Thursday, November 4, 2010

You're Baby Can...Memorize!

"Mahna" just sent me an e-mail telling me about a spot on the Today show that highlighted this outrageously expensive "program" for babies/toddlers that claims to teach them how to read as young as pre-conception or some bologna. You shell out like 200 bucks, do flash cards with your kids, and sit them in front of CD after CD of words...and somehow you are setting them up on the fast track to MENSA. (Anyone else have a problem with hours of TV time for an infant?)

Utter hog wash.

I'm getting militant, readers. I may lose a few of you. Sorry.

Here is an excerpt from the show on if babies are really learning to read:

“No,” said Dr. Nonie Lesaux, a child development expert at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. “They memorize what’s on those cue cards … It’s not reading.”

“It’s an extraordinary manipulation of facts,” said Dr. Maryanne Wolf, director of Cognitive Neuroscience at Tufts University.

Reminds me of the brouhaha surrounding Baby Einstein and making claims it makes your kids smarter.

Marketers are smart--and not because before they turned 1 they watched a library DVDs on reading, or were drilled with flash cards, or sat mesmerized by images flashing in black and white swirls accompanied by a score from Swam Lake, or listened to classical music in utero--which I have to apologize for making a stink about here as I know many a mom-to-be who has done that or is doing that, but have some reservations. (As someone who has spent some time in the NICU and watched babies get overstimulated by too much noise, it makes me a little nervous when people do it excessively. Just be careful, Mamas!) Exit personal anecdote soap box. 

Marketers are smart because they have done years of research on how to pray on the vulnerabilities of hormonal new parents.

We all want our children to be smart.

Now, let's not underestimate the remarkable feat of some kids and their memorization skills. It is certainly applaud worthy. Watching the Today show video, I was truly in awe of some of the things that the babies could do. And the truth is, memorization is a foundation for later reading. But there is no empirical evidence it sets children up for later academic success. (And I bring it back to my concern about excessive screen time for young-ins. I have enough research from my time at CDC studying obesity and screen time to go to battle with anyone on this issue.) Moreover, don't children today get enough drilling when they enter real school? Who wants homework when you are 1? And the price tag is appalling.

I love that our childcare is run by an educated director who has, from the time I have met her, called into questions such excessively early reading programs. At school, they talk about a letter a week with the intent of familiarity--not to have a pre-reading program. And although Miles cannot string together the whole alphabet if you ask him, he has memorized the appearance of most of the letters.

Last night I read an e-mail from the Director letting some of the parents know that many in the older toddler group were able to pick out each other's names. Some pretty exceptional memorization! 

Still, I had my doubts that Miles could really do it. He's the youngest in the group, and although has remarkable receptive language, still behind all of them in expressive language. I thought he probably memorized the name cards at school--their shape and color-- and wouldn't be able to do it at home. So, I wrote out a bunch of his friend's names on Post-It notes at dinner, and asked him whose name it was--and he got pretty much all of them. (See video below when I did it for the first time). We've NEVER asked him to identify words before. Don't worry, I have no intention of getting him ready for the National Spelling Bee and doing this every night. It was just an experiment tonight! And you'll notice he doesn't care about identifying the words as much as putting the pieces of paper he personified to go "nigh-night" in his crotch on the chair.

Am I impressed? Hello, I am his mother. Of course.  This is the kid who does everything a day late and a dollar short of everyone else, so when he does hit a milestone, I am puffing my chest out.

But what I also realize is that he is not reading (yet). He is able to identify the first letter of the words and relate it to his friend. "S" is ALWAYS for "Sean." "F" is ALWAYS for "Felix." "E" is ALWAYS for "Ella." Still, it's a good party trick, and most certainly a precursor to more formalized reading. (You can hear Miles say "F...Felix". Rather, "F...Bebix".)

And the best part? The Miles Can Memorize program cost me all of $0.01. A few Post-Its and a Sharpie.

Save yourself the guilt and a few hundred bucks--forgo the marketed reading programs for babies.

Spend the money on books.

And instead of focusing on teaching your child to read, focus on things like playing, and actually reading to your child.

Over, and over, and over, and over.


  1. I am with you all the way, Ali!

  2. Well said, Alison. Reading books to young children is absolutely the best way to ignite interest in and foster pre-reading and reading skills.
    Programs like Baby Einstein and Baby Reading make us early childhood educators crazy with preying on the fears of parents who don't want their children to lag behind and built on totally age inappropriate activities for little ones.
    What babies and young children need to do is experience their world - see, touch taste, smell, and listen to the world around them rather than to sit as passive learners in front of a TV screen for any length of time (no TV before 2 we all have been advised).
    Miles's accomplishment with memorizing (and retaining) his classmates and his and Felix's names, is impressive. His speech may be a bit delayed, but honestly, he is doing great!
    Sorry for the "lecture", but it is crazy making stuff!