"Your Baby Can Read" is an interactive educational program designed to help parents teach infants and toddlers to read. The complete set includes flash cards and a series of five DVDs, each to be used twice a day for 30-minute sessions over a period of one or two months. Books that go with the program are also available.
Robert Titzer, the author and founder of the company, began selling a videotape version in 1998, based partly on his own experience of teaching his two daughters to read at very young ages. He says the ideal time to learn to read is between birth and 4 years of age, and that learning to read early has a direct influence on later success.
It's easy to find academic researchers and educators who dispute Titzer's claims. Some experts also criticize the program for relying almost solely on teaching visual word recognition, instead of teaching the child to sound out words phonetically. Titzer says as children figure out how to pronounce words and recognize patterns, they accumulate a sizable vocabulary.
"Your Baby Can Read" also comes in for criticism on the grounds that it uses a TV. In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation that parents avoid letting infants and toddlers under the age of 2 watch any TV or video at all. Studies of the effects of TV on language development and later educational success offer mixed conclusions.
Despite these criticisms of "Your Baby Can Read," many parents say the expensive program works -- not necessarily for all infants and toddlers, but certainly for some. There's no evidence that learning to read at an early age actually leads to greater success in school or in life, but many parents think it might. We found more positive reviews from parents than complaints.
Even fairly enthusiastic parents do note some drawbacks, however. Given the high price, the DVDs strike many parents as amateurish and poorly produced. Both the DVDs and the accompanying cards and books are often judged too fragile to hold up under a toddler's use. The most frequent complaint, however, is that the program is boring and fails to hold a child's attention.
Some parents say the "Baby Einstein" videos are much more entertaining, holding kids' attention for a full 30 minutes. However, this misses a crucial distinction between the two programs. The "Baby Einstein" videos are sometimes used by parents as a babysitting device. Most parents who've used the "Your Baby Can Read" program say the DVDs are far too boring to be used this way.
The crucial distinction is that "Your Baby Can Read" is designed to be used with the parent's full participation, and in a flexible, fun way -- with the 30-minute session only a target, not a fixed rule for all kids. In other words, this program is a teaching tool for the parent, and requires quite an investment of the parent's time. This would also seem to counter the criticism that infants or toddlers shouldn't watch TV because it's passive and doesn't involve interaction with live people. "Your Baby Can Read" is designed to be active and multisensory. Titzer recommends reading to your child and notes that parents can make videos and flash cards on their own.
Given the lack of long-term studies and hard evidence about such a program, the decision would seem to come down to whether or not you want to spend at least an hour a day teaching reading -- and believe there's a good chance that doing so will benefit your child. Without that much parental involvement, reviews say there's not much chance of the program working.
We found a good mix of reviews by professionals and parents. The NeuroLogica Blog on neurology includes detailed comments citing pros and cons. Articles at BrillBaby.com focus on a variety of approaches to teaching a child to read, including a detailed review of "Your Baby Can Read." A FAQ page at PBS.org provides specific answers about the effects of watching TV and DVDs on children. More than 100 parents review and rate "Your Baby Can Read" in two different lists at Amazon.com, and additional reviews can be found at Epinions.com. A Baltimore TV station weighs in on the program, too, based on one family's positive experience with the program. An article at Wikipedia on the program's author, Robert Titzer, provides additional information, as does TeachYourBaby.com, Titzer's blog.
1. NeuroLogica Blog
This critical review by a clinical neurologist notes alternative explanations for some of the claims made in the ads for "Your Baby Can Read." For example, if early readers are more successful later in school, it may be because they are smarter. Nor is there evidence that the best time to learn to read is before age 4, he says. One reader writes a long rebuttal of Novella's critique, noting that there's no evidence that "Your Baby Can Read" does not work, and that it bears further exploration.
Review: Your Baby Can Read -- Not!, Steven Novella, July 2, 2009
This site provides extensive information (including a free e-book and other free tools) to help parents teach their babies reading, music and other skills. The review of Robert Titzer's program is enthusiastic and uncritical; unfortunately it lacks links to the research studies discussed.
Review: Robert Titzer Method, Editors of BrillBaby.com
This article summarizes facts and studies about the effects of TV on children under 3, noting that most babies and toddlers do watch TV or videos -- despite the 1999 advice by the American Academy of Pediatrics that no infant or child under the age of 2 should watch any TV at all. This article argues that studies show that it's not that simple.
Review: Children and Media: TV and Kids under Age 3, Editors of PBS.org
Of the 100-plus users who review the program here (on two different pages), about two-thirds are pleased with it, reporting that it works for their kids -- especially if you interact with them. Some parents criticize the fact that the program teaches whole-word recognition rather than phonics, but the most frequent complaint is that many kids find all or parts of the program boring.
Review: Your Baby Can Read: Early Language Development System, Contributors to Amazon.com
More than a dozen owners review the complete program here, giving it quite mixed reviews. Some parents report that it works, but complaints cover a wide gamut: the program is boring and poorly produced, the books and flash cards are easily destroyed by babies, and the company's customer service is poor. Some parents also note that it goes against expert recommendations against young children watching TV.
Review: Your Baby Can Read -- Complete Program, Contributors to Epinions.com
6. WBAL (Baltimore)
Jennifer Franciotti reports on one family's success using "Your Baby Can Read" with their 21-month-old daughter, who can read store signs and handwriting. There's no way to tell, however, whether this little girl is naturally gifted, or if these results are typical of the program.
Review: Maryland Baby Reading at 21 Months, Jennifer Franciotti, Oct. 31, 2005
This entry on Robert Titzer, the author of "Your Baby Can Read," notes that none of his published scientific studies have anything to do with infants learning to read. Useful links here lead to further information on Titzer and his method.
Review: Robert Titzer, Editors of Wikipedia
In Robert Titzer's blog, he responds to criticism that his program fails to teach kids to sound out words phonetically. He says a pure phonics approach makes for slow readers, and that kids learn phonetic patterns naturally as they accumulate a fund of learned words.
Review: Learning to Read Phonetically, Robert C. Titzer, Sept. 25, 2009