Sunday, June 29, 2008

Teaching babies to read - who's really the dummy?

Last week on a leading current affairs show a supposed 'expert' promoting the Your Baby Can Read programme. The premise seems to be that babies as young as three months will benefit from a structured daily schedule of DVD watching and flashcard practice

These sorts of things make me both sad and angry. Sad that parents want to co-erce their children into early reading, want to spend time doing this sort of 'tutoring' rather than playing together. Angry that parents are being taken advantage of in this way, and that children are growing up in this kind of pressure cooker environment.

We have known for a long time that yes, babies can be taught to recognise written words early on - by sight not by actually reading. But we have also known for a long time that this doesn't have any long term benefit, and may actually be harmful.

There are many neuropsychologists, developmental specialists, occupational therapists and teachers who are concerned that our current trend in this country of pushing “academics” in preschool and kindergarten will result in even greater increases in the number of children, particularly boys, diagnosed with attentional problems and visual processing types of learning disabilities. Susan Johnson MD, Lilipoh, Fall 2007: Issue #49, Vol. 12

Parents in favour of the programme say that they want to expand their children's world, and open up the wonderful world of books to them early. Certainly books are a wonderful part of a children's life, and being read to every day by a parent is critically important. But children being able to read books to themselves is a joy of a later stage of childhood - why rush this? Why not just let toddlers be toddlers, building towers and knocking them down, playing in mud and water, putting dolls to bed and pretending to put nappies on them.

Steiner children, despite not being taught reading until seven have been widely assessed at catching up to their peers by the time they are nine. Starting early has no long term advantage.

To put it simply, teaching little babies and toddlers to read is a nonsense. Yes, they will memorise the flashcards but so what? The part of their brain that reads fluently simply hasn't been developed yet. Its so much better to wait.


Dawn said...

This trend of teaching babies to read concerns me as well. I really think that it is most often a pride issue for parents who like to be able to tell everyone that their baby can read because they think it makes them look like a "good" parent.

clareb said...

I agree wholeheartedly! Great to read this post.

nova_j said...

yeah the his excuse was that babies are wired to learn learn learn, which is true, but think of all the other things they could be learning in that time rather than what ink blots on a page are?! they have their whole schooling to master that, better to utilise their early learning opportunities with *real* things that they aren't going to cover in school! and no, i don't mean astrophysics ;) things like playing in the garden & talking about what the plants are, and what the birds are that you can hear singing.. beautiful and fun things :)

besides, if they are ready, preschoolers will begin to learn through *living*, without the need to be *taught*..

sweetp said...

Totally totally agree. That segment made me really sad - what happened to letting babies be babies? Memorizing whole words is not the same as 'reading' (with comprehension etc) and I really fail to see the benefits of a 3mth old having daily flashcard practice. (I for one have other things to enjoy with my babies at that age for goodness sake - like cuddles and singing and just being together)
I agree, much better to wait.

Personally I will always let my kids dictate what age THEY want to learn to read. THere is no way my 6yo DD would have waited till 7 to learn to read (have to admit that is one Steiner-y thing that doesnt sit with me well)- I think its important to go where they want to go and she was interested much earlier. If my other DDs want to get into reading later/earlier then we will do it when they are ready and keen. And it certainly wont involve flashcards or DVDs ;)

Anonymous said...

When I read this, I immediately thought of one of my favorite movies, Parenthood .

Rick Moranis is teaching his daughter all kids of incredibly intellectual things, and she doesn't even know how to play. Meanwhile Steve Martin's kids are wearing colanders as helmets and running all over. It's a comedic exaggeration, but only just!

The sad part for me is that these parents are well intentioned. They only want the best for their children. Unfortunately what they consider the "best" might end up with unintended and unwanted consequences.

RunninL8 said...

AAAARRRGGHHH!!! Stupid , stupid, stupid!!!! I my perfect world, EVERY parent should have to read
Miseducation-by David Elkind.
I'm just loving all your thought provoking posts!

sarah patience brennan said...

I saw this segment too and was disgusted. (And that's coming from someone who's child was naturally reading very early.) I don't believe you should *stop* children from learning to read early if they want to, as Steiner recommends, but to train babies and toddlers to read is not only silly but downright damaging, as you pointed out.

I didn't like the argument provided that it's bad for the children because then they'll be advanced in school and will get bored. That's pandering to an education system that you assume isn't going to work for the advanced child (it doesn't, but that's beside the point!) More worrying to me is what is going on with the child's brain as it's being forced to track print at an age where the brain isn't ready for it.

Actually, looking at intellectually "gifted" children who involve themselves in early academics provides a good insight into what dangers there are in early reading, flashcards, etc. There is a high correlation between intellectually "gifted" children and sensory issues, visual processing problems, allergies, etc, which I suspect more and more may come from the over-development of their intellectual faculties at an age when their bodies and nervous systems should have been just developing. (I'm not saying parents of "gifted" children hothouse their children, but so often the children hothouse themselves due to a "rage to learn." This can't and shouldn't be dampened, but balance is essential.)

When I think of all the pressure foolish experts like this put on already-anxious parents, it makes me so cross.

Lizz said...

I am a supporter of academics later. So many children are missing life skills, life learning. Book learning, in my opionion, is a supplement to LIFE!

Gypsy said...

Oh its so nice to have bloggy friends that agree with me - thanks for such well thought out comments! Its just a shame there is no money in our way of thinking, and lots of money to be made from 'baby pushing!'