Can baby really read?

via Consumer watch: Can baby really read? on clarionledger.com.

It sounded incredible, and if true, could help parents create an instant future advantage for their kids: What if your baby could read?

In the past few years, a company promised to help him or her do just that. With what was claimed to be a science-based program to help babies as young as 9 months to learn to read, your little Stephen Hawking or Madame Curie could be on their way to being reading superstars before they were out of diapers. Parents’ eyes glistened wistfully at the prospect of their babies digesting War and Peace with their strained peas. But alas, for most, it was not to be.

Soon after its 1997 launch, Your Baby Can Read reached best-seller status. Founder Dr. Robert Titzer’s program used a series of videos, flash cards, and lift-a-flap books, designed to help kids develop reading skills at ages which many experts said they lacked the capacity to do so. Beseiged by legal and scientific challenges, Titzer fought for his claims until he ran out of money and shuttered his company in 2012.

“The complaint alleged the defendants failed to have competent and reliable scientific evidence that babies can learn to read using the Your Baby Can Read program, or that children who used the program can read books such as Charlotte’s Web or Harry Potter by age 3 or 4,” noted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Friday in a releaseannouncing settlement of charges against the company.The settlement prohibits Titzer and/or the company from making any claims or using phrases like “Your baby can read,” or publishing any claims without scientific evidence. It also orders that the company pay $185 million, but will suspend the remainder after the company pays $300,000.

“Marketers and expert endorsers must have adequate substantiation for the claims they make, and the FTC will continue to pursue those who fail to abide by this basic rule,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

So, can babies read? Well, there have certainly been cases in which very young children have been able to master reading fundamentals, but these are relatively rare. Certainly, some kids read earlier than others, and it’s clear that being exposed to books and reading is a good way to create early readers. I know that in our house growing up, books were everywhere, fostering an early love of reading that persists to this day in my brother and me.

And there are many programs out there which can help produce results. Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s “Between the Lions,” for example, helps expose even very young children to books and reading fundamentals.

So, are there ways to help your kids become early readers? The answer appears to be yes, but we parents must have realistic expectations. The first thing experts say is that it’s never too early to establish a connection between your child and the written word.

J. Richard Gentry, an expert on early childhood expert on reading, notes in a 2010 Psychology Today article that, by reading with your baby, you can begin to associate books with what your baby craves anyway … attention.

Spend reading time every day with your baby or toddler. The Children’s Reading Foundation suggests that you read with your child at least 20 minutes per day. Besides exposing him or her to the touch, feel and sound of books and a wider vocabulary, it has the excellent side benefit of being an important bonding time.

Gentry suggests the following:

  • Keep books simple and provide lots of repetition.
  • Use face-to-face contact.
  • Make conversation with your baby/toddler about the book.
  • Use elaborations, make connections.
  • Use affirmations but don’t make corrections or use force.
  • Have fun!

Whether or not your baby will be the next reading superstar, the hours you invest in exposing him or her to the world of words will yield a lifetime of rewards.

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