by Robert C. Titzer, Ph.D.
1. Why should parents consider teaching their babies to read?
Reading may be the most important skill a child learns. Reading helps children succeed in school and in life1,2,3,4,5. Babies have a natural “window of opportunity” for learning language where it is easier to learn language skills at a higher level. The traditional view on reading is that it is a difficult skill to learn after the child has learned to understand language and talk. A newer theoretical perspective is that this window of opportunity (from about birth to about age four) also applies to written language6,7,8,9,10.
The long-term studies on the topic show large benefits for children who are taught to read early compared to children who are taught to read at traditional ages1,2,3,4. The earlier a child is taught to read, the better the child reads – even when researchers controlled for IQ and socio-economic status2. This effect does not go away after a few years. In longitudinal studies children who were taught to read earlier stayed ahead of their same-IQ, same socio-economic status peers who were taught later. The children who were taught later never caught up to their peers.
The earlier a child is taught to read, the more likely the child will enjoy reading2. People who enjoy reading tend to read more than people who don’t enjoy reading. In studies on Your Baby Can Read!, parents report that their children enjoy the program11,12,13.
More language synapses (or new brain connections) are forming during infancy than later in childhood14. Most of brain development occurs in the first two years of life. Maybe better questions are
“Why would we wait to teach reading until after the window of opportunity for learning language has passed?” or
“Why would we not teach reading early when long-term studies show that children who learn to read before entering school do better than children who are taught at traditional ages?”
- Children who learn to read prior to entering school reap lasting, potentially life-changing benefits, according to the longitudinal research on early reading1,2,3,4,5.
- Babies are great at learning language skills and infancy is the best time to learn them. Infancy is when babies are learning to understand and say words and it is when they can easily learn other languages15.
- Infants have more new synapses, or brain connections, related to language learning at 4 months of age than they will have at age 3 years or later14.
- About 75% of the mass of the brain is formed by age two. Reading is such an important skill and since your child’s brain is developing at such a rapid rate – especially for language learning – it makes sense to start early in life instead of waiting until age 5 when about 90% of your child’s brain will be developed.
- Durkin’s longitudinal research shows that the earlier a child is taught to read, the more likely the child will enjoy reading2.
- Data show that the current methods of teaching reading are not working well16. It could be because there are 20 or so students per class trying to learn to read at the same time with one teacher. Or it may be because waiting until your child is in school means that the vast majority of the brain is already developed before learning to read.
- It’s so important to teach your child to read by the end of first grade. If a child cannot read at grade level by the end of first grade, fewer than one-in-eight ever catch up to read at grade level again18. It may be risky to wait because using traditional methods to teach reading about 39% of 8-year-old Americans cannot read independently, according to US government statistics.
- In other areas of language acquisition, parents have learned that it’s easier to learn language skills at a higher level earlier in life than it is later in life. Babies and toddlers learn to understand language and speak naturally by listening to language. When babies consistently hear a second language, they learn to understand and speak the language naturally without having to make an effort. If babies are allowed to see the language, it is also possible to learn written language naturally. Parents would never imagine waiting until age 5 or 6 to speak to children and we believe if parents read the longitudinal research on early reading, they would not wait until age 5 or 6 to allow their children to see language.
- Early in life, children learn the patterns of language more easily than they do later in life. In other words, children figure out to add an ‘s’ onto words to make them plural or an ‘ed’ onto words to make them past tense. They learn this by listening to language. We know that they learn the patterns of language because they sometimes apply the patterns to words that don’t follow the pattern. In other words, the child may say “I goed over there.” instead of “I went over there.” because they learned the pattern of adding an ‘ed’ onto words to make them past tense. They learn this simply by listening to language. When people learn English later in life, they learn by rules instead of easily figuring out the patterns of the language. If babies and toddlers are allowed to see the language at the same time they hear the language, it is possible to learn the patterns of written language (phonics) just as naturally and easily6,7,.
- Generally, when people learn patterns of language early in life they learn language more naturally than people who learn by rules later in life. We currently wait until more than 90% of the brain is developed (around age five or six) to teach reading. By that age, learning to read becomes a difficult skill that is learned by rules (instead of learned naturally by seeing the language and figuring out its patterns).
- Reading is fun for babies and toddlers. Many parents have told us that some of their best memories are listening to their babies, toddlers, or young children read to them.
- Baby brains develop faster than older children’s brains. Tens of thousands of new connections form every second in a baby’s brain. If the child is watching an entertainment-based DVD or TV show, many of those connections will not have a large value.
- The current teaching methods and ages when youth are taught are not working for millions of children. About 66% of 4th graders cannot read at grade level in the US16.
- If a child cannot read at grade level at the end of first grade, fewer than one in eight ever catch up to read at grade level again17. In some U.S. states, over half of the children are reading below grade level. According to the ACT exam, only 44% of American high school students have met the benchmarks in reading of what should have been learned in high school18. This means the current methods are not working for about 56% of Americans using this standard. Using a higher international standard, only about 15% of American adults learn to read at an advanced level.
- A national panel of reading specialists and early childhood educators stated that most of our nation’s reading problems could be eliminated if we started teaching reading earlier and if we did a combination of phonics and whole language (instead of only one or the other). We do both of these with our program.
- According to a theory of brain development19, using multi-sensory learning should lead to more elaborate connections in the brain compared to learning through one sensory system. The traditional approach of babies learning language by ear can be complimented by allowing babies to also learn language with their eyes and by touching body parts or doing physical actions while learning. This is the approach Your Baby Can Read uses. For example, if your child sees the word “waving” in the YBCR video, connections should form from the visual cortex (because the child is looking at the word) to the auditory cortex (because the child is listening to the word) to the somatosensory cortex (because the child waves) to Broca’s area for speech (because the child says the word) to the areas of the brain related to the meaning of the word (because we explain the meaning of each word). Additionally, there should be connections among all of these areas in the baby’s brain19. Since a child’s brain has more neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change or modify based on the environment) early in life, it is possible the brain will develop more efficiently for reading. So it is theoretically possible for a child to read as naturally as she or he understands spoken language6,7,8,20.
- Better readers are more likely to stay ahead in school and to do well in school1. Poorer readers are more likely to do poorly in school or to drop out.
- Children who struggle with reading generally have lower self-esteem21.
- Reading level at age seven has long-term effects on the person’s life – even 35 years later5 independent from the child’s IQ at age 7, the child’s socio-economic status at age 7, or other factors.
- Learning to read prior to age 5 has long-term benefits for children1,2,3,4,20.
- Infants are great at figuring out patterns. In research settings babies figure out patterns quickly22. Babies figure out grammar without being told the rules. It is possible for babies to figure out phonics without being given complicated rules20,6,7,8,9.
2. What is this video about?
The Your Baby Can Read! DVDs are multi-sensory, interactive, and designed to teach receptive, expressive, and written language. These DVDs allow children to see language at the same time they hear it in a fun, entertaining way. The videos use animals, babies and young children, objects, body parts, and physical actions to teach babies and toddlers language skills. They use songs and poems and video images that are interesting to young children. We try to help the children develop an association between written words, their sounds, and their meanings. We also encourage the children to interact with the videos by answering questions or doing physical actions related to the words.
3. How does it work?
Basically, we use a multi-sensory and interactive approach. The children are allowed to see words at the same time that they hear them as an arrow moves from left to right, then we show and tell the children the meanings of the words. Often, we ask children to do actions or answer questions related to the words. Since infants and toddlers have more new synapses (brain connections) related to language acquisition than older children14, they have tens of thousands of these new connections forming as they see and hear the words simultaneously. Just like babies learn what the words sound like, they can also learn what the words look like. We are teaching written language at the same time children are learning to say and understand words.
Imagine you are a 2-month-old infant who doesn’t understand a single spoken word. You would hear a series of sounds and not even initially know which sounds and have to determine what they mean. One of the first tasks you would need to learn is determining that there are individual words. When people speak naturally, one word generally flows into the next. The babies who are only allowed to hear the language and not allowed to see language would obviously be at a disadvantage in figuring out where words begin and end. For example, infants who see the word “clapping” while they hear it would have additional information about where the word begins and ends compared to babies who only hear the word. By the way, this could be one of the reasons why babies and toddlers who consistently use Your Baby Can Read! learn to understand more words23,24 compared to same-socio-economic status babies and toddlers who do not use our program – the additional visual information may be helping the babies figure out their first words earlier.
So, with this approach, infants are able to see and hear words instead of only hearing them. Additionally, we encourage children to participate by saying the words and by doing physical actions that help them learn the meanings of the words. We encourage children to say words while they are looking at the same words. We ask the children to clap, wave, point, touch body parts, and so on. Multi-sensory learning has been shown to be superior to simply presenting the information in one sensory modality and it is generally more fun!
4. Does your video series teach phonics?
Yes. In phonics-based languages, the program is designed to teach phonics as well as whole words. We have sections of the DVDs that are designed to teach phonics. We even have Sliding Phonics Cards made specifically to teach phonics in a fun, interactive way.
Remember, infants and toddlers naturally learn patterns of our spoken language by listening to people talk. Three-year-old children may say, “I swimmed yesterday.” instead of “I swam yesterday.” because they figured out the pattern of adding an “ed” onto words to make them past tense. Young children who watch our videos may learn patterns of written language, or phonics, in a similar way to how they learn patterns of spoken language6,7,8,9,20 after they learn to read many words. In other words, they may learn to recognize that words beginning with the letter “d” make the ‘d’ sound after they learn to read many words that contain the letter “d”. For more information on teaching phonics, please read Early Literacy Milestone 6 – Learning Phonics.
5. Why should parents have their babies watch educational videos instead of watching entertainment-based programs?
Babies and toddlers have tens of thousands of new connections forming in their brains each second. During this short time, we don’t think it is appropriate for babies to watch entertainment-based videos. The research is clear that the content – in other words, what the babies are actually watching – is extremely important.
We believe five conditions should be met in order to show television to babies:
- The DVD or TV show should be interactive – not passive.
- The DVD/TV show should be multi-sensory. In other words, what the baby sees and hears should go together. What the babies see and hear go together logically in YBCR, and we encourage the babies and toddlers to say the words and do physical actions related to the words. This multi-sensory approach is very important because infants and toddlers have thousands of new brain connections – called synapses – forming every second. Many of these new connections go from the visual cortex to the auditory cortex and to and from the somatosensory cortex if the babies do some action related to the word being shown. Many of the other baby DVDs actually show babies images while playing sounds (usually classical music) that do not go with those images. This means that the new synapses forming in the brain would not go together in a logical way.
- The DVD/TV show should actually teach children something with lasting value. Many of the TV shows or baby videos only entertain the baby and do not teach much content. If you can’t tell what the child could learn from watching a video, it may be because there isn’t much content being taught.
- The DVD or TV show should use spoken and written language and/or music (mostly with lyrics). Babies have a “window of opportunity” for learning language skills. According to research published in “From Neurons to Neighborhoods” the number of synaptic connections related to language acquisition peaks before 11 months of age14. Hart and Risley (1984) did a landmark study25 showing that the most important factor correlated with a child’s vocabulary later in childhood, was the number of words spoken to the child by age 3. This was more important than the parents’ IQs, socio-economic factors, or the child’s IQ. The DVDs or TV shows could teach language skills (or important musical skills) when caregivers are not talking with the baby. In other words, if you are full of energy and want to teach your baby language skills, then do the teaching yourself. You may want to use the DVDs in other situations.
- The DVD or TV show should be better than other options available to the parent. If you are busy on the phone, cooking, cleaning, attending to another child, or otherwise occupied and not paying the ideal amount of attention to your baby, then a DVD may be a better option for your child as long as the first four conditions are met. If you are full of energy and you have free time, then obviously it would be better for you to lovingly interact with your baby while talking to your baby as much as you can. If you are tired – but not that busy – you could sit with your baby and interact while you watch the DVD together. Obviously, your baby should enjoy the experience of watching the DVD or TV show or you should find an alternative option.
All television programming is not the same. As adults, we know that if we watch a reality TV show that we are watching an entertainment-based show and we aren’t likely to learn much of lasting value. We could also watch programs that are designed to educate or inform us. The same is true for babies where the program can simply entertain the baby or it could possibly help the child’s vocabulary or teach something with a lasting value. The main difference is that babies’ brains are developing much more rapidly than adults’ brains, so it is more important to make better use of your baby’s time since about 75% of the mass of the brain is formed by age two.
6. I already read to my child – so isn’t that about the same as doing your program?
Reading to your child is a fun, positive activity that teaches vocabulary skills; however, reading to young children doesn’t teach them to read. The reason is primarily that children are not looking at the text as the parents are saying the words in most cases. A study in Psychological Science (Nov., 2005) shows that the average preschooler spends about 5 seconds per book26 focused on looking at the words when parents are reading to them. The rest of the time was spent looking at the pictures or not even looking at the book. The authors of the study said that parents should not expect that reading to their children will teach them to read. Most books for children have small words and big pictures. The Your Baby Can Read! Lift-the-Flap Books have very large isolated words and they can be used to teach reading.
I recommend two types of reading to children – one where you simply read for the love or joy of reading where you are not trying to teach reading and one designed to teach reading. It is easy to turn the typical “read to your child” experience into a “fun, learning to read” experience once your child learns to read a few dozen words. More info. on this topic is available in the Early Literacy Milestones (see Milestones 4, 7, and 8).
7. Will older children benefit from the videos?
Yes. Children who are aged 3 to 5 also learn reading skills from using YBCR11,12. Long-term studies show that the earlier the child is taught to read, the better the child reads – even when IQ and socio-economic factors are controlled2. The children who were taught to read earlier read better than the children who were taught later. Similar to learning a second language, it is easier to learn at a high level early in life than it is later in life. We have had many children who are five or six years old who learned to read using our videos. Often, children who are age four or older will go through the videos at a faster pace than babies and toddlers. This is explained in more detail in the Parents’ Guide.
8. Do children like watching your videos?
In general, yes. There are three studies that asked this question and the answer is overwhelmingly “yes.” In a completely independent study conducted at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, 60% of the children “loved” it and another 25% “definitely liked it” meaning about 85% liked or loved it. Only 5% “sort of liked it” and 10% did not like it. We have tips for children who are not focused on the videos and we do our best to help parents in those situations. Most of the children also enjoy the Sliding Word Cards and the Lift-the-Flap Books as well as the word games. We highly recommend that you reduce the entertainment-based television viewing for your child early in life whether or not you are using our programs. This often helps increase the child’s interest in the DVDs because if the child is not watching much TV, then it is more of a novel experience.
9. How long do you recommend children watch the video?
Please read the recommended viewing schedules for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers here. Briefly, your child can watch in short intervals of 5 to 10 minutes or longer sessions depending on your child’s interest and your schedule. The entire series of five DVDs takes at least 7 months to complete for most children.
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