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Getting Your Baby to Read: Do's and Don'ts in the News

Earlier this month, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission charging the makers of the "Your Baby Can Read!" video series with false and deceptive marketing and asking the feds to ban their television ads. The parent company, Your Baby Can LLC, encourages parents to start the videos with infants as young as three months old.

An Associated Press story on the complaint quotes a Yale neurologist and a Harvard child development expert disputing the company's claims that its materials can help infants and toddlers learn to read very early.

"The whole 'baby genius' industry for anxious parents is misguided," warns Yale neurologist Stephen Novella.

What interests me about this dustup is how those ads are viewed by my neighbors. I live in a Chicago South Side neighborhood with lots of immigrant families from Mexico and African-Americans who are far from wealthy, just the families subject to much of the policymaking featured in Early Years. And their kids find these commercials fascinating. I don't know anyone who's bought the videos—at $200 for the series it's probably too pricey—but when the neighbor kids come to visit and play with almost-two-year-old, who likes to scribble and knows a couple of letters, they marvel at his skills."You should get 'Your Baby Can Read'!" they exclaim.

It's also interesting to compare the marketing efforts with the recent launch of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, a funder-driven effort to raise awareness of the importance of ensuring all children learn to read by 3rd grade and thus assure their future educational success. Its home page features a clip from the PBS News Hour on early learning, and its video gallery features clips from famous people talking about the importance of school attendance and graduation, but there's no comparable direct media outreach yet visible to families with young children.

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