Do Babies Need to Read?

my baby can readI didn’t have cable TV when my kids were born, which still didn’t keep me from hearing about the amazing ‘My Baby Can Read Program’ and its infomercial from lots of well-meaning people. I needed to do it. All the other babies were learning to read, and my kid was going to be behind in pre-k if I didn’t buy it.

Of course, there are tons of programs out there being marketed to new parents. DVDs that will make your kids musical prodigies, foreign language products, alphabet and vocabulary flash cards, baby workbooks…the list is endless. Did I end up buying or being gifted some of that stuff? Yep. Did it work?

Well, according to one recent study, no. The only tangible results from baby reading programs were that the parents thought their babies were learning to read (spoiler alert: they weren’t).

Literacy is something we all want for our children, so if early videos and flashcards aren’t doing the trick, what is? (Which leads me to another question, does very early literacy automatically equate to “more” literacy? I don’t know. I’ve seen research done on preschool’s effect on later academic success, but not on children prior to preschool age.)

The advice that was probably given to our parents still holds true: if you want to foster literacy in your children, you need to read to them. Try and build a varied and rich home library. Become regulars at your local library. Let your kids see you reading. And keep reading to them.

If you have an older child in school, I have found the Scholastic book orders sent home each month to be a fairly affordable way to introduce new books into our library. Some friends for Christmas this past year did a book advent calendar, where each day the children got to open a new book. Kids can be hard on books, but thrift stores and yard sales (and Internet yard sale pages) can also be inexpensive places to source new reading material.

And honestly, if you want to buy your baby early learning materials, go for it. The NYU study cited above didn’t find that babies learned to read, but it didn’t find that it hurt their development in any way, either.

Meaghan Howard is a temporary expat and stay at home mom. She, her husband and two rambunctious boys live in Japan.

Tags: babies, books, early literacy, literacy, my baby can read, read

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