Sorry, Mom And Dad: Your Baby Can’t Learn To Read

Dear helicopter parents, you aren’t doing anything wrong when your child can’t read War and Peace by his or her first birthday. Or even Jack and Jill, for that matter. For all of their curiosity and intellect, and no matter how many products are marketed to the contrary, your baby just can’t read. Although, interestingly enough, they might recognize when a book is turned upside down and attempt to right it, somewhere around 14 months.

Never fear! Somewhere between 3 and 4, they will begin to master some of the early concepts associated with reading, which is a laborious complex process. Although many programs and parents may have you believing otherwise, most children do not begin kindergarten being able to read.

That doesn’t mean children shouldn’t be read to. In fact, studies have shown that being read to, even as infants, heightens children’s vocabulary, emotional intelligence, and intelligence quotient.

A study from New York University’s education school shows there’s good reason to be skeptical of baby media that promises to teach children to read. The researchers worked with 117 children aged 10 to 18 months and their families; some of the babies were given the Your Baby Can Read program, while the rest received no intervention. At various intervals over seven months, the researchers assessed certain parameters to see if the program worked.

At the end of the seven months, one thing was clear: There was no difference between the control and the variable group. That is, the babies could not be taught to read.

Susan Neuman, one of the authors of the study and a former U.S. assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said she would interpret this conclusion to apply to most programs that claim to teach infants to read.

“I don’t think it’s a problem of the particular product.I think it’s a problem of the issue of development. These children do not have the internal capabilities to learn how to read at this young of an age.”

This doesn’t mean that children aren’t forming rudimentary concepts which help them learn to read or perform other complex cognitive tasks.

According to Science Daily, in the first months of life, when babies begin to hear sounds that make up language from all the other sounds in the world, they can be trained to more effectively recognize which sounds “might” be language, forming the development of the brain maps which are crucial to language acquisition and processing, according to new Rutgers research.

April Benasich, a key researcher at Rutgers University, says that young infants can definitely be programmed to identify sounds more readily if they are worked with consistently.

Young babies are constantly scanning the environment to identify sounds that might be language. This is one of their key jobs — as between 4 and 7 months of age they are setting up their pre-linguistic acoustic maps. We gently guided the babies’ brains to focus on the sensory inputs which are most meaningful to the formation of these maps.”

Benasich cautions that not every baby will grow to be a literary genius, nor should they. Much of our linguistic abilities are inherited traits, similar to how tall we become as adults.

“There’s a genetic range to how tall you become — perhaps you have the capacity to be 5’6? to 5’9. If you get the right amounts and types of food, the right environment, the right exercise, you might get to 5’9? but you wouldn’t be 6 feet. The same principle applies here.”

So, read to your baby, but know that your infant won’t be able to read. Relax and enjoy this time and cherish the unique capabilities of your baby.

[Photo credit to Amy Schaeffer]

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