January 29, 2010

Your Baby Can Read! But Should They?

We've all seen the ads and seen the trends:  Infants who can barely sit up that can recognize 100 basic flash cards.  Toddlers who can "read" a shockingly large number of words.  Parents who park their little ones in front of the TV for hours of educational programs to give them a step up in school.  Does it work?

Well, yes.  You can see the results all around you, from the baby in the infomercial to your neighbor's little reading prodigy.  The real question is, should we be pushing our children to this extreme?

In a word, my answer is no.  For two reasons.

1)     As a child, I did great with reading, and I still absolutely love reading to this day.  Many of my friends can say the same thing, and I can tell you what our parents did in common: they read to us as children.  The way to cultivate a lifelong love of reading is to give your kids wonderful exposure to books from a very young age.

Learning words from flash cards is very different, and it won't fix the ills of the educational system.  What's wrong with education in this country has to do with poor funding, teaching to the test and grossly overcrowded classrooms.  Failing to recognize 100 flashcards by age three has no bearing on your child's future, but failing to have exposure to quiet, pleasant time with books may.

2)     It is absolutely possible to teach your child to "read" from the various educational systems available, so you may be thinking, why not do it?  It may not be necessary for the development of an intelligent child, but what can it hurt?  A lot, actually.

You see, there are only so many hours in the day and your child has only so much energy to devote to growth and development.  And think of all the growth and development you child has to do between birth and age four! Enormous physical growth must take place, as well as coordination, manners, social skills, verbal skills, listening skills, emotional understanding.  It is an exhausting list.  When you take some of your child's time and energy to learn a skill they don't need, you rob them of a chance to hone a skill that is at their developmental level.  This could lead to a child who is verbally behind her peers, or to a boy who isn't as socially capable as he could be.

Each child is an individual and, of course, everyone develops at their own rate.  Some children will walk early, others will talk early.  Some will have surprising manual dexterity while struggling with gross motor skills.  Others will show an early interest in words and reading.  The key is to let your child lead the discovery of their interests and skills, and not to push them.

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