Your Baby Can’t Read?

If you’ve heard of the CCFC’s complaint against Your Baby Can Read, then you will be interested to read a follow-up by Dr Richard Gentry on this subject. There seems to be a lot of experts claiming that babies aren’t developed enough to read and yet there are plenty of parents who successfully teach their babies to read. Here are some examples…

17 month old reading:

This is Emily who is reading at 17 months (her parents used Your Baby Can Read – which, according to the CCFC, doesn’t work – how ironic):

Felicity reading at 1 year:

For more examples just search for “baby reading” on Youtube.

I appreciate that the CCFC’s desire to create a “commercial-free childhood” and the aim to reduce the amount of TV children are exposed to, but to say that “Your Baby Can Read’s false and deceptive marketing may be putting babies at risk” is really over-the-top. If this is putting babies at risk, then what about the numerous other “childrens'” TV programs out there? I’d say there are a lot more questionable programs around.

Personally, I have seen nothing but benefits from teaching Gavin to read early. I know that the recommendation is not to test your children, but I recently did. I tested Gavin using the San Diego Quick reading assessment tool and he could read independently at Grade 3 level and instructionally at Grade 4. He got tired at that point and I didn’t get to test him with the Grade 5 words. He can read by himself and has often let me sleep in while he quietly reads his books. He loves books and gets more excited about going to a book store than he does the toy store.

There was the argument that it isn’t reading because these babies were recognising the words was a picture. If you showed them the words out of context (i.e. if it wasn’t on a flash card), they wouldn’t be able to read it. I tested this theory on Gavin a while back and found he could read words from menus (without pictures), newspapers, and on sign boards. There is also a youtube video of a 2 year old girl reading random words from the newspaper and various reading materials from around the house.

Then there is the argument that it isn’t reading if you can’t understand what it means. Honestly, I fail to understand this argument. I mean if you know that the word “cow” means that black and white animal that goes “moo”, how much more understanding do you really need before it is considered comprehension? When I listen in on Gavin’s creative scenarios with his train sets, I often hear him correctly use railway terms he has heard from the original Rev Awdry Railway Stories about Thomas the Tank Engine. If you’ve read the original stories by Rev Awdry, you’ll realise that the language is much more sophisticated than the language they use in some of the re-written Thomas books.

If a child can recognise that a brand logo has a specific meaning, then there’s really no difference to understanding what a word means. When Gavin was very young, he could recognise the StarBucks logo and he knew that it meant hot chocolate for him. Today, Gareth saw the Chili’s logo and he ran up to it in delight and started pointing to it. To assume that young children can’t understand what a bunch of letters strung together means is really condescending.

Babies can and do learn to read. Any “expert” that says it isn’t possible really needs to re-evaluate that stance because although there are no studies proving it can be done, there are plenty of parents who can and do teach their babies to read. Aside from teaching your children to read, there are many other things you can teach them. Larry Sanger has a terrific manifesto on early childhood education which succinctly covers this topic.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

6 thoughts on “Your Baby Can’t Read?

  1. Perhaps the issue lies with the definition of a “baby”. Personally, I follow the definition of baby being 0-12 months old, toddler is 1-3 years old.

    By this definition, then it’d seem very rare to have a baby who reads. The examples I’ve seen are at least 1 year old, who are toddlers. So for manufacturers to give parents the impression that “babies” can read might be too far-stretched until more concrete evidence is provided. Saying “toddlers” can read would be more acceptable?

    I definitely believe toddlers can read because my 2 year old is reading some English and Chinese now.


    1. Perhaps it is rare for a baby to be able to read because there are very few parents who actually embark on a literacy program that young. I didn’t even know about babies reading until Gavin was two and a half and I am sure that this is often the case for a lot of parents. This may not be such an uncommon occurrence if every parent started teaching their babies to read from 4 months.

      The other issue with this is that just because there is not “output” from a child does not mean he cannot. We all know that babies comprehend a lot more than they appear to even though they cannot tell us, or perhaps they choose not to tell us. They can learn things before the age of one, but we don’t realise it until past that age when they decide to disclose what they really know. Babies recognise logos and are able to attach meaning to them before the age of one. What’s the difference between that and a “logo” that happens to be in the form of a written word?

      I think my biggest gripe is that some “experts” believe that children aren’t developmentally ready to learn how to read until they are 5 years old and that’s the story a lot of parents are hearing. These parents don’t bother to try to teach their children to read earlier because they think it is a pointless exercise – possibly even “harmful” if you do. I’ve heard the argument before that early reading can cause dyslexia.


  2. Hi Shen Li,

    May I ask how you teach your kids to read? Do you use any particular program? I was really interested in the BrillKids ‘Learn to Read’, but unfortunately, the program is not supported on the Mac OS, which is what we have at home.



    1. With Gavin, I used flash cards that I made and I read to him a lot. I also made personalised books for him and played word games. And he picked it up from there.

      With Gareth, I used Doman flash cards and Little Reader. I found Little Reader easier with him because he is a very mobile baby. He doesn’t sit still for long. Unlike Gavin, he won’t sit still to read a book, so flash cards have been the best way to teach him. I also let him play with some writing and spelling apps on the iPad which I think have helped to reinforce the flash cards.

      Little Reader can run on Mac if you use a program called Boot Camp. Don’t know much about it but if you’re game to try it with the trial version to see if you can get it working, you can find the instructions here:

      Otherwise, you can make your own flash cards or download the ones I made for Powerpoint here:

      If your child is keen, you should also try reading as much as you can to him/her. The Read Aloud Handbook says that children can learn to read just by being read to. They recommended 3 books daily – one new, one favourite, and one other of any choice. By the time you’re through one year, you will have read in excess of 1000 books.


  3. Hi Shen Li,

    Thanks very much for your reply. I am very amazed at the speed of your response, as you are clearly a very busy mom, blogger, and avid reader!!

    I might give Boot Camp a go, with the 14 day trial pack.

    And, I must say, I really love reading your blogs and articles. You’re doing a very very good job!!

    Thanks again!!



    1. Hi Denise – actually, sometimes I’m on the ball and I get to my responses quickly and other times I’m pretty bad. I find that the longer I leave things unattended, the more likely I am to forget to attend to it so I usually try to do it as soon as I can. I’m glad you find my blog useful. Thanks for reading!


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