Does teaching children to read and build a larger vocabulary earlier actually help the child with learning and school? The Boston Globe Magazine on Sunday had an excellent article that examined what research actually shows in this area, contrary to conventional wisdom.

The upshot? Trying to raise a baby Einstein is likely more harmful to your child’s development than simply trying to raise your kid normally:

Because of all the anxiety, and because of the patina of “hard” science that overlays the nascent brain-research field, many parents buy into claims that have the skimpiest of data to support them and ignore decades of solid, well-replicated but seemingly “soft” cognitive and behavioral research whose findings can often be more instructive. Consider a University of Washington study released in August that evaluated the impact on language development of educational “brain science” baby DVDs such as the hugely successful Baby Einstein series. The researchers found that among children ages 8 months to 16 months, each hour per day spent viewing these videos translated into a 17 percent decrease in vocabulary acquisition.


For starters, let’s consider the impact of academic expectations on the preschool experience. Temple University psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and two colleagues compared children in academically oriented preschools with those in socially oriented preschools. At age 5, those in the academic group knew more numbers and letters than their counterparts in the social group. But those gains faded away by around the first grade. And the kids from the academic preschools were observed to be less creative and less enthusiastic about learning.


A cross-cultural study of European children published in 2003 in the British Journal of Psychology found those taught to read at age 5 had more reading problems than those who were taught at age 7. The findings supported a 1997 report critical of Britain’s early-reading model.

The article also discusses some possible explanations for these non-intuitive results, such as the fact that the brain simply isn’t at a good point in its development (via myelination) to support reading and reading comprehension at 5 or 6. Well worth the read if you have a newborn baby and are thinking about any of these early reading programs.

Read the full article: Rush, Little Baby