Jul 02 2009

Your Baby Can Read – Not!

I have received numerous questions recently regarding the latest infomercial craze called Your Baby Can Read. This is a program that promises to teach infants and toddlers how to read, giving them a jump start on their education. Their website claims:

A baby’s brain thrives on stimulation and develops at a phenomenal pace…nearly 90% during the first five years of life! The best and easiest time to learn a language is during the infant and toddler years, when the brain is creating thousands of synapses every second – allowing a child to learn both the written word and spoken word simultaneously, and with much more ease.

This is mostly true – in fact the first four years of life is not only the best time to learn a language, it is the only time that language itself can be acquired. If a child is completely deprived of exposure to language during this time the neuro-developmental window will close.  People can still, of course, learn second languages after the age of four, but it is more difficult and their brains will never be as hard-wired for those second languages as they are for a primary language learned before age four.

But the company goes off the rails of evidence when it conflates language with reading. There is no window of opportunity for reading like there is with language – adults who have never read can learn how to read. And while our brains are pre-programmed to absorb language, reading is more of a cultural adaptation.

The site also abuses evidence when it claims that:

Studies prove that the earlier a child learns to read, the better they perform in school and later in life.

Yes – but this might have something to do with smarter kids being able to learn to read earlier. Also, smarter parents, or just parents in a more stable and nurturing environment, may be more likely to read to their children early. What we have is correlational data with lots of variables. None of this necessarily means that forcing kids to learn to read early has any advantage.

In general studies of neurological development and education show that forcing kids to learn some task before their brains are naturally ready does not have any advantage. You cannot force the brain to develop quicker or better. In fact, it seems that children need only a minimally stimulating environment for their brain development program to unfold as it is destined to.

This further means that the whole “baby genius” industry for anxious parents is misguided. This is just the latest incarnation of this fiction.

There is another layer to this debate, however – that between phonics and whole word or whole language reading.  One school of thought believes that children learn to read by first mastering the sounds that letters make then putting them together (ala hooked on phonics). The second school of thought believes the children read whole works, and therefore can be taught to memorize whole words and the phonemic understanding will come later in its own time.

In recent years the phonics side of this debate has been dominant in the education community. But the whole word group is a vocal minority.

However it also seems that there is an emerging third group who combine the two methods in a practical way. People read by both constructing words from their phonetic parts, an also by memorizing and reading whole words. Have you ever  received this e-mail:

Arocdnicg to rsceearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

This would seem to support the whole word school of thought. However, we also learn new words by sounding them out, and still have to do this for uncommon words. So a blended approach seems practical and is gaining acceptance.

The Your Baby Can Read program is an extreme whole word approach. Infants and toddlers are taught to memorize words, which they can then recognize and name from memory, even before they can understand what they are reading. Critics of this approach claim that this is not really reading, just memorization and association. Some even caution that by taking an extreme whole word approach, phonic understanding can be delayed and the net result can be negative.

Others are critical of this entire approach of forced learning at a very young age. It is more productive, they argue, to give the child a loving supportive environment and let their brain develop as it will.  You are far better off spending your time playing with and bonding with your child than engaged in drills or having them sit in front of a video.

There also does not appear to be any evidence that programs like Your Baby Can Read have any long term advantage. Their website does not provide links to any published studies to support their claims. Regarding the founder it declares:

Dr. Titzer’s research has been published in scientific journals, including the prestigious Psychological Review.

True – but misleading as a Pubmed search on Titzer R came up with only two publications, neither of which have anything to do with learning to read.  His Wikipedia page claims that he has published no scholarly work on infant reading.


While the background concepts are quite interesting, the bottom line is that we have another product being marketed to the public with amazing claims and no rigorous scientific evidence to back them up. This product also falls into the broader category of gimmicky products claiming to make children smarter or more successful academically.

Anxious parents wanting to give their kids every advantage is a great marketing demographic, in that they are easily exploited. But like all gimmicky schemes promising easy answers to complex or difficult problems (weight loss, relationships, or academic success) in the end it is likely to be nothing but a costly distraction from more common sense approaches – like just spending quality time with your kids and giving them a rich and save environment.  What such products often really provide is a false sense of control.

36 responses so far

36 Responses to “Your Baby Can Read – Not!”

  1. piotron 02 Jul 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Don’t you just love when you try to expose something, and Google displays their ads all over your site 🙂
    Great article… as always!!!
    I can’t stand the competition between parents (not children) hooked on those “magical” learing programs. We don’t let our kids play in the first place and we want them to know quantum physics.

  2. PhilBon 02 Jul 2009 at 5:09 pm

    We’ve been playing these DVDs for our baby at my wife’s insistence. Since we didn’t actually pay money for them, I haven’t sweated it too much, but I have been curious about their real effectiveness.

  3. HHCon 02 Jul 2009 at 8:20 pm

    My mother-in-law’s baby could read at 2 and a half years old in the 1950s. Her first son learned the whole word approach and also learned to read from television. He read encyclopedia’s by 5 years old. His principal, an Ed.D, used to give him college level texts to check him periodically for comprehension. He would get 99s on the Iowa Basic Reading Skills tests. *

  4. HHCon 02 Jul 2009 at 8:45 pm

    My favorite reading system was a phonetics system that I enjoyed in second grade. Thanks to my grammar school teachers, my parents bought me a pair of well-needed glasses by 10 years old. Those were very helpful indeed.

  5. taustinon 02 Jul 2009 at 8:47 pm

    In my personal experience, the best way to teach children to read is to teach them to *want* to read. My earliest memories are of my older sister reading to me, books she like (some teenage detective stories). I cannot ever remember not loving books, not wanting to read. In the 6th grade, I was told by the school I was reading on a college junior level. And I was an honor role student all through high school, despite being an obnoxious ass.

  6. artfulDon 02 Jul 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Your parents hadn’t heard about glasses from another source up until that time?

  7. tmac57on 02 Jul 2009 at 10:46 pm

    artfulD-“Your parents hadn’t heard about glasses from another source up until that time?”
    The same thing happened to me, only it was at age 12. I wasn’t even aware that I needed them. Teachers are often the ones to 1st spot a child having vision problems.

  8. artfulDon 03 Jul 2009 at 12:16 am

    I was just curious whether HHC’s tendency to drop in the occasional thought apropos of nothing was in some sense hereditary.

  9. superdaveon 03 Jul 2009 at 12:57 am

    I also became a good reader because I loved to read and that only encouraged me to read ever more challenging books. But it’s hard to say which came first, did i love reading becuase I was good at it, or was I good at it because I loved it?

  10. artfulDon 03 Jul 2009 at 3:16 am

    If, as you first said, you became good because you loved it, you have answered the question and will soon need glasses.

  11. eiskrystalon 03 Jul 2009 at 3:30 am

    Or you could just read to your child while showing them the words.

  12. mpenningon 04 Jul 2009 at 11:36 pm

    Actually, the bogus Cambridge University Reading Test invalidates the whole word method. The letters are not “all mixed up.” In fact, the consonants are in exact order–kind of like we text message. More on this on a blog I posted on this test at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/dick-and-jane-revisit-the-reading-wars/

  13. reinzigon 05 Jul 2009 at 11:08 am

    I am neither convinced nor unconvinced of the efficacy of these sorts of products. It doesn’t matter to me, I think they’re an extremely bad idea anyway–yes, whether they work or not.

    There is plenty of evidence that early reading does not equal better reading in the long run, nor a greater love of reading. It’s just earlier, which seems like a poorly thought through goal, one that makes parents feel impressed with themselves.

    Aside from that, there are broad developmental goals that are important in early childhood that are not necessarily served by drilling children in memorization.

    Lastly, mpenning’s comment, while interesting, is simply innacurate. The consonants are NOT all in exact order, with only the vowels moved around. The first word, Arocdnicg, does not satisfy this claim, and neither do quite a number of other words in the passage.

  14. HHCon 13 Jul 2009 at 12:05 am

    Please note that the poster, otto_ 10 July 2009 12:05pm should have his post inserted here instead of Skeptics Affirmation. The post is relevant to Your Baby Can Read – Not.

  15. mpenningon 13 Jul 2009 at 5:58 pm

    As an MA reading specialist, I’ve seen some crazy fads come and go. My favorite has to be the developmental reading strategy that was quite en vogue back in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s assumption was that poor readers had missed a developmental stage along the way and that the best remediation was to revisit that stage to ensure that all of the synapses were properly hard-wired.

    The supposed correlate was that poor readers tended to never crawl as older babies. The reading therapy? You guessed it; poor readers were put on all fours and made to crawl.

    In your article, you mention the both/and, rather than the either/or option for integrating phonics and whole word learning. I tend to agree; however, the problem-solving approach is important in reading, i.e., readers should first attempt to decode (phonics) and then adjust to whole word (sight words) if the words are not phonetically regular.

    I have written articles on both sides of the coin: Phonics: http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/top-ten-reasons-to-teach-phonics/ and Whole Words: http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-sight-words/

  16. John Rullmanon 16 Sep 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Dear Dr. Novella,

    As a fan of the SGU podcast from the beginning (well, for years – I’ve “caught up” from the beginning), I believe the skeptical movement can provide valuable instruction to people who do not ordinarily apply sound reasoning principles to the the news and marketing information to which they are continuously exposed. I actually don’t care much for the notion of a skeptical “movement;” I think that tends to marginalize an intellectual process that should be characterized as common, right-headed, rational, sensible reasoning (still working on the winning catch-phrase). In any case, applying a skeptical eye to sales pitches is certainly a necessity in our society where, for the sake of turning a buck, things are often not what they are presented to be.

    However, I believe your blog post fails the common consumer who would look to an authoritative voice in the skeptical movement for sound guidance in their consideration of Dr. Titzer’s “Your Baby Can Read” product. You flirt with the real issue to the consumer, but ultimately remain primarily focused on the call-to-arms issue of the skeptical crusader. Worse than that, though, is that you seem to be willing indict the product with no more, or perhaps less, evidence than Dr. Titzer has available in making his claims. And worst of all – if you are advocating the adoption of rational thought processes in everyday decision-making, should you be including common rhetoric in the making of your case? I have a great deal of respect for your knowledge and your discipline of reason; I don’t think your commentary in this case lives up to the standard that I find you to generally uphold.

    Parents considering this product seek the answer, that suits their circumstances, to a singular question: “Is this product a worthwhile investment?” One of the issues to be considered in making this determination is “is there any published scholarship or valid scientific study to support the claims of product benefit?” But to confuse the latter question with the former as being the real issue to the consumer would be erroneous, and is by my observation an error too often committed in the name of the skeptical movement.

    I am the father of a nine month old. My wife and I saw the infomercial for the “Your Baby Can Read” program. I consider myself to be a very skeptical person and a hard sell for the incredible claims of the typical infomercial. Having scrutinized the fine print of the trial evaluation offer, we decided that for the risk we would be taking, the product was worth a look. We are a week into the program, and our observations so far would be interesting from an anecdotal standpoint, but not what would constitute scientific evidence. The jury is still out on whether we will continue past the trial period, but early indications are promising.

    During this trial interval, I am searching for valid evidence of the product’s effectiveness outside of my own observation, and other useful perspectives that would contribute to my own decision-making. Your blog addresses an important question – the lack of published studies or other scientific evidence demonstrating the program’s benefit makes the program’s value more difficult to discern, if it exists at all. But, that there is an absence of studies that provide any finding of product efficacy means that scientific research has nothing to say on the matter one way or another. Therefore, I don’t find a reasonable route to the absolute conclusion that the program does not have benefit.

    I do not see where the company has made claims of benefit based on a “window of opportunity” for reading. Having examined the parents’ guides for the program, I find that the company claims that an early start at learning to read is advantageous for maximizing ultimate reading potential, not that an opportunity for any level of reading ability will be missed. It appears that the “window of opportunity” interpretation was your own leap (I recall the discussion of the concept as it relates to language from a past SGU podcast).

    I entirely agree that the marketing of the product incorporates some breakdowns of rational conclusion. The company fails to validate their reference to “studies” that would demonstrate long-term school or life performance advantage so as to allow a critique of the studies’ design. And I would prefer to not see vague references to Dr. Titzer’s scientific publishing if it is not relevant to the subject at hand. However, I think it is important to recognize the distinction between shortcomings in the marketing of a product and the fundamental merits of the product itself. The former poses a challenge to the determination of the latter, but we should not be led to an unsupported conclusion about any product by objections we may have to marketing technique. And in this case, I certainly don’t see the egregious marketing crimes being committed that would lead to question of the basic integrity or ethics of the company or its principals.

    “No scientific evidence of long term benefit” would be a reasonable skeptics finding to be made from the facts available. Disturbingly, though, you have peppered your commentary with numerous remarks ill-suited to a reasonable critique of the product claims or other available data:

    – “… forcing kids to learn some task before their brains are naturally ready … .” Forcing? This is not consistent with the instructional guidance for the product, and inflammatory on your part. Has there been a determination that the brain of a toddler is not “naturally ready” to begin learning to read? If so, please elaborate.

    – “You cannot force the brain to develop quicker or better.” This is an apparent misread of the core claim of the program, that being that the time interval concurrent with explosive brain development is an advantageous time to begin teaching a child to read, not that you should teach your child to read at this time to stimulate explosive brain development. (An argument could be made that the latter is an implication of the program’s marketing, and such an implication would be certainly be a marketing overreach, but this is not the issue that is of concern to the parent considering the merit of the product.)

    – “… the whole ‘baby genius’ industry for anxious parents is misguided.” Not sure how you would classify this logical fallacy or rhetorical maneuver, but it is untoward of you to imply that any parent who is attentive to the educational potential of their child is “anxious.” Nor do I think it is exemplary skepticism to uniformly indict all products that would serve early child development objectives with a blanket indictment of the entire industry, or to identify them with a condescending label.

    – “The Your Baby Can Read program is an extreme whole word appraoch” [sic]. Extreme? Other than for rhetorical effect, I don’t see the validity of any characterization other than a “standard” or “regular” whole word approach. The program presents a singular approach, but in the materials, Dr. Titzer actually espouses a blended approach, which would “seem practical” by your reckoning.

    – “Critics … claim,” “some even caution,” “others are critical … of forced learning … .” There is a great deal of generalized negative implication, but little or no reliable fact in these remarks. Don’t we as skeptics have an obligation to live up to the same standards for quality argument that we demand of the objects of our criticism?

    As a fan of you and your advocacy of critical thinking, it is difficult for me to read the concluding statement of your blog post. You may not have had the opportunity to respond to your audience’s inquiry with the benefit of an adequate examination of the product, but you should resist the inclination to pass such judgments without due diligence. The product does not offer an easy solution to the objective – the program involves a detailed process that proceeds over many months. How do you get to “gimicky?” The claims are not so amazing – you put in the work to teach a child to read, and they learn to read (in the generation in which I learned to read, a kindergartner that can read would have been pretty surprising). The process, properly applied, actually provides rewarding interaction between parent and child (that much is clear in the first week, before any indication of reading success is seen). Your entire conclusion is a swing and a miss.

    Bottom line is that we are presented with a product that offers compelling benefits in the context of a somewhat revolutionary educational concept, for which there is no scientific finding available that speaks one way or another on the product’s efficacy. So we are left to consider a product based on a plausible notion and that purports to serve a worthy objective – improving the learning potential of children. As an “attentive” parent and an alert skeptic, I would say this product bears further examination. Unless valid scientific study emerges that addresses the product or the underlying principles, sound skepticism has little more to say.

    With best regards,

    John Rullman

  17. Steven Novellaon 16 Sep 2009 at 6:51 pm


    Thanks for your thoughtful feedback. However, I disagree with your reading of my post. Essentially, you seem to agree with my core point – the company makes claims not backed by adequate evidence, but disagree with the form of my critique.

    For example, you object to my use of the term “force” – but you misread my usage. This is not meant to be emotive – I use the term “force” to mean that you can make something happen ahead of schedule.

    You also misread my use of the word “extreme” – again, this was used specifically to mean one end of a spectrum. I understand that the instructions include other techniques, but the core of the program and the way it is sold is at one end of the reading strategy spectrum.

    Further, I disagree that all we can say is that this product lacks evidence. We do have a body of neurological research that indicates that as people mature they reach their intellectual potential, as long as they do no have a deprived environment. Doing extra or early work does not improve long term outcomes. So this is a reasonable default position unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise – which you agree, there isn’t.

    And to clarify – I am not talking about fund of knowledge, but rather intellectual skills, like reading.

    If the program encourages quality time between parent and child, fine. But then you could do this without spending any money on a program – which is what I recommended.

    I also did not mean the term “anxious” to be derogatory. I am an anxious parent – all parents should be appropriately anxious. Anxiety is an adaptive trait. Appropriately concerned, anxious, motivated parents are easy to exploit by making them feel as if they are missing out if they don’t buy some product.

    So I completely stand by my characterization that this product makes unsubstantiated claims, lacks plausibility, is conceptually problematic, and very deliberately exploits their target demographic.

  18. Bonblablaon 14 Mar 2011 at 8:59 pm

    “And while our brains are pre-programmed to absorb language, reading is more of a cultural adaptation.”

    Oh really ? Please add the name of the “programmer” (pre-programmed is, btw, a pleonasm).

    I suppose walking is programmed but cycling is not, and swimming ? is it preprogrammed?

    Now take singing (every culture sings). Is it programmed or acultural adaptation ? (people usually don’t “learn” to sing where they still have to learn to talk)

    Now let us suppose that learning to talk is programmed in our brain. How come we can learn more than one language at the same time ? Was it programmed also ? In the “program”, how many languages were included ?

    By this kind of comparison ab absurdo, you can see that there is no reason to take language for something else that a “cultural adaptation”


  19. Steven Novellaon 15 Mar 2011 at 7:36 am

    Bonblabla – I did not write that specific languages are pre-programmed – just the ability to absorb language. You absorb whatever languages you are exposed to, and there is a window of development for this until about age 4. After age 4 learning a new language is different, and harder, and the ability to learn new phonemes is gone.

    The “programmer” btw (an obvious metaphor) is evolution.

  20. TheChildListeneron 29 Apr 2011 at 1:04 am

    Please see my review of the program here
    http://www.the-child-listener.com/your-baby-cant-read-using-your-baby-can-read.htm – and an updated article should be published with Ezine shortly.

    Firstly lets be clear – babies can’t read. Babies are generally recognised as children not yet walking- not yet ‘toddling’ – and certainly not speaking whole words and using sentences. So at best the program should be called ‘Your Toddler Can Read’. However- as is explained in my review- a more accurate name would be ‘Your toddler can learn to recognise sight words’.

    This program is nothing new- I was doing exactly this (without the marketing hype- or making any money out of it) when first out of Uni over 20 years ago. Long before the program was ‘created’. However I soon realised- before I started to actually review research and work more comprehsively with children who have reading difficulties- that this wasnt actually teaching more than a small percentage to ‘read’ -and was certainly not helpful when teaching the children to spell. Children could only go so far as it was based on memorising words – and didnt give them the skills to de-code- ie break down unfamiliar words to read them- or hear the sounds in words and know how to form them on paper (spelling) If they didnt know the word that was it.

    This program is purely based on the whole language method- just encouraging parents to start much earlier. However this method has been discredited time and time again in research. Mainly because there are at least 20 – 30% of our children who will find it so hard to learn to read- generally because of phonological processing difficulties and poor phonological awareness. (see exact statistics in the review) We need to teach using methods that work for the highest number of children- and this method will not only not work long term for many- but will actually make it even harder for them.
    There is NO research to say that there is a ‘window of opportunity’ for learning to read as the product creator claims. Learning using the whole language approach wont help the children who are going to find reading difficult. It doesnt prevent anything- and in my opinion can actually be detrimental. There is a window for language development- ie learning to speak English – or easily learn a second language- but not regarding learning to read.

    This product preys on the heart strings of parents with young children who genuinely believe they will be offering their children a good start in life. They should read the peer reviewed research and literature- even if they read the official government reports they will see that this method has no merit- the number of children it helps (compared to synthetic phonics) leads us wondering why parents wouldnt just go with synthetic phonics- which is based on our language- and helps children crack the alphabet code. Why? Because no-one is marketing a synthetics phonics program for babies!! If you want one though, I can give you the links for free.

    In my review I offer free information about what parents can do in the early years- that has the most chance of success- and go over what reading and spelling actually is. You can use the info for free- and make your own resources. The greatest resource is YOU.

    Think about what you do if you come across an unfamiliar word- do you look at the whole word- realise you dont know what it is- and stop? No, you sound it out. So if you came across a word like ‘multitudonously’ you would read ‘multi’ first as you know of this as fairly familiar-youd then probably read ‘tu’ (chew) or ‘tud’ and then ‘on’ following by ‘ously’- which you would know from words like enormously. You worked it out using the code- which is also what you do when spelling difficult words. Thats NOT what the ‘Your Baby Can Read’ program teaches.
    In the UK spelling lists now include nonsense words – eg zot- because we are recognising that it is the ability to de-code that matters long term- not the ability to memorise. Children need to learn to de-code- including all the ways to represent the sounds we make verbally. For example how many ways do you know to represent the sound ‘o’. (There are about 7- eg ‘ow’ – ‘oa’ – ‘ou’ – grow, boat, soul) If you dont know how to represent the sound then how can you spell a word you havent memorised, that has that sound? Whole language doesnt teach this- because it starts with learning words- not knowing the parts of words – and how to represent sounds on paper.

    I too had very young children recognising whole words twenty years ago- and astounded parents- but its a party trick! It doesnt teach all children to READ- and parents need to realise that. If they want their toddler to read I can show them how- but it will mean using methods based on our language, where we teach children to crack the code. They will then be not only fantastic readers but also at spelling even the hardest of words. And you can do it all for free.

    Enjoy the review! Please so also read my updated comments following a very ‘disappointed’ YBCR user.

    Also known as ‘The Child Listener™’
    Emma Hartnell-Baker BEd Hons. MA Special Educational Needs.
    Director – ‘Read Australia™’

  21. TheChildListeneron 29 Apr 2011 at 1:08 am

    ps I obviously can’t spell- the word I gave as an example should be ‘multitudinously’ 🙂 I need to attend one of my own workshops lol

  22. ChrisHon 29 Apr 2011 at 11:06 am

    Must have been the fonix! 😉

  23. GPCon 30 Apr 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I taught both of my children to read as infants. It wasn’t anything to do with being an “anxious parent.” I knew a boy who had been taught to read early and I saw how beneficial it was for him. So, I decided to do it with my own kids. It is unfortunate that you feel the need to resort to Ad Hominem attacks against parents who use these products to make your point.

    You are also wrong when you say babies are being forced to learn. I never had to force my kids to learn. They watched the YBCR videos once a day, while they ate lunch. I used starfall.com to teach phonics. Both of my kids refused to let me stop until we had completed the whole alphabet. And this was almost everyday for months. I also made short sets of PowerPoint flashcards that I would show a couple of times a day. Each set took about 30 seconds to a minute. I underlined words with my finger when I read. No pressure was ever needed. They absorbed written language without any effort on their part.

    I think forcing or pressure would actually backfire in teaching a baby to read. If you try to force them, you will most likely turn them off and not get any cooperation. It is crucial that they want to do what needs to be done. Whenever my kids weren’t interested in doing something, I backed off and tried later.

    My first daughter was reading phonetically before the age of two. The second before 2.5 years. My now 6 year old can read 60 page Cam Jansen books in about half an hour. Boxcar Children books take about an hour and a half. She reads so rapidly that I have a hard time supplying her with books. She was tested for kindergarten with a 2nd grade piece that she comprehended 100%. Her comprehension level was most likely higher than that.

    You are right that Titzer is making claims without evidence to back them up. But you are doing the same. I have no way of knowing if there will be long-term benefits from teaching my kids to read early. Only studies will be able to find the answer to that. Unfortunately, no studies of baby readers have been done yet. But I definitely see a lot of short-term benefits for my 6 year old.

    Considering that there is no evidence either way, maybe it is better for everyone to take a wait-and-see approach before making judgments. After all, isn’t that what rationality and skepticism are all about. Making judgments based on evidence. Without evidence, there is no make to make a correct judgment.

  24. vanemburon 13 May 2011 at 12:25 pm

    I think ther more you interact whith you re child the better, no matter what the the system used. The earlier you read and have you re baby interested in books , be it memorizing or not the better. It is better for you interact with you re youngster than to have him sit in front of the tv, watching sesame street all alone. I find if you wait for school teacher to teach reading, most don t get that interested in book and communication as can be seen by so many student leaving high school and heading to college. The bond between parents and the child is so much more beneficial went it is incoperated with a reading program. memorizing is good in the first few year with hook on phonics in the later years. So in my view, no learning system should be labeled as totaly bad, as some children learn at a earlier stage than others and all is based on the childs concentration .

  25. clgirlon 14 May 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Speaking from personal experience…we purchased Your Baby Can Read for our son when he was 3 months old. I laughed when my husband brought it home, I too thought it was a crock. But when my husband replied with, “I just don’t want him to struggle with reading like I did”…what could I say? Well, thank goodness!!!! I will try to make a long story short…We didn’t follow the program to a “T” but we did show him the dvds each day. At about 6 months old, I began to play games while he was on this back, looking in my face while I hovered over him. I would ask where is Mommy’s face, ears, nose, mouth etc (the program teaches those words). To my amazement his little hand would crudely touch those specific areas! Being a skeptic, I figured it was some fluke, but continued to play this little game with him, he loved it! So at about 1 year we made our own flash cards and began to show him the word without reading it, he would crudely touch that area (he could not point at that age). We continued to show the DVDs on almost daily basis, only because he loved them and would get excited. Once in a while he would also watch Sesame Street too. Well, fast forward to three years old. Our son was not meeting his milestones for language. He could say single words, but when it came to speaking in two word sentences he just didn’t…from two years old to three I was in denial. Finally, at my husbands instance, we took him to a neurologist and unfortunately he was diagnosed with autism. When we began the recommended interventions, his tutors, and teachers were amazed that he could read words! I mean he played with his magnetic letters forming words as though they were toys. He thoroughly enjoyed it. I NEVER drilled him, as some suggested. As I firmly believe in child directed play. His first day of special needs preschool (at 3 years 2 months). They were trying to introduce the alphabet to him with letters, and he took some letters and spelled rocket! I think he learned it from the tv show Word World. They soon discovered he could spell many words. Then almost four years old, he began to write his own words with chalk on the drive way (he couldn’t hold a pencil that well). I was shocked, because we never showed him this, we would only draw pictures or chalk hopscotch! Fast forward to his current kindergarten class. He is in a typical kinder class, his class is working on the first 50 sight words and he is working on sight word list starting at #170, which I think is about 2nd grade level. I have gotten so many comments as to reasons why he is reading at a higher level. I’ve been lectured that “it’s not recommended you drill him with flash cards”. This has come from doctors and educators. It really chaps my hide, because I do not drill him with flashcards, in fact we don’t even have flashcards in our home! Our son makes his own! He comes to me with, Mommy, spell hippopotamus with letters! People just do not want to believe that he learned to read with the program. It’s as though they cannot wrap their brains around it…instead they want to pooh-pooh it. At one point I began to resent it, but now I figure it human nature for some to be nay-sayers, and negative nellies! At 6 years old, my son now is catching up with his language, he is now beginning to speak in conversational sentences. I am sooooo grateful we implemented this program. The children you see on Baby Can Read infomercial were very similar to our son, perhaps a bit more advanced in reading. My husband and I attributed it to no following the program to a “T”. However, it has really helped him learn language. My son is a visual learner (as many of us are). Learning language visually (reading) first then reinforcing the visuals has enabled him to learn spoken language, and perhaps help his little brain make the connections. Was my son an early reader because genetics, or Your Baby can Read? My answer…who cares? As a couple of posters here have mentioned, “no learning system is all that bad” or “any interaction with a parent is good”. I wholeheartedly agree. If a parent is motivated to purchase a program that could possibly make things easier, why would anyone want to “de-motivate” a parent? Many parents do not have the knowledge nor time to implement their own so-called reading program. I volunteer in our son’s classroom, and I do notice that visual learners really have a hard time learning in the school setting. Primarily because funding and time does not allow schools to teach according to individual learning styles. I really have to question motives when people knock a program without actually implementing it. Instead hiding behind the claim that there is no proof, nor research. I am in the process of purchasing the Your Baby can read Spanish dvd’s because my son is showing an interest in Spanish from watching Dora. I will follow up with results.

  26. bigsiskaywaon 16 May 2011 at 3:12 am

    If you go to the official website and watch the video that automatically plays, pause the video anywhere between 1:05 and 1:24. at the bottom of the video screen is fine print that states and i quote “Typically, babies between 10 and 23 months of age who use the YBCR program for at least seven months will learn to recognize words in the program.” The key word here is recognize tying into the whole memorization versus phonics debate-thing. if even their own program can tell that this is memorization, why dont they change it to YBCM: your baby can memorize

  27. Dr_meganon 15 Dec 2011 at 3:49 pm

    I disagree with you Dr Novella.

    I am a neurologist at a well known USA hospital, and the mother of a 15 month old boy. This program has really helped my child’s language development and is teaching him to read.

    He has been doing Your Baby Can Read for 8 months.
    Nothing at all happened for the first 3 months into the program.
    4 months – he could read one word.
    5 months – he could read 2-3 of the words mentioned in the DVDs.
    7 months – he could read about 20-30 of the words.
    8 months – he can pretty much read all of them – which is maybe 75 words I guess.
    He shows me by doing the action associated with the word – eg: touching his head, or by pointing to the correct picture / object for other words eg: gorrilla.
    Progress has exploded over the last 4 weeks.

    He knows 15 body parts due to the program, which is way ahead of average according to the Denver II develomental test. He can correctly identify many pictures (eg: lion) which he has also learned from the program. Again, this is way ahead of average language development.
    He can actually read many more words than he can pronounce at this point, and interestingly over the last few days has begun speaking some of the words he sees in print aloud for the first time – some are the first time he has ever said that word.

    I don’t know – perhaps his language would be this advanced without the program, though I doubt it. What I do know, is that his reading would not be.

    At the infant level all learning is done by memorizing.

    Secondly, you can learn to read just fine without phonics at all. I was taught to read by sight reading and knowledge of the alphabet alone, and only learned phonics when I was mature enough to read most of “The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe” and needed it only to spell out words which were long and complex.

    Therefore, when I saw this program I knew it was right for my child, even if there is no research to support it. I do not see any harm in this kind of early learning. My son loves showing off what he knows. Also, while there is no evidence it will make him smarter or perform better academically, it will likely not hurt him, and probably will help, so I will keep going, and encourage everyone else to do it too. And lastly, it actually allayed a lot of the anxiety I would have otherwise had about his development, as I watched him be ahead of milestone all the time.

  28. Tabbyon 14 Mar 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Hello, Dr. Novella.

    I agree with some of the points you made in your article – that this program is not going to miraculously create a “baby genius” or put your child five grades ahead of his classmates in school. If a parent purchases this product with the thought in mind that they are going to stimulate and discover an Einstein in their 9-month-old, they’re obviously going to be disappointed.

    But on the other hand, I wouldn’t write this product off completely. It has its place if one’s expectations are realistic. So the question lurking in parents’ minds of whether or not this product is worth the money is ultimately going to be answered on an individual basis, based on a collection of their own data and goals.

    Personally I see the program as offering creative stimulation – something my 16-month-old with whom I just began using it, craves. She quickly bores with toys. She would prefer carefully studying how I complete some task around the house to playing with toys. The one thing she NEVER tires of, though, is books. She is absolutely fascinated and spellbound when you pull a book out. And you can read it over and over to her.

    Observing her carefully, I realized that she is bored because she does not have enough to challenge her. She loves to observe and learn. So I’m trying to provide opportunities for her to do so. Many babies might be happy hugging a doll and playing with a rattle, but this would bore my little girl to death. So I do puzzles with her, sign language, anything to stimulate creative learning and keep her engaged.

    And the “Your Baby Can Read” program is one of the things I have turned to to help me out. We only started it yesterday. But I can see that it’s doing for her what I need it to do: it is challenging, engaging and stimulating her learning skills. I can see she concentrates very hard; she’s paying attention and trying to grasp what is being taught. She gets very serious and wrapped up in it. It captures her attention. And I really do think she’s going to learn. So for me, this program is worth the money because it is doing what I need it to do for her.

    In our case, this is proving to be a worthwhile product (and since she loves books so well anyway, why not learn to read a few words – even if they’re only memorized)? Personally I prefer a more phonetic approach to learning to read, but even this whole word approach will be helpful, because as I see it, if she gains some confidence in learning to read a few words and really enjoys it, it can only serve to push her forward in her reading skills when she gets a little older and we actually begin studying phonics.

    Besides, even just learning to memorize is a worthwhile stimulator for a child. A puzzle engages a childs brain and stimulates learning as they try to put it together. And in so doing, they are learning a great deal. So too, challenging their little brains through memory work is, at least in my opinion, a good thing to do, as what they are learning now in terms of HOW to approach problems and solve them, and to develop a good memory, can only aid them in the future since they will be used to exercising their senses, and demonstrating confidence, perseverance and self-discipline in meeting and overcoming challenges, because they have gained the required skills to do so.

  29. Tabbyon 14 Mar 2012 at 2:44 pm

    I’ll briefly add this to what I said above. It is pointless to push our children to perform; it is vital to teach them how to LEARN – for the very love of learning. So for those parents who see the program simply as a means to obtain bragging rights on the supposed “superior intelligence” of their babies, don’t bother. But if you have some realistic, level-headed goals and really want your kids to learn to love TO LEARN, I submit for your consideration “Your Baby Can Read”…

  30. Dr_meganon 11 Jul 2012 at 1:33 am

    I would like to give a follow up.
    My child is now 22 months old. He used the YBCR program from 8 to 17 months; we stopped as he knew it all. Afterwards we concentrated on reading very simple books together. He is now way ahead on language (using 3-10 word sentences, has a productive vocabularly of at least 500 words but I have stopped counting). He can probably read about 250 sight words, and is now beginning to phonetically decode by example. He recently read the word ‘bank’ on a shop sign, and said ‘oops’ for the UPS truck, and said ‘com’ when I pointed to some writing which said google.com. None of these are in YBCR! When we read a simple book together, he takes about 5 readings and then can recite it all, using the shapes of the words for guidance.
    Yes, he’s likely bright. And yes, I am being a boring bragger, yawn. But he would not be able to do all of this without this product. I think it is amazing. I think by 3 he will be really reading fluently. And there is definitely evidence that children who read early do better in school.

  31. ChrisHon 11 Jul 2012 at 5:05 pm

    And there is definitely evidence that children who read early do better in school.

    Citations, please.

    I ask because a couple of the boys in my son’s special ed. preschool had hyperlexia, which is kind of an autism variant. Both sets of parents were delighted, but then the deficits of other areas of development became apparent at around age three or more.

    One of them could recite all of the dialog of the movie Totoro, but was not big on social interaction. He spent the bulk of my son’s fifth birthday party walking around reciting Beatrice Potter. Well, when one has a special needs child, you tend to have very interesting birthday parties.

    They should all be in their early twenties. It peaked my interest because I met these boys shortly after Glenn Doman was pushing his “better baby” books. It was quite an eye-opener to learn about the draw backs to certain precocious behavior.

  32. ECEadvocateon 02 Aug 2012 at 12:10 pm

    My sister used this program with my nieces and at 3 and 2 years old, the oldest is reading sentences while the youngest is reading words. The 3 year old decodes words by looking at familiar word patterns. My 2 year old, who is very active, was not as interested in the YBCR videos. She mainly attended to the program when there was music playing, which tells me that she may be more of an auditory learner than a visual learner. As a mother and an Early Childhood Educator, I wonder about the long term results, although it is clear that there are great short term results. My other concern is their social skills. As stated in many of the posts, being a supportive, attentive, and loving parent is the best way to help your child learn and grow. While my nieces are probably on the higher end of the developmental spectrum when it comes to language development, they lack the ability to function in most social situations, which can hinder them greatly in a structured school setting where they are expected to display such wonderful achievement.
    YBCR clearly produces great results, but know your child and do not forget to provide a balance of other language rich activities, such as reading to them, taking walks in your neighborhood as you point and talk about the setting, and just hanging out with them! We must recognize that just as adults have various learning styles, children do as well. Many children need a hands on approach when it comes to acquiring new skills so this program, like most, is not for everyone. In addition, early intervention is very beneficial for all children as long as it includes a nurturing, supportive adult who is aware of children’s developmental needs and stages and offers plenty of direct interaction. I hope to see scientific research and results manifest in the near future so that parents can make more educated decisions in regards to what is most beneficial for their children.

  33. ChrisHon 30 Aug 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Well, the FTC has struck them down: Ads Touting “Your Baby Can Read” Were Deceptive, FTC Complaint Alleges.

    I know I would have been one of those parents pushing my kid to read early, but things did not go as I expected. My oldest child has some significant issues just learning to speak his native language. As I learned about speech/language disorders, I also learned that there are developmental milestones that need to be passed before certain things can be learned. This is what I learned by reading The Hurried Child by David Elkind.

    Seriously: childhood should be a journey, not a competitive race. Let the babies be babies, and the toddlers be toddlers. Take delight in how they discover the world, because before you know it they grow up and move on (and now we are paying for college tuition for three kids!).

  34. Mlemaon 30 Aug 2012 at 11:58 pm

    amen and right on

  35. ChrisHon 01 Sep 2012 at 2:47 am

    Thank you, Mlema. While they frustrate me often as teenagers and young adults, I am amazed at what I learned as they discovered this world. The first one needed lots of professional help, so through him I learned so much I did not know.

    The funny thing is that the youngest (my daughter) was the one who crawled and walked the quickest. Unfortunately she gained motor skills before she had the neurological maturity to deal with them. Which is how she managed to tumble down a half flight of stairs as an infant, and we needed to make sure to be very vigilant when she walked at nine months. Sometimes it is not a good thing when a baby does something early!

    After her tumble down half a flight of stairs the gates went up, but her brothers would leave them open (they were three and five years old). Fortunately after she was six months old she had a habit of giggling when she started to crawl up the stairs, so I was able to catch her.

    In case you are curious: she is a perfectly normal eighteen year old. She is will be applying to the linguistics program at the local university next winter (she is starting there next month, and will be taking Swedish, Beginning Linguistics and a writing class). Before she graduated from from high school she learned two languages (Japanese and French) and is only a few credits short of being a college junior. And all I ever did was read to her, and occasionally speak to her in my very limited Spanish and some basic tourist French.

    She apparently inherited something from my dad, an Army linguist who seemed to be able to learn a language just by hearing it (he is fluent in about three, and knows at least four more). I was yelled at in may languages as I grew up, and learned to not repeat anything if I did not know what it meant. It didn’t help that between the Yiddish and Chinese phrases he threw at us that he also made up phrases. A habit I used when I had young children, by using “furglesnorp” and other made up words instead of certain swear words.

  36. Malik12on 12 Sep 2013 at 6:58 am

    According to Steven Novella: “The Your Baby Can Read program is an extreme whole word appraoch. Infants and toddlers are taught to memorize words, which they can then recognize and name from memory, even before they can understand what they are reading. Critics of this approach claim that this is not really reading, just memorization and association.”

    I have read countless blogs that say YBCR is a memorization technique. The reason why people say this is because they have not had first had account of using this product. I have and let me explain, what happens is when the baby can read all of the words in the YBCR pack that child will then go on to read new words that he or she has never seen or have been told. That is how it works. At first it may seem that it is memorization but the what is learining all about, isn’t it about remembering what you have learnt?

    YBCR does what is says, it DOES TEACH TODDLERS HOW TO READ. Most of the negative comments that have been written, I know for a fact that they are written by people who have never used it to find out for themselves what happens next or from people who are reading the negative reviews and believing in that or from people who have bought it but not used it properly by being lazy.

    And another thing I have been reading is people think because a parent may used this that means that we do not read proper books to our children. That is so judgemental to assume that. The YBCR is just a part of the learning process which includes reading books, traditional play, cards, games etc…

    And for your information Piotr, not all parents that use this are competitive. Its only natural that if you have a child that is doing well that you want to mention it, aren’t all parents the same.

    I am disgusted with the level of hatred and name calling that parents get from using this program, just for wanting to give their child a head start in life. Its really sad when westerners put emphasis and solid focus on their child’s education its seen as bad, damaging. But when the Chinese or Japanese do it no one talks, why? Because the whole world sees them as being smart. They are just as smart as everyone else, they just work harder and have no time for damaging peoples reputation online with nasty blog articles and ignorant people.


    Dr Titzer, my hat goes off to him.

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