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Kathy Tofflemire, Published November 24 2009

Parenting Perspectives: Do babies really need to read?

Have you seen the infomercials for “Your Baby Can Read”?

They show children still in diapers reading flash cards and 3-year-olds reading “War and Peace,” or whatever.

According to the program’s Web site: “A baby’s brain thrives on stimulation and develops at a phenomenal pace ... nearly 90 percent during the first five years of life! The best and easiest time to learn a language is during the infant and toddler years, when the brain is creating thousands of synapses every second – allowing a child to learn both the written word and spoken word simultaneously, and with much more ease.”

And you can order the deluxe kit for $199.99.

I don’t dispute their claims, but those commercials creep me out.

Should you teach a baby to read just because you can? How much comprehension does the average toddler have?

I suppose babies could read those cute sayings on each other’s shirts and bibs. And they could learn to play board games sooner. You could just bypass Candyland and go straight to reading Monopoly cards.

And busy moms and dads wouldn’t have to carve out time for reading bedtime stories. Just hand them “Goodnight Moon,” and they can read it themselves.

OK, that’s going too far.

It’s much like the argument that kids need to be kids without having all their time scheduled with one activity or another. This seems like the same issue to the extreme. Let babies be babies.

I thought it was enough just helping to teach my grandsons colors and shapes at that age.

I remember my older grandson learning to recognize circles, squares, triangles, etc., but he always said “brick” when shown a rectangle. I would correct him, and he then proceeded to call them “tanglebricks.”

And we showed the younger one yellow objects more than any other color because we loved hearing him say “ye-yo.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve a passion for reading. And my daughter was read to a lot as a child and was surrounded by books. Yet she’s not a reader. It’s just not her thing.

I hope that my grandsons inherit my love of reading. The older one likes the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series and the Geronimo Stilton books. I know that Geronimo is a mouse, but I didn’t realize until I Googled him that he’s a journalist who works for the Rodent’s Gazette. All right.

It’s too soon to tell what will most interest the first-grader, but I am already amazed at his reading ability. The other day I heard him reading the Sunday comics. I couldn’t read as well as he can at age 7. Obviously, the “Dick and Jane” learning method didn’t work as well as whatever system schools are using now.

I wonder what will happen to those reading babies when they reach kindergarten and first grade. Will they be bored while the other children are taught what they already know?

And then there’s that sense of anticipation of what you’ll learn once you start going to school.

While in the first grade, I carried around my teenage brother’s paperback copy of Shakespeare’s plays. I was convinced that by the end of the school year, I’d be able to read that book. Fifty-plus years later, I still can’t. Sorry, Will, I’m just not a fan.


Kathy Tofflemire is a copy editor at The Forum. Readers can reach her at (701) 241-5514 or ktofflemire@forumcom.com