Can Babies really learn to read?

baby book

reading programs for babies

There are lots of reading programs on the market aimed at teaching babies and toddlers.  Is it really possible to teach a baby to read and should you do it?  Here is our roundup of the current research on reading in infancy!

1.  Reading is not the same as memorising.  We all know young children who can ‘read’ a stop sign or the logo of McDonalds.  But does this mean that they can also read ‘stop’ on a printed page when it is not on a red hexagonal background?  This article explains how babies can memorize but this is not ‘reading’ per se.

2. What about flashcards or DVDs with words?  There are plenty of cute DVDs with music and printed words on the screen.  Is this any harm if my baby loves them?  What about flashcards with the name written on them – is it ok to drill these every day with my baby?  Read this randomised controlled trial of a DVD experiment with babies.  This second article also talks about DVDs and screen time which have shown no benefits in reading knowledge, despite their popularity.

3.  Are marketers of these reading programs relying on ‘parent guilt’.  Read more here about trying to keep up in today’s competitive world. 

4. There is a lot for babies to learn about before reading too!  Reading is built on top of oral language not before it.  So if a baby is not learning words verbally then there is nowhere for the reading to hinge on to.  What do babies need to learn first?   Babies need to learn what words mean, they need to read people’s faces and learn how to interact.  Read here for more on learning how to communicate and interact.

5. Other researchers are also worried about how early we are introducing young children to school type learning.  Toddlers and preschoolers learn through touching things, playing outdoors, taking turns in games and generally learning about their environment.  Read here for more on ‘schoolification‘.

so what should we do with babies and toddlers?

1.  Have the right materials and playthings at home for learning.  Check out this must-have list for your toybox.

2.  Set aside time to play with your child, on the floor, and with things he likes to play with.

3.  Read lots of books with your child, but you don’t need to focus on the ABCs just yet.  Lots of pictures and flaps and other things to make it interesting are important, as are the way you read with your child.  Mem Fox has some good pointers here.

4.  Remember the good foundations that you are building with your baby will stand him in good stead for learning to read later on!