Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Children Can't Read

My four-year-old daughter is illiterate.  She cannot sight read any words, has not memorized short board books, and can barely write the first two letters of her name.  I am more than fine with all of this. In fact, I am proud. 

Do not get me wrong, we do read to our children, daily.  They love books, and on any given day would be more than happy to spend hours lounging on the couch with a stack of Pinkalicious and Frog and Toad stories.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Dixon Leung.
However, I am not spending time teaching the girls letters, phonics, and sight words.  Elana does not practice tracing her name, and Maisy (the subsequent child) believes that all letters stand for "Elana".  We send our daughters to a play-based Jewish preschool, where the alphabet is not introduced until they enter the pre-k program.  Their days are spent experimenting with paint, sand, clay, dressing up in costumes, romping outside with friends, planting seeds in the garden, and singing songs about Hashem and Moses (this part is completely foreign to me).

Unfortunately, living in this supermommy environment, where all children are untapped tiny geniuses, I cannot visit the playground without overhearing a mother brag about how her three year old spends hours reading to herself and her younger brother.  And, as an overly self-critical mother, who's mommy guilt only swells with each BabyCenter milestone email, I am constantly second-guessing these choices.

For only $200 the Your Baby Can Read series (as seen on TV!) promises to give your baby "increased communication styles, enhanced learning ability, greater confidence, and future success!!!" The program states that parents can begin putting their baby on the path to literacy at a mere three-months of age.  Using their "scientifically proven" (and patented) instructional materials, parents need only to force their infants to lie in front of a TV screen for an hour or so a day, and let the magic ensue.  In a matter of months, your young, bald, slobbering baby, will be able to identify simple words like: dog, drum, boy, and car (even though she may not yet be able to say these words).  
How illiterate children spend their days.
As enticing as it may seem to brag to all the other mothers at your playgroup that little Max has memorized over fifteen written words, most experts do not endorse this program.  The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a complaint against the company with the Federal Trade Commission, claiming that they use misleading marketing techniques and that the program teaches the babies to memorize, not read.  The CCFC alleges that this program is not only deceptive, but harmful, since it encourages abundant television time for infants when the American Academy of Pediatrics explicitly states that children under the age of two should be allowed no screen time.

More importantly, is that infants and toddlers have much more valuable things to be doing with their time: finger painting, running in circles, jumping on couches, pot-and-pan beating, and nose picking (to name just a few).  As we all know, children, especially at this age, are little sponges waiting to soak up any information we offer (even the stray four-letter-word).  They learn through everything they do; playing with dirt and water helps them discover and make connections.  There will be plenty of time for them to learn i before e (except after c) when they are sitting in school desks for the next seventeen plus years of their lives.

As for me and my girls, I know that I am instilling in them a love of literature without the pressure to read and write as toddlers.  By making books and story time an enjoyable and cherished part of our daily routine, I am sure that they will be able to read by the time they enter the work force. 

1 comment:

  1. My husband and I pirated one of the "Your Baby Can Read" videos when our daughters were about eight months old. Sure enough, they learned a few new words (meanings, not how to say or read them), but I didn't have it in me to go whole hog with the flash cards and endless different videos. But it seemed like it worked.

    I didn't really care much, though, because of my own experiences with child prodigies and what happens when you're expected to excel so early in life. I am teaching my toddlers the alphabet, half heartedly, but only because they so obviously want to learn it. I agree with you- let them play. It's the best kind of learning there is.