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.
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