Can babies really read?
The current climate of reading programs would have our kids reading at nine months and reciting poetry by their first birthday but isn't that just a little over the top?
As our children grow and approach their school years, there will be teachers to help with the "learn-to" burden, but when they're still at home and in our care 24/7, how much should we be doing to help them get ahead? Should we expect them to be reading before they even start daycare or preschool? Will they be disadvantaged if they're not? Will it effect their development at school? What are other mums doing? Phew!
As parents we put enough pressure on ourselves to give our children the best possible start in life. Be it teaching them to sleep as a baby, or helping them learn to tie their own shoelaces as a toddler. Now, there's a new reading program from the United States (only in America!) that has us pondering our responsibilities even further.
Based on the research and teachings of Dr Robert C Titzer, founder of the Infant Learning Company in the US, Your Baby Can Read! is a multi-sensory approach to reading. The aim is to stimulate certain areas of the brain to teach language skills to infants. It all sounds very technical, yes, but in basic terms, Dr Titzer argues that if you start stimulating your baby with the right educational tools from three to four months of age they'll be reading words by the time they're nine months old. "Reading is probably the most important activity a parent can do with a baby," says Dr Titzer. "Reading opens up the door for learning anything."
If the mum at the park, bragging about her little Einstein has you worried your own bub will be left behind, don't go rushing out to buy the DVD just yet. Katherine Rodham a childcare expert and preschool educator, warns, "Reading does open the channels to learning, however expectations on our children are far too high today. Combine that with the daily challenges every family face, we're adding unnecessary pressure to parents and children alike with the expectation to learn too early."
Besides, as Katherine points out, no child will be left behind if they can't recite the alphabet at one. "How fast they learn depends on a child's individual learning styles, their strengths, their needs and their interests," she says.
Dr Titzer says there is a "window of opportunity" when it comes to teaching children to read however. "During infancy, children learn language skills faster and easier than at any other time in their lives," he says. "After they know about 50 words, they learn words very quickly."
We know children's brains are like sponges for the first few years, but does this mean if our children aren't reciting their favourite Dr Seuss book by the time toddlerhood comes around it's all too late? No, says Katherine. "We encourage reading to children from an early age, as it is beneficial to their development, but each child has a uniqueness to learning and we must recognise that."
So, what is realistic? "Songs, nursery rhymes, touch and feel books and picture books are ideal for babies," says Angie. "In our centre, to begin with, they're encouraged to look at the pictures. It's only when they're older that they'll be encouraged to then look at the letters and read from them."
Take a look around your baby's nursery. Soft toys? Check. Mobile? Check. Bookshelf? Check. You may not know it, but you've already started to make a difference, just by having a book or two in the house. It's as simple as that. You can start reading to your baby the day you bring them home from hospital, but it doesn't mean you have to be reading "at" them. Even Dr Titzer concedes that while some children will pick up the ability to read as young as nine-months old, his DVD is not a miracle worker. "This is just one activity parents can do with their children," he says.
Mem Fox, award-winning writer and author of Reading Magic: How your child can learn to read before school ?and other read-aloud miracles has been advocating for Australians to "read to your children" for years and says it only takes 10 minutes a day. Depending on how fast you read that's about three books at a time.
We're not suggesting you add another layer of guilt to your parenting portfolio if you just don't have time every day. Simply reading to your baby as often as you can, helps them to eventually develop the skills needed to learn to read for themselves.
Reading with your kids has many other benefits too. Let's explore the evidence: it's relatively inexpensive ?the cost of a book! Plus, there's always your local library. It's quiet ?just what you need to take the edge off a hyper toddler. And it's a lovely way to bond ?there's nothing like a cuddle and a copy of "Where is the Green Sheep?" to get those good mothering vibes flowing.
Also, by gently reading to your baby, you're enabling them to find comfort in your voice which helps them recognise who mum and dad are. So, rather than making reading a chore and putting unrealistic expectations on both you and junior, the best thing you can do for your kids is make reading fun, one-on-one time that you both enjoy. With a little help they just might start reading back to you one day and that in itself is the true achievement ?at any age.