"Your Baby Can Read" is the name of a DVD, book and flashcard system with a provocative premise: that infants as young as 2-3 months old can begin learning to read. The product's creator, Robert Titzer, claims hundreds of thousands of infants around the world have learned to read using his program.
But does the $200 program work?
The Ecklunds think so. Their baby, Sonia, started watching the DVDs when she was just 5 months old. They followed the program recommendations, interacting with Sonia using the flashcards and books. By 10 months, she was able to identify words on flashcards. Now, as a 2-year-old, Sonia is able to read aloud from basic books.
"Around 10 months we really got confirmation she knew what the words were. We'd say, 'find the word elephant,' and she'd crawl over and find the word elephant," said Sonia's mother, Hung Eckland.
Dad Kier says he was skeptical at first, but says the program delivered results. "You're looking at it going 'No way. They're 14 months and they can read these words.' But to be honest, she did it. She could've been one of the babies on the video [testimonials]."
But a quick online search turns up plenty of parent complaints about the system. Some reviews say the DVDs are too repetitive and rely on memorization, rather than teaching babies to read by sounding words out.
Daryl Ragan is a certified Barton reading and spelling tutor. She says programs like "Your Baby Can Read" aren't likely to be harmful to learning, but, she says, reading early and often to your child can be just as effective.
"Reading is the combination of phonological awareness, which is recognizing sounds and the letters and putting them together into words and it would be really unusual for 12-month-old to be able to do that," Ragan said. "What you want to do is expose them to words and language and stories."
As for the product's claims that the "best and easiest time to learn a language is during the infant and toddler years," Ragan says research shows that, in fact, different babies learn at different rates.
"What we have to be careful of is overdoing it and pushing a child before they're ready," Ragan said.
When asked if she would panic if her child couldn't read by the age of two, Ragan replied, "I certainly wouldn't."
As for Sonia, she's moved on. Her parents say she rarely uses the program anymore but what she learned was worth the time and money. But, they say, it wasn't a substitute for reading to her or exposing her to the other things that help develop a well-rounded child.
If you are worried your child is falling behind, Ragan says trust your gut instinct. She says by age 4-5, signs will surface if your child is struggling to read. Warning signs include, "A family history. A child that's really struggling with sounds -- if they continue to mix up and b and d sounds as they get into 5 and 6 years old. If they're struggling to learn the alphabet or struggling to memorize their home address and phone number," says Ragan.