You've got a precocious baby who seems to love books (chewing them, at least). And you've seen the advertisements for products that say your infant can get a head start on that all-important skill of reading.
But can babies really learn to read?
Not really, according to researchers who took 117 babies and had half the group use flashcards, DVDs and books while half did not. In 13 of 14 assessments, which included the ability to recognize letter names, letter sounds and vocabulary, the researchers found no difference between the two groups. The one category in which there was a difference: The parents of children exposed to the reading product were convinced their children were, in fact, learning new words and reading.
"The results really surprised us," says Susan Neuman of New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, who led the research, which involved babies 9 to 18 months old. "We thought that at least some rudimentary skills would show up, but none did."
Yet several parents say they have seen an effect, and the creator of the product used in the study, "Your Baby Can Read," says that the babies exposed to it probably were reading but that the researchers missed it. "Parents know their own children and would come up with more logical tests than the ones the researchers did," says Robert Titzer, founder of Infant Learning Co., which created "Your Baby Can Read."
Intended for infants as young as 3 months, "Your Baby Can Read" is one of several products that claim to teach babies to read. There's also the BrillKids learning system for babies and toddlers in English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Thai. Intellectual Baby's Web site says its $139.95 baby reading kit (which includes 10 DVDs, two books and five sets of flashcards) can "give your child a head start in life" by taking advantage of the period when a young brain can "effortlessly learn and absorb mass amounts of information."