If you are thinking about teaching your baby or toddler to read you may have come across arguments against it. I will explain why these arguments are wrong. I taught both of my children to read as babies. It is one of the best things you can do for your kids. If you really want to teach your infant to read, don't be deterred by critics who often know little or nothing about baby reading.
Keep in mind that no studies have been done on the effectiveness of baby reading. So, there are no experts on this topic, either for or against. Critics are people who make assumptions about baby reading without any facts to back them up.
It is pointless to teach your baby to read because later readers will catch up
I address this first because it seems like the most compelling argument against teaching your baby to read. If other kids are going to catch up, why bother? First of all, being better than other kids really isn't a good reason to teach a baby to read. That really isn't the point. However, most parents who teach early reading do want to give their child an advantage. Most knowledge comes from reading, so a child is much more likely to have academic success if they have excellent reading skills.
Few studies have been done on early reading (and none on baby reading) but the few that have been done have found that early readers are ahead of later readers and they do better on reading tests. Dolores Durkin did a couple of studies in the 1960's that found preschool readers were ahead. Keep in mind too that about 70% of American children actually read below grade level, which decreases the likelihood of catching up.
My now 6 year old was reading at a 5th grade level in kindergarten. It is quite common for baby and toddler readers to have 4th to 6th grade level reading ability in kindergarten. Kids who start learning to read in kindergarten would only catch up with baby readers if:
- their reading advances several grade levels in one or two years
- baby readers stagnate and don't advance in grade level for several years
My 6 year old currently spends 1 to 3 hours a day reading books aimed at 9 to 12 year olds. As a result, she is building a vocabulary and level of knowledge that few kids her age can build. Because baby readers can read more advanced material than most of their peers, they will likely always be ahead.
- Don't Use Finland as a Case Against Early and Baby Reading
Critics of teaching babys or preschoolers to read often point to Finland because formal reading instruction starts at 7. However many Finnish students may start to read earlier and reading in the Finnish language is much easier than English.
Students in Finland Learn to Read at 7 and Have High Literacy
I address this completely in another article called Don't Use Finland as a Case Against Early and Baby Reading. You can see a full explanation of why this argument is wrong. So I will briefly point out two problems with this argument. The first is that it is much easier to learn to read in Finnish than English. Finnish speakers can gain higher levels of reading literacy more quickly than English readers, so an early start is less advantageous. However, even in Finland, early readers have higher levels of reading fluency later on than kids who first learn to read at the age of 7 in school.
Second, large numbers of chidren in Finland learn to read before formally starting school at the age of 7. One third are already able to read and many others enter school with some beginning reading skills in place. It simply isn't true that students in Finland learn to read at 7.
- Why are Early Readers Better Readers?
Studies of early readers have found that they maintain a reading advantage over later readers. Just learning to read a year earlier can put a child ahead. Teaching a baby, toddler or preschooler to read will likely create a lasting academic advantage
Amazon Price: $39.99
Amazon Price: $71.75
List Price: $99.99
Let Them Play! Babies Shouldn't be Forced to Learn
The nice thing about teaching babies to read is that they don't have to be forced to learn. Babies can learn to read without any effort required on their part. Exposure to phonics, sounding out and sight words is all that is needed. Babies basically absorb written language just like they can absorb multiple foreign languages. A baby can easily learn 2 or 3 languages just from regular exposure.
This is not the case for older children. Foreign language learning requires effort from 5 and 6 year olds. Learning to read is also hard work for older children. It can be boring and frustrating. Many boys have difficulty learning to read, which can set them up for a lifetime of academic struggle. This could potentially be avoided by teaching them as infants or toddlers.
As for the let them play argument, teaching a baby to read usually doesn't take more than 10 to 30 minutes a day. That leaves plenty of time to play. It also frees up play time when the child is school age because they won't have to spend a lot of time trying to learn to read.
Baby Reading is Developmentally Inappropriate. An Infant's Brain isn't Ready for Reading
Two arguments are made along these lines. The first is simply that babies can't really learn to read because their brains are not ready. When evidence is presented of actual babies reading the critic will either say that the baby isn't really reading or those must be highly intelligent kids. Both of my kids were reading before the age of 2.5 years. By reading, I mean easily reading words they had never seen before. My kids are both of normal intelligence. Neither one has shown any signs of genius. So, yes they were really reading and no it wasn't because they are highly intelligent.
The second argument is that the brain might not wire correctly for reading in babies. The brains of baby readers are wired differently than older readers and this could stunt a child intellectually later on. If it is correct that the brains of baby readers are wired differently, why assume that this wiring is somehow incorrect? Many parents of baby readers report that their kids have speed reading ability. I see this in my older child. Isn't it possible that the brains of baby readers are actually wired correctly and it is the brains of later readers that are wired inefficiently? Just like the brain is properly wired to speak a language in infancy but is less effectively in later language learners.
Babies have been learning to read for a long time. A lot of babies were taught to read in the 1960's when Glenn Doman published some books on the topic. There is no evidence that these baby readers were stunted intellectually. From what's known about them, many Doman readers had successful careers as adults.
- How and Why I Taught My Toddler to Read
Free essay from Larry Sanger who started teaching his son to read beginning at 22 months, and by age four, he was decoding text (reading, in that sense) quite fluently at the sixth grade level, or above.
Children Under the Age of 2 Should Not Watch Any TV
Because many babies learn to read completely or partly using a DVD series called Your Baby Can Read, critics attack baby reading from the angle of TV watching. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no TV viewing for children under the age of two. First of all, it isn't necessary to use any TV to teach a baby to read. But what if you do want to use a product like Your Baby Can Read? The AAP actually says the following:
"Discourage television viewing for children younger than 2 years, and encourage more interactive activities that will promote proper brain development, such as talking, playing, singing, and reading together."
This statement doesn't say absolutely no TV. It says discourage TV viewing in favor of interactive activities. But a product like Your Baby Can Read can be used interactively. Parents can sit with the child to help them do the actions and sing along with the songs. Robert Titzer, the developer of Your Baby Can Read recommends watching with the child.
Learning to read in infancy can also reduce TV viewing later on because children who can read will have a fun and relaxing alternative to television. So, the Your Baby Can Read DVDs may actually decrease TV viewing in children.
If you are uncomfortable using TV to teach your baby to read, you can use Brillkids Little Reader, which is a downloadable software product that takes just minutes a day. Little Reader requires much less screen time than Your Baby Can Read.
Critics of baby reading may make you second guess your decision to teach your baby to read. But it is important not to be deterred by these critics who have no evidence to back up their claims. These critics may attack you as a parent for even wanting to teach your baby to read. But you have an obligation to do what's best for your child. If you feel that teaching them to read is in their interests then by all means do it. Hopefully studies will be done at some point on baby readers and we will have a clearer picture of it's actual effectiveness.