Getting Babies Ready To Read

Your baby can’t read this column, but can they read at all?

Depends who you ask. The Washington Post recently published an article that questions whether the program spelled out in the book Your Baby Can Read really works.

Naysayers pounced on the program created by Dr. Robert Titzer in the late 1990s. While many parents swore their children excelled after using Dr. Titzer’s program, it has been a target of lawsuits and controversy.

In fact, the company that sold more than 1 million DVDs, flash cards, and booklets for $200 a pop went out of business two years ago, fighting claims of false advertising. But Dr. Titzer remains in high demand. He was a featured guest at the New Baby Expo held last weekend at Neal Blaisdell Center.

He says the study cited in the Post is “clearly flawed.”

Dr. Susan Neuman of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development conducted an experiment with 117 babies age 9 to 18 months old.

Half used flashcards, DVDs and books while the other half did not. In 13 of 14 assessments of letter and vocabulary recognition, researchers found no difference between the two groups.

With one exception. The parents of children exposed to the reading product were convinced their children were learning new words and reading. Dr. Neuman told the Post, “It’s clear that parents have great confidence in the impact of these products on their children. However, our study indicates this sentiment is misplaced.”

Titzer counters Neuman’s analysis, saying “she dismissed their results by stating that parents may have interpreted imitation and mimicking as an indicator of word learning.” He went on to say parents know best, adding “three decades of research show that parents are experts at knowing their infants’ language and cognitive abilities.”

Titzer also said the tests were biased because researchers tested the babies primarily on skills not covered by YBCR, such as naming the letters of the alphabet or reading their own names.

So does it work? It’s a hot topic. If you Google “does your baby can read work,” 1 billion hits will come up.

Other reviews suggest babies won’t crawl away reading in the traditional sense, but start the “reading readiness” process through memorization and repetition.

I can’t tell you how many moms insisted I had to get Your Baby Can Read for my son after his birth in 2008. I heard their praise and saw impressive video of infants as young as 3 months recognizing cue cards. That was enough to convince me.

At the very least, it was entertaining and educational.

But I didn’t religiously stick to the program, and by baby No. 2, I hardly ever used it. Not because I didn’t believe, but because you feel less pressure to “start early so you get ahead, don’t get behind” routine.

So is it worth it? Well, when you consider 66 percent of fourth graders in the U.S. read below grade level, read between the lines and make the call.