Your Baby Can Learn is a program designed to literally teach your baby to read. The product was actually titled Your Baby Can Read but after a series of legal troubles they had to rename the product. The original product contained six DVDs, six lift-a-flap books and two sets of flashcards.
The basic premise behind the product is it’s a way for parents to introduce language and reading concepts to their child during the “critical period” of language development. The programs themselves are not teaching children the process of reading in the phonetic, sound-it-out type of way- babies brains aren’t capable of such processes. The program is based off of pattern recognition and what they call “shape bias.” Simply put, shape bias means the children learn the words by their shape. This is also the same idea used in speed reading techniques. A baby doesn’t know the sounds the letters in the word “cat” make but they can recognize the word by the shape of the letters after repeated exposure.
The regimen prescribed by the program is to show the child the video once or twice a day, read the books at least once a day and play with the cards as often as possible. After a certain number of weeks the parent advances their baby to the next level. There are six levels in all, with the last level teaching short sentences and phrases.
The program encourages parents to capitalize on the baby’s critical learning period by starting as early as three months. A study at Notre Dame has shown however that reading picture books to an infant has no significant effect at four months and benefits couldn’t be seen until about 8 months old. “Results indicated that shared reading at 8 months was related to 12-month language abilities (particularly for girls) and 16-month language abilities over and above 12-month language scores. Moreover, there was a statistically significant effect of shared reading on expressive language but not on receptive language. Reading at 4 months was not significantly related to later language. Findings support the efficacy of reading to 8-month-old infants. “ (Karrass, 2005)
So the program can’t hurt right? Maybe. Critics say that screen time should never be encouraged at the infant age. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood released a statement about the program stating: “Research links infant screen time to sleep disturbances, attention problems, and delayed language acquisition, as well as problems in later childhood such as poor school performance and childhood obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics, and other public health organizations, recommend no screen time for infants and toddlers. But if parents followed Your Baby Can Read!’s viewing instructions, their baby would have watched more than 200 hours by the age of nine months.” (Stewart, 2012)
I understand the critics concern. Screen time is not a habit that should be encouraged. But what if the DVDs were used only once a day and the books and cards were the dominant component? It seems that the program could still be effective, although at $180 those are some expensive flashcards and books!
I purchased the program for my son when he was six months old. In the beginning I stuck to the recommended regimen but found that the cards and lift-a-flap books were easily destroyed by my son. At the time the books were made from paper, now the books are more durable board books. As a result of my son’s destructive nature the cards and books didn’t get used as much. I resorted to just showing my son the twenty minute videos in the morning while he had his breakfast. By the time he was a year old we pretty much stopped using the program. My son never performed miraculous reading feats such as reading on his own at two- like some of the children shown in the ads. He did begin reading simple words at three years old though. Today he is seven years old and is one of the top readers in his class. He is in second grade and he is reading at a sixth grade level. If he had the attention span he could easily read chapter books!
I can’t contribute his high reading skills to the program completely, I have read to my son nearly every night since he was born. Last year, I began to have him read to me, so his abilities could have nothing to do with the program. I still feel it was beneficial and even though my baby couldn’t read he seemed to have learned something. I’ve noticed that he is pretty good at word recognition and doesn’t need to sound out most words.
My personal recommendation? If you have money to burn, the program might have some positive effects, but if your baby is already exposed to screen time you may want to reconsider, really it boils down to spending time on enrichment with your child.
Karrass, J., & Braungart-Rieker, J. M. (2005). Effects of shared parent–infant book reading on early language acquisition [Abstract]. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology,26(2), 133-148. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2004.12.003
Stewart, D. (2012, July 16). ‘Your Baby Can Read’ Goes Out Of Business, Broke and Accused of Swindling Parents. Retrieved February 16, 2017, from http://jezebel.com/5926283/your-baby-can-read-goes-out-of-business-broke-and-accused-of-swindling-parents