Can Babies REALLY Read?

Have you ever heard the phrase “You don’t know what you don’t know?”

Or perhaps, “When you know better, you do better?”

These phrases have never been more true than when it comes to teaching babies how to read! Most parents don’t even have a clue that babies are capable of reading. But when they finally DO accept out that infant literacy is the real-deal, they recognize that it’s obviously the best choice to make for their child.

Parents just like you go through a few stages and beliefs when embarking on this journey. Let’s be real, you wouldn’t have found this website otherwise. Just sayin’.

Stage One: EVERYONE KNOWS BABIES CAN’T READ! That’s impossible and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool or trying to scam you.

Stage Two: I watched a few youtube videos, but I still don’t believe it. They are just TRAINING the baby like you would train a dog. Unbelievable. The kid doesn’t even know what they are doing! They don’t even know what it means! It’s not REAL reading. It’s just a parlor trick…nothing more.

Stage Three: But wait, the kid in that video is sounding out words phonetically? Huh? And the other one is reading an entire storybook. Surely, he can’t have memorized the ENTIRE thing? It’s pages and pages long…could there be something to this after all?

Stage Four: Okay, wow. I don’t know how this is true, but I’ve looked into it enough and I’m feeling pretty dumbfounded right now. I’ve seen some really little kids actually reading.

How could this even be true? And why in the heck did no one tell me about this? How is this not common knowledge? Surely ALL those parents can’t be faking ALL those YouTube videos? But hang on, I don’t want to be some pushy parent. Even if this IS possible, is it something I SHOULD be doing?

Stage Five: I really don’t know what I’m doing but my kid means the world to me. I know it sounds crazy. But if there is a CHANCE this might work for my baby, I am going to try and give them the best headstart in life. I can’t tell anyone about this, they’ll think I’m either nuts, stupid or both.

But if I can somehow do this, the payoff for my child is just too big to walk away from. If the experiment fails, so what? But if it works….wow, how amazing would that be for my kid?! I am not 100% convinced it’s even going to work for us, but I guess I’m willing to give it a shot…

Stage Six: Now how the heck do I do this?

Does any of that sound familiar?

I, too, didn’t believe babies that could actually read. I actually found out that they are natural-born learners completely by accident. Way-back-when, my father bought the original Your Baby Can Read VIDEO CASSETTES for my sister when my niece was born. (Yes, actual VHS tapes…the kind you put in a VCR!)

You see, my brother struggled in school. BIG TIME. I’ll write more about that and my own childhood role in his education another day, but let’s just say that the school system failed him and he didn’t get a fair shake at life. Not even close.

When my father saw the Your Baby Can Read videotapes on an infomercial, he wasn’t fully convinced it was real but thought, “If this could somehow work, I could potentially save my grandchildren from the same fate suffered by my youngest son.”

Maybe he was just trying to redeem himself, I don’t know. But he bought them. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination and they were not cheap. But after the turmoil of dealing with my brother’s reading struggles for years, he figured a few hundred dollars would be well-worth it, IF the program somehow worked.

My sister wasn’t particularly convinced and never did much with them. She was an overwhelmed first-time parent and reading was pretty much the last thing on her list. I think she made a set of homemade flashcards once that she had laminated (expensively!) at Kinko’s Copy Shop and never did it again.

She realized it was going to take a bit of effort on her part to do the program, without any guarantee that it would even be worth her while. She got busy with life, abandoned the Your Baby Can Read tapes, and put Barney on repeat instead.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently WRONG with Barney. “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family” and all that. But what we’re talking about here is OPPORTUNITY COST. Every minute spent on that big purple dinosaur was a minute my baby niece could have been TRULY benefiting from early learning. She later started, and struggled with, learning to read in elementary school as so many kids do.

Fast forward to a few years later and my husband and I were expecting our firstborn, Lily. My sister handed me the tapes and said “I don’t really know what to do with these, you’ve always been a big fan of education so maybe you want to use them?”

I remember looking them over when my daughter was just one or two months old. I flipped through the booklet and read that I might have to use them for months before I could even know if it was working? Who could even wait that long?! It seemed like I was supposed to wait until my kid could TALK to know if I was wasting my time or not? I think not.

It just sounded like way more effort than it was worth, especially since I was exhausted from raising a newborn. I mean, it probably didn’t even work anyway! I tried to research it online but couldn’t get any real confirmation that it was legit. Instead, I found a lot of sites that said it was a scam. I put the tapes back in the closet and forgot about them.

I cringe now looking back on this moment.

A dear friend of mine had her second baby around the same time as I had my first. She was an established mom and already had a “Mommy & Me” playgroup that she met up with for playdates and such. My friend mentioned in passing that one of the toddlers in particular at the playgroup was “really smart.”

Now, my sister was correct in her earlier observation that I DO highly value education. And my friend’s comment certainly piqued my interest. So I asked her — what exactly did the parents do to make their baby so smart? She said that she didn’t know all the details, but she knew for sure they taught her baby sign language with a program called “Baby Signing Time.”

Aha! So NOW I had some information I could work with! A first-hand, unbiased testament. Sweet! I immediately ordered the DVDs.

At that point, Lily was three months old and my husband had to leave on a very long work trip for many months. In the meantime, I had to juggle raising a baby by myself and still somehow take a few minutes for self-care. Like, actually take a shower! 

My solution was to set up the Baby Signing Time videos on a TV near the bathroom and to put my daughter in the Exersaucer to watch them. I could still peek out from behind the shower curtain and check on her while she was being entertained. 

After a while, I attempted to communicate with her using baby sign language over and over and again to no avail. I might as well have been speaking Chinese. I truly had her best intentions at heart when I spent money on a program that I THOUGHT would benefit her. I couldn’t help but think – what gives?

She gave zero indication of understanding what I signed to her. Even for MILK! Clearly, it was not working. I guess my kid just wasn’t as smart as the little playgroup genius.

Oh well. I shrugged it off and stopped attempting to sign with her. I wasn’t going to force the issue, after all, I wasn’t THAT kind of mom! Okay, so despite my best intentions, it turned out my kid was NOT genius…so what? Whoop-dee-doo. Moving on.

But even if the program wasn’t actually working like it was SUPPOSED to, the fact is that I still needed to take a shower. She liked the songs on the DVDs and they kept her occupied for a few minutes while I handled my business, so I just continued to play them for her every day. What’s the harm, right?

(I know, I know. Electronic babysitting at it’s finest! But hey, “a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.” Don’t judge my journey, bro!)

My husband finally returned from his way-too-long long work trip overseas when Lily was about 12 months old. Thankfully, she heard his voice, looked at him curiously, and immediately recognized him from all the Skype calls.

About a week or two after he got back, Lily was having a little temper tantrum, as one-year-olds are known to do. I had literally not attempted to sign with her for MONTHS by that point. I had given up on that a LONG time ago.

But in a random gesture to distract her and calm her down, my husband asked her- “Lily, what’s the sign for bird?”

The little stinker. I couldn’t believe it. She signed it right back to him, plain as day. Like it was nothing. Shocked, he asked her another. And another. And another.

She knew them ALL. Every single one. Four DVDs worth of friggin’ baby sign language came pouring out all at once. What the heck!? I had no idea she knew even ONE sign, let alone all of them?! And she just treated the whole interaction like a no-big-deal, really fun game with her dad!

Maybe I had eagerly signed too early in the process when she hadn’t fully learned them yet? Maybe she just didn’t “feel like it” when I tried to sign with her? Who knows.

Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter. This was a huge breakthrough in our house! This was PROOF, no question about it, that babies absolutely COULD learn. EVEN IF there was no outward indication that anything was actually sinking in!

I immediately upgraded our ancient Your Baby Can Read VHS tapes to DVD’s and started using them. Within a month, Lily was recognizing words on flashcards and matching them with toy animals. We played word games every day and she loved it. Holy smokes, this stuff was actually working!

We introduced letters, shapes, colors, and numbers using the Preschool Prep program. She BURNED through the curriculum and could not get enough. We did board books, flap books, flashcards, you name it. She was learning the Preschool Prep program so quickly that I had to look for new material as she was nearing the end soon.

When I stumbled on Little Reader software, we unknowingly hit the learning jackpot. While the Your Baby Can Read DVD set introduces 200 words, Little Reader teaches 3,000 words and is customizable to add even more.

I downloaded the free trial and we started using it with her right away. It kept her engaged and she seemed to enjoy it. We made it part of our daily routine every morning.

When Lily was 17 months old, my mother was visiting and she was helping give Lily a bath. I was demonstrating how to sound out three-letter words using foam bath letters while Lily splashed around.

I stuck a new set of letters to the side of the tub but before I got a chance to announce them, Lily pointed and said “wwww……aaaaaa….xxxxx.”

Whaaaat?! My 17-month-old had just sounded out the word WAX!!? Phonetically AND unprompted?!

Not only did she sound out a word for the first time, it was a novel word she had never before encountered in her lessons. Wow!

If my mother hadn’t witnessed it, I’m not sure I would have believed my own eyes and ears. I knew at some point she was going to transition from “whole word” sight-reading to phonetic reading, but I didn’t think it was going to be before she turned TWO?!

She’s been soaking up knowledge like a sponge ever since. No, CORRECTION: She has ALWAYS been soaking up knowledge like a sponge since DAY ONE, but I was just too blind to believe or recognize it in the beginning!

It was then I realized that it didn’t matter WHAT the experts claimed was or wasn’t possible…all the “proof” I needed was my own sweet daughter splashing around in the tub! Babies are simply capable of so much more than we collectively give them credit for.

I later repeated the process with my son Owen and teaching him to read was even easier than teaching Lily. “DOG” was the first word he read and he signed it to me long before he could talk. He later read the word CRIME while viewing a Hoooked on Phonics DVD. I think he was around 15 months old at the time and I KNEW I had never introduced that word before.

Here’s one of my favorite videos of Owen’s early reading progress taken on Christmas Day just before he turned 3. All he wanted from Santa was Angry Birds and a race car. As you can tell, he was over the moon with his presents. He was reading all kinds of peculiar words that I clearly never “trained” him on and he was so excited that he could barely get the words out!

I began this early education journey because I wanted to give my child a boost, just like the “smart kid from the playgroup.”

But in the end, my children didn’t learn how to read early BECAUSE they were smart. They are smart BECAUSE they learned to read early!

I am “just a mom”…not a trained teacher in any capacity. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just winging it. Even so, I was able to give my children the gift of early literacy because I cared enough to try, as crazy as it sounded at the time, and you can, too!

Click HERE to download a free trial of the Little Reader with no credit card or future billing required. Simply select the green SHOP tab and click the red TRIAL tab to get started today!

Give your child a LOVE OF READING