Your Baby Is Illiterate: A Review of the “Your Baby Can Read” Program

What is the Your Baby Can Read program?

According to the Your Baby Can Read® website, there is a “natural window,” that is, an optimal time for a child’s developing brain to acquire language skills. This optimal time begins at birth and lasts till age four. The Your Baby Can Read® (YBCR) program is designed to take full advantage of this optimal time. Using a combination of DVDs, books and flash cards, a child will learn how to read and as the video above shows, a child will recognize words and be able to demonstrate an understanding of those words. [note 1]

Does the Your Baby Can Read program actually work?

To answer that question we will look at a few reviews written by those who have used the program and then we will examine the science behind the program.

What The Reviews Say

A Google search of the phrase “reviews of your baby can read” turned up both positive and negative reviews.

Positive Review – – “My kids were recognizing printed language. The research suggests that babies and toddlers can learn to read words at the same they are learning to speak them. I can’t wait to move on to the next DVD.”

Positive Review –

Your Baby Can Read is more stimulating for children than Baby Einstein in my opinion. Baby Einstein plays music and shows pictures of toys but Your Baby Can Read engages children in the video.

Show your child words as much as you can, their memories are excellent and introducing them to written language early will have great benefits. Imagine how confident your child will be of himself when he is reading way before his peers.

Negative Review – &

Would I introduce my children to this program? No. This program does not teach children to ‘read’. Neither is it clear what its benefits are, nor if in fact it could have a negative effect on your child and impede their long-term learning. While the program’s creator claims research expertise in early literacy, I was unable to find much evidence to support this claim, and virtually no citations of his limited publications by other researchers. Instead of using this program I would encourage my children from birth by stimulating their language (singing to them, reading with them, asking questions etc) and learning (exploration, invention, creative play etc). In short, I would be constantly engaging with my child in varied ways.

Negative Review –

1. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends NO screen time(both tv and computers) for children under 2 years of age. There have been many studies done which show screen time does more harm than good, regardless of what all of these products like to claim.

2. These videos simply promote memorization.

3. Your children will learn all of these things in due time. Its called Developmentally Appropriate Practice, which means you let children develop at their own individual time and pace, as well as for their actual developmental age.

What Does The Science Say?

data for the your baby can read program

Graph from the Your Baby Can Read website

The Your Baby Can Read (YBCR) website provides a graph that plots measured reading grade level against the chronological age of children who were exposed to the YBCR program (the blue line) and those who were not (green and red lines). We see that when we compare the YBCR children against the non-YBCR children, that by age 6 the YBCR children are at least FIVE YEARS AHEAD of the non-YBCR children. If one were to imagine extending those lines further out, it seems that those children who did NOT have the advantages of the YBCR program will never catch up with those who did. This advantage, we are told, will remain with the YBCR children for the rest of their lives. (The website notes: “Studies prove that the earlier a child learns to read, the better they perform in school and later in life.”)

Does It or Doesn’t It Work?

The Data Proves That The Program Is Effective: It seems that the data proves the program’s effectiveness. However, there are two problems. First, the graph makes reference to scientific studies but we are never told which studies were used. Second, it notes that the children who used the YBCR program were tested but we are never told which tests were used to measure reading ability. Therefore we have no way to verify if the data that this graph is based on actually exists. All we have is a graph that has an air of scientificity (analogous to truthiness): a bit of visual hocus-pocus.

The Video Shows That The Children Are Reading: The children seem to be reading. They are shown a word and they respond accordingly. Yet this may be more Pavlovian than an example of true reading comprehension. In a critical review of this program by Dr. Steven Novella – an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine – he notes that

The Your Baby Can Read program is an extreme whole word approach. Infants and toddlers are taught to memorize words, which they can then recognize and name from memory, even before they can understand what they are reading. Critics of this approach claim that this is not really reading, just memorization and association. Some even caution that by taking an extreme whole word approach, phonic understanding can be delayed and the net result can be negative. [Emphasis added]

He goes on to note that

[...]studies of neurological development and education show that forcing kids to learn some task before their brains are naturally ready does not have any advantage. You cannot force the brain to develop quicker or better.

YBCR Is Similar To The Baby Einstein Program: While there are a few qualitative differences as noted in one of the reviews cited earlier, they still share the same general methodology: expose very young children to visual and auditory stimulation and they will become an Einstein.

The flaw in the Baby Einstein program and with any program based on a similar methodology can be summed up as follows:

Arguments about the importance of the first three years are compelling because they have roots in scientific evidence about the brain and its development. But they rest fundamentally on mistakes about what that evidence means. [Emphasis added]


The evidence that has been wrongly interpreted is the following: a baby’s brain forms new synapses at a rapid rate. This process stops at approximately one year of age and “the brain begins pruning synaptic connections, an activity that continues over several years.” (pg. 4, page references are to the document Million Dollar Babies).  Based on this finding, a conceptual leap was made by proponents of this type of very early childhood education.

The Conceptual Leap

  • IF synapses form the connections between neurons and they effect learning,
  • AND if rapid and crucial brain development – creation of synapses -  occurs during the first few years of life
  • AND if the brain’s development is crucial to one’s chances of success in life,
  • THEN taking advantage of this crucial time period to shape the brain’s development is imperative. In fact, some have argued that “[I]f parents miss this chance to shape their infants’ and toddlers’ brain development, they will lose forever the opportunity” and by losing this opportunity they may do “lasting damage to their children’s potential.” (pg. 4, emphasis added)

However, underlying this conceptual leap are three fallacies.

1. The Form-Is-Function Fallacy: It is assumed that the “rapid development of synapses…means that they [children] have greater learning capacity than older people.” There is no evidence for this. The number of synaptic connections “does not tell us anything about learning capacity.” (pg. 5)

2. The More-Is-Better Fallacy: Numerous studies have shown that children who were neglected suffer from serious problems later in life. Therefore, it is best that parents do not neglect their children. We are all in agreement on this one. But there is no evidence to show that creating an environment that goes well beyond a general nurturing and learning environment and adds these types of intensive programs has any beneficial effect on a child’s development. This thinking – if a little is good then a lot must be better -  is analogous to this conceptual leap: “because one vitamin is better for you than no vitamins, swallowing an entire bottle of vitamins must be even healthier. ” (pg.5 & 6)

3. The Critical-Periods Fallacy: Some studies have shown that there are critical periods for the development of some “very specific sensory and motor functions.” However, it does not follow that something as complex as reading has its own critical period. In fact, “no researcher has found a critical period for culturally transmitted knowledge and skills such as vocabulary, reading or math.” (pg 6)


So, does the program work? Let’s review the evidence.

A. The Video: We saw a video of a very young child who seemed to be reading. The child was shown the word “head” and the child said the word and pointed to her head. Did she really understand what she read? We don’t know. At this very early stage of child development, the child may have simply memorized the association between a visual cue that has four distinct shapes, a sound that is to be made when one is shown those shapes, and the object to point to when shown those shapes. [note 2] We don’t know if any real comprehension has taken place. We are never told if any tests were performed to measure comprehension. We simply see an action that looks like reading and which we assume is reading.

B. The Data: We are presented with a graph based on scientific data. Some of the data comes from scientific studies yet we are never told which studies. Some of the data is based on testing of children who used the YBCR program. Yet we are never told which tests were used to measure their reading ability. In fact, we are given no supporting data at all.

C. The Methodology: We learned that the basic methodology of the program – using visual and auditory stimulation on very young children – has been discredited. The scientific justification for these methods are based on conceptual leaps – suppositions, really – that are not founded on science. [note 3] We may find, in the near future, that there are ways to tap into the early developmental stages of the brain but, based on our current science, there is nothing to prove the efficacy of the methodology underlying the YBCR program.

The Final Answer Is….: The final answer is that it is unlikely that the program teaches anything that approximates reading. It looks like reading. But is it reading? We are provided no proof. We are provided no scientific evidence. So what does the program do? It may do the one thing that all new parents need it to do. It gives them the feeling that they are doing something important, proactive and positive for their child.

  1. The site also notes that children who have acquired reading skills at a very young age show marked improvement both “in school and later in life.”
  2. Dogs, by the way, are masters at associating auditory and visual cues with various activities but in no way would we attribute comprehension (except in our accidental anthropomorphization of their behavior) to what they are doing.  See: Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know
  3. In the case of Baby Einstein, it was noted in the complaint filed at the Federal Trade Commission that “Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby’s marketing practices are based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development. These claims are both misleading and false. They are misleading because they lack substantiation required by the Federal Trade Commission (“Commission”) for all express and implied claims.” (Source: Complaint filed at the Federal Trade Commission, page 6) Baby Einstein and related programs, which were owned by Disney (they acquired the programs from its original developer) felt compelled to offer refunds to parents who purchased the programs. Though Disney never admitted that the programs did not work, the threat of lawsuits seemed sufficient reason for them to institute the refund program.
Print Friendly

Tags: ,

  • Katy B.

    Hmmmmm. HMMMMMM.

    I had some interesting experiences as a teacher of early reading at a learning center several years ago.

    And we did indeed have some children who were not in the average section of the 'ready to read" bell curve.

    Most of the kids were age 5-6. Most of them were able to derive some benefit from the variety of methods we used: learning sight words…learning letter names…learning letter sounds…then working to put them together just a little bit at a time. Easy for some kids, more challenging for others.

    One boy had severe ADHD and his mother thought he would never learn to read. He was in the third grade. It took a looooong time but…one day, it suddenly all clicked. When his mother came in and saw him do it…she cried with joy.

    A little girl could only name letters and their sounds if she was forming the letter with her body while doing it. She had a unique learning style, so alternative methods were used…she clearly needed a little extra time and creative methods, though we tried to keep her feeling unpressured.

    Another little boy was reading at age 3, with ease.

    In my own experience, I can't tell you how surprised I was, at the age of 23, to suddenly discover that I could "do" math. Suddenly my brain felt totally different when confronted with mathematical tasks, and eventually I was able to tutor math all the way up to algebra.

    Brains do learn at different rates…and more respect for that could make a lot of people's learning processes a lot less stressful.

    • Jeff

      That last sentence hit the nail on the head and I'm in complete agreement with you. We have an educational system that still, despite all that we know about the educational process, continues to use a once-size-fits-all methodology (and now it's a one-test-fits-all methodology).

      Oh…I should warn you…we could have lengthy conversations about this topic. EVERYONE in my family – except for me – is in education, and ranging from teachers to supervisors to school principals to deputy superintendents to vice-presidents of universities. EVERY family gathering revolves around education talk so I have heard a heck of a lot since I'm a kid. To make matters worse, had I completed my sociology PhD it would have been in sociology of education.

      • Katy B.

        Ahhhh…not a family of teachers here…but my mother was a social worker for years and years…she always used to say to me that it appeared that my brain just wasn't ready for math yet when I was younger. I'm grateful that she had that opinion…vs. the "kid must be stupid" method of parenting.

        A family that came to the learning center I worked at had two boys in our program. Their mother had decided to home school them, but sent them to our center to augment their social experiences and give her a break during the day. She chose homeschooling because one son was autistic and the other was extremely off the charts brilliant, and neither of them were getting their educational needs met.

        I'm a firm believer that public education, for various reasons, is a necessity…but the choices that have become trends in guiding school offerings for the last several years have being going down a very, very bad path…

        • Jeff

          God bless her for not falling into the "my kid must be an idiot" trap. I'm also a firm believer in education because, in a complex world as ours, we need an educated citizenry that understands how to evaluate arguments, how to interpret data and how to come to a conclusion based on a rational analysis of a situation.The quality of our education system and its citizenry is in evidence every time you turn on the television and hear the deep, philosophical pronouncements from Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and, the man who should be president, Sean Hannity. Believe me, it makes me proud to be an American knowing that they are the product our educational system. And I thank God that President Dubya paved the path for these people and has proven that being an absolute idiot need not be an impediment to success. In fact, if we were to judge by these people, being an idiot was the key ingredient to their success. ;)

          • codsteb

            Babies might (and I am sure, cannot, really) read, but whatever for would they want to? Babies, left to their own devices, do what they need to do, developmentally: gurgle, look at mommy and daddy (or others in such roles), suck their fingers, roll over, screech, you know, all that stuff.____Most babies take several months to become as smart as a puppy, and another year to string together thoughts, so reading is a really stupid idea, thought up by someone who has a penchant for ripping off stupid people.____There is education, and there is school. Most people make the mistake of conflating the two, or in some way assuming that education occurs only in school, and/or that school is the only way to become educated.____As you say, the current national crisis of uneducated, misinformed, irrational, emotion driven, hypoanalytical public life is evidence that these assumptions are false.____That’s my review.__

  • Gina Pera

    Poor little kids these days, being pushed so hard in every direction.

    I would never want my child to read that young. Who knows what it would do to his/ her brain, not to mention the imagination?

    At the younger ages, nothing replaces verbal interaction with an engaged adult and other children. Or listening to storytelling. Or simply being allowed time to “wool-gather.”

    Inspire children with their surroundings — with nature, with music, with places to roam physically and mentally. The idea of sticking a book in the face of little children……I find scarily limiting.

    P.S. Jeff, I don’t think any education system could have improved the likes of Palin, Beck, and Hannity. A better mental health system, maybe. But not education.

    • Jeff

      Of course I'm in complete agreement with you. The fact that Palin, Beck and Hannity even has a following tells us how our educational system has failed many millions of people. After all, could Fox News exist if people really learned how to think? Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  • 18channels

    "Wool-gather"=love it. Perfect description. More children do need time to wool-gather.

    I got a crap ton of wool-gathering time as a kid…it involved a lot of dirt…and lot of hanging out and listening to adults and asking them questions about stuff…and my mom had a giant dictionary that we would look stuff up in all the time if we wanted or needed to know what a new word meant…but no reading boot camp. They would read to us and when we decided to read on our own, we got allll the library books we wanted. I would hyperfocus for HOURS…no peeing, no eating, just reading (and occasionally accidentally peeing my pants because I was so focused and wouldn't go to the bathroom…oh ADHD I LOVE YOU!).

    It's great when kids figure out that reading on their own can be fun…my boyfriend's 7-year old just figured that out, so now, instead of tickling and pinching her little brothers and otherwise asserting her POWER as the oldest, she likes to go off and curl up with a book…which made the next youngest a little lonely the other day. He ran to his father, whining that his sister wouldn't play with him:

    "Because she's reading, leave her alone."
    "But WHYYYYY!"
    "Because….because she's seven and she can READ, that's why! Leave her alone! When you can read, you can have quiet reading time too!"

    Which was great because then the 5 year old says:


    HAH. Peer pressure, the great motivator. Who needs special reading programs when social dynamics sort it out for you for free!

    • Jeff

      This is a WONDERFUL story. Thanks so much for sharing it. In our family everyone zones out and reads. Family discussions range from \”Pride and Prejudice\” to \”Inside of a Dog.\”Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  • Lisa

    As a mother, I was curious what the programs out there were about. There is nothing wrong with these approaches to reading as long as the videos are relevant and information is not forced on a child. We have the Your Baby Can Read series and we wanted a bit more so we purchased the Monkisee DVDs. I decided to try out different programs thinking if it ever became work or something she did not want to do than we could use them as Frisbees. I am truly impressed with the Monkisee DVDs as a mother and as a school psychologist, wish I could hand them out to the young children I assess for developmental delays.

    • Jeff

      Lisa, thanks so much for your input on this. I think the major problem with this program and others like it is the grandiose claims that are made. In the case of this reading program, you would think they would provide some data to back up their claims…they do not. If you ever find data that shows the effectiveness of these programs…I’d be very interested in knowing about it.

      And thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. It’s always great to hear a new voice on the blog.

  • Joanne

    I used Your Baby Can Read and thought it was alright. I was not in love with the program, and neither was my baby. It did not capture my baby’s attention and make him excited to learn. I did find a different program that we are currently using and I am very happy with it. It has more of an entertaining spin on it that Your Baby Can Read. My baby has really enjoyed using this program and so far we are noticing some great results. My baby is recognizing his body barts and basic shapes and colors. I would definitely reccomend this program to other parents. If perhapes you already own Your Baby Can Read, together the two program can really complement each other.

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      It’s great that you found something that you and the baby like. It’s still a bit of a question mark concerning the efficacy of any of these programs. However, the issue with the Your Baby Can Read program is that it promises much much more than it could ever deliver.

  • Early Reading & Math tutoring

    Brilliant post guys……………………………………

ADHD: Awesome and Deadly

An email from an ADHDer. Subject: Open this email I have ADD and I want to share! Message: Hi Jeff, [...]

What It Feels Like To Have ADHD

ADHD – A Love Story (Part 6)

The Trap is Set

The Wanderer

The Child Within The Man

ADHD – A Love Story (Part 5)

The System Is Blinking Red

ADHD – A Love Story (Part 4)

A Quick Bite

ADHD – A Love Story (Part 3)

Thick As A Brick

How Do You Know If You Have ADHD?

The Warning Signs of ADHD

ADHD – A Love Story (Part 2)

Warning Signs

ADHD – A Love Story (Part 1)

The Ground Shakes

A Cure for ADHD

Satisfaction Guaranteed Or Your Money Back!

The Perfect Month

What A Great Time Of Year

That’s What I Call ADHD-Friendly Software

A recent ADHD newsletter noted that The Brain — a mind mapping software — might be a useful tool for [...]

Life in the Modern Age

Sixteen months ago I moved from the world of entrepreneurship — a portmanteau comprised of the French word entrepreneur, which [...]

E-Card Fun

Some more e-card humor: Expressing Your ADHD Self…Digitally A Few Laughs, Giggles & Groans

While Rome Burns

I’ve started collecting screenshots of online advertising. I’m trying to understand the message. The ad below says that if I’m [...]

Kiss Your Distractions Goodbye

Do one thing at a time

ADHD Does Not Exist

I can’t tell what is more disturbing. A book titled “ADHD Does Not Exist: The Truth About Attention Deficit and [...]