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Can educational DVDs help my baby learn to read?

DVDs designed to increase phonetic awareness in babies and toddlers are not effective in boosting cognitive development, say researchers.

We all want our children to get the best start in life and for some parents that means learning how to read from an early age. However, researchers at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development have found that using DVDs, word and picture flashcards, and flipbooks to teach your baby how to recognise letter names, letter sounds, and improve their vocabulary isn’t always the answer.

How the research was conducted

For the study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, researchers examined 117 babies, aged nine to 18 months. One group was provided with educational materials in the form of a baby media product, including DVDs, word and picture flashcards, and flipbooks to be used daily over a seven-month period.

The other group received no materials. Assorted tests were used to determine the babies’ ability to recognise letter names, letter sounds, vocabulary, words identified on sight, and comprehension.

The truth behind DVDs, flashcards, and flipbooks for babies

The end of the experiment showed no difference between the group that had the materials and the one that didn’t. Although educational DVDs and similar products were shown to have virtually no effect, they do seem to have an effect on parents.

Parents have confidence in products

“It’s clear that parents have great confidence in the impact of these products on their children,” says lead study author Susan Neuman, a professor in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Teaching and Learning. “However, our study indicates this sentiment is misplaced.”

Used to encourage cognitive development

While babies exposed to educational DVDs may not learn to read any faster, it’s still possible to encourage cognitive development. A 2012 study by researchers at North Dakota State University and Texas A&M found that babies who sit up – either alone or with assistance – will reap the most reward from educational toys and videos.

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