pros and cons of teaching babies to read

Pros and Cons of Teaching Babies to Read

For some it might seem silly to focus on literacy before mobility, but many parents prefer to begin teaching their baby how to read early. A variety of programs geared towards teaching infants to read, starting at 3 months old, begin with flashcards of frequently used words. Although some parents swear by it, there’s no guarantee that early education will turn your baby into a genius. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of early reading programs for infants.  

Pro: Learning to read is supposed to be much easier earlier in life. 

The key claim of many programs is that infants learn rapidly, particularly compared to adults. Ultimately, starting in the first year of life means infants should be able to learn to read whole words, as opposed to phonics. Some entrepreneurs even offer their own children as evidence, providing videos of reading babies. Walking into preschool with a full grasp of reading would definitely offer your toddler a leg up. 

Con: Early reading programs tend to be pricey. 

Some early reading programs cost less than $50, but many also cost as much as $150. These programs generally consist of a book for the parents (so you can understand the program and theories behind it), flashcards, and a variety of DVDs, books, blocks, and other literacy related accoutrement. That’s a lot of money for something based on a theory. 

Pro: You can make most of the materials on your own. 

Once you understand the theory behind a specific program, you don’t need $125 worth of laminated flash cards -- you can make your own with legal paper and a thick marker. Some programs suggest you start with one word in red marker per gigantic sheet of paper, eventually moving on to smaller sheets in black marker. Start with five a day, until your baby “recognizes” the words, and then continue with new words. Be sure to mix them up, so they hypothetically recognizes the word, not just the word order.

Con: It’s difficult to tell when your infant “recognizes” words.

One of the biggest problems with these literacy programs is that, on average, by about 15 months, your toddler should have about ten words under their belt. By 18-24 months, she may begin linking two of those into simple sentences. When you’re working with a six month old who makes mostly nonsense sounds, how can you be sure their “reading”? Or even recognizing the words to some degree? You really can’t, and if he or she isn’t, that’s a $150 bummer. 

Pro: Even if the programs don’t work, you’re still working on vocabulary with your baby. 

One of the best things real research suggests you provide your infant with is frequent conversation. Your child may not actually be responding, but you can pretend they are. Reading books to them, even reading newspaper or magazine articles out loud can be beneficial for a developing vocabulary. So, even if you see absolutely no literate developments in your six month old, they’re still hearing a variety of words regularly and getting to spend a little time with you -- and neither of those are bad things.

Con: There’s no scientific evidence to suggest these methods work. 

Despite the phrase “the research shows” found on nearly every infant literacy program, there just isn’t much evidence to show these programs work. On the contrary, new research suggests these programs probably don’t work at all. New York University performed a study of over 100 children, some who went through literacy programs and some who didn’t. Their conclusion? Both groups’ reading skills were exactly the same. 
Last Updated: December 19, 2017