I saw something yesterday that made me do a double-take. It was a commercial for something called, “Your Baby Can Read.” Apparently it’s a combination of books and recordings and visual software that teaches your infant-to-toddler-age child to read. Now I’m all for reading to your child and teaching her everything you can. I believe that helps a child appreciate the written word and hunger for learning. But a baby reading? I don’t know.
I have two children. They are 19 and 21 years old, but I still vividly remember what they were like as babies. Like most other kids, I could have easily put them in a bucket and just hosed them off occasionally for the first 12 months of life. They took food in; they gave some back. Yes, they developed skills and awareness and emotional expression during that critical first year, but I can pretty much guarantee you that they were not reading-ready. They are both smart, bright, delightful children, but no way were they going to read to me during that first year of life. As a young mom, I felt lucky not to have done anything that resulted in injury or death to them in that year; I sure wasn’t going to muddy the waters by trying to teach them to read.
As they got a bit older, a day without either of them ingesting discarded cigarette butts or munching on dog food was a good day.
Part of this commercial (an infomercial, really) spotlighted a mother holding her slobbering little prodigy in her lap, regurgitating words that had been hammered into her little head by a robotic male voice. Mom just cooed and giggled in delight as her little “reader” uttered barely understandable words in response to flash cards. What Mom failed to realize is that she could have taught the little girl completely inaccurate words to correspond with each card. “CAT = HULA HOOP” or “TRUCK = SWORD.” A baby has no frame of reference.
True reading requires the ability to both decode a word AND process the meaning simultaneously. Later on, it also requires the ability to comprehend and retain those words, but maybe that’s the next phenomenon to hit the market – “Your Child Can Retain and Comprehend.”
In our society, we are so rushed to push our kids past all the others, to somehow give them an edge over all the other kids with whom they’ll compete throughout their lifetimes. To give the marketing mastermind(s) behind “Your Baby Can Read” credit, they were smart enough to capitalize on this fact. Still, I’m holding out for something really spectacular to come along, like “Your Baby Can Vacuum” or “Your Baby Can Prepare Your Taxes.” When I see either of those, I’m in.