Teach your baby to read

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A few months ago I spotted the above kit in a secondhand shop, and thought about buying it so I could put it straight in the recycling bin, and stop at least one parent from wasting their money and time, and potentially doing their child damage.

But then I decided it was just one of those Crazy American Things that someone bought on the internet when they were sleep-deprived and not thinking straight, and that the average Australian parent was far too sensible to go near it.

Even in Australian childcare centres!

Today I opened The Age newspaper to discover that I was wrong. There are thousands of Australians trying to teach babies as young as three months to read, and even some childcare centres here where such programs are in use. The people who run childcare centres are supposed to know about child development. You can read the whole article about this madness here.

Tiny children who can't even talk yet are wasting valuable play and language-learning time, and overloading on screen time, in the name of "getting ahead".

So I wrote a cross letter to the paper saying that preschoolers should be learning languages not reading, and then pruned it down to their 200 word limit, but odds are it won't get in as there's always a lot of competition for letters to the editor space, plus I daresay many people with more letters after their names than me wrote better letters on the same topic. Anyway, this is what my letter said:

Babies lack the linguistic equipment to read, so the “Your Baby Can Read!” program can only be teaching babies to appear to read, by treating words like pictures.  Reading by memorising the appearance of words, instead of sounding them out  – whether taught at home or at school – at first seems to work. However, it sets too many children up for reading failure, when in about Grade 2 they run out of visual memory for abstract symbols.

Speech Pathologists like myself then often have to teach them about sounds and spellings, and how to treat written language as language, not pictures.

Parents can give their preschoolers a head start in language and literacy by talking and playing with them, reading them stories etc, but also making sure they regularly interact with someone (a person, not a TV) who speaks another language with them.

Young human brains have supercharged language-learning equipment, which starts to die off about age eight, and is gone by puberty. Preschool is the perfect time to learn other languages, and there’s some evidence that having a second language boosts your first-language literacy skills.

Let’s stop teaching literacy too early, and via faulty methods, and other languages too late.