting with people.
Manis said the study findings make sense. "It confirms what
seems apparent to virtually every reading researcher, which is that
babies generally do not learn to read from video learning
products," he said. "There is little point in trying to teach
babies to read, as there is no long-term benefit."
So what should parents do to encourage learning in their babies?
Talk, sing and read with them, Neuman said.
Games can play a valuable role in learning, too. "There are some
wonderful little learning games that are targeted to children's
development," Neuman said. "You'll see a lot of puzzle and shape
games, stories told in lively ways to children that are highly
engaging. Those things are fine."
Even learning apps on computers are okay in moderation, she
For reading activities for kids, see
Reading Is Fundamental.
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