Above: Elsie reading "My Mum" with her Nanna Carmen
The program was developed by Dr Robert Titzer. His website suggests that he is a “recognized expert, infant researcher…professor and teacher…(who has) extensively researched infant learning and development….(with) a Ph.D. in Human Performance at Indiana University, where he developed this revolutionary early learning approach with his own infant children. His research on reading during infant and toddler years captured the interest of educators, researchers, parents, government agencies, and the media worldwide. Dr. Titzer’s research has been published in scientific journals, including the prestigious Psychological Review.” Most people would probably have become aware of this program through TV current affairs programs.
The “Your Baby Can Read!” program includes 5 DVDs, 5 word and picture cards, and 1 wipe-clean word card and pen. The Starter DVD introduces your child to 22 words. You play the DVD twice a day (which takes about an hour in total) for a month and then use Volume 1 for two months. Volume 1 reviews the starter video and introduces 30 new words. After that, parents are encouraged to move on to Volume 2 that introduces 50 new words for two months. Revision of the Starter and Volume 1 DVDs is encouraged. Volume 3 follows and introduces 50 new words and more songs and poems. You are advised to use this almost exclusively for another month and then switch to Volume 4, which reviews the other DVDs. You then alternate this video with the other videos.
The basic approach is straightforward, it is primarily a program that teaches children to recognise words by ‘sight’. This means that the child uses visual clues such as the shape of the word, and some aspects of letter configuration (e.g. an initial letter, an unusual ending) to identify the word instantly.This is a program that trains children to recognise words instantly.
There is no doubt that some very young children can be taught basic sight words at a very young age. And, the many videos that you’ll find on YouTube of little kids ‘barking at print’ are cute and even a little compelling. However, there are three concerns that I would point out to any parent considering its use:
- The program does not teach children to ‘read’ in the fullest sense of the word, rather it teaches them to recognise instantly a number of words. This approach (which does have its place in beginning reading education) stresses that the mind prefers holistic approaches (this has been contested of course by many researchers). It utilises the brain’s capacity for the Gestalt effect - the ability to retain an holistic image of a figure, a word, an object, a number etc, rather than just a collection of lines, elements or separate objects. As I outline on my website, (here) to be an effective reader any child ultimately needs to: learn the sounds of language and their correspondence with print; understand the structure of language and how it works; learn how to use language appropriately for specific purposes; and learn ultimately how to critique written text. While the program claims to teach children incidentally about sound-symbol relationships there is little evidence to support this.
- If you introduce this program at ages as young as 12 months (as suggested) you are essentially introducing your child to formal instruction 3-4 years before this has traditionally been done. While Dr Titzer suggests that an early introduction to written language in the form of his program will accelerate learning, I would contest this as unproven. I was unable to find any evidence that he has presented to verify that this is the case. Furthermore, research on the benefits of acceleration suggests mixed outcomes. We now that some children can be badly affected by too early an introduction to formal learning. But studies are conflicting in relation to any positive benefits of acceleration. Overall, children with normal ability (i.e. without any specific learning disabilities), who start later, generally catch children who do make an early start. Dr Titzer suggests on his website that the best readers in the world are from Russia where children start school early. This does not match the most significant international study ever conducted (PISA) that has assessed the reading achievements of 15 year-old children in over 58 countries. The country that has done best (virtually since assessments began) is Finland, a country where just 9 years of school education is compulsory and where it doesn’t start till age 7! They also have non-compulsory preparatory school for most 6 year-olds that is similar to our preschools. Australia has consistently performed in the top 6 nations (as high as 3rd)
- In introducing a program like “Your baby can read!” you are essentially devoting time to structured repetitive learning of a limited type that would probably replace other forms of learning. I'd encourage any parent who is considering using this program to ask themselves two simple questions: What other things would I stop doing while I use this program? What would be the impact of the loss of this other activity?
Readers of this post might also find the following posts of interest:
When do children start writing? (click here)
Basic literacy support: Reading with children (click here)
The importance of play - Part 1 (click here)
Basic literacy support 3: Is phonics all we need? (click here)
The language experience approach (LEA) (click here)
Brain development and the first weeks of life (click here)
You can also view a demonstration of Your Baby Can Read (click here)