Baby flashcards have grown in popularity. They are advertised with seemingly amazing effects, like 1½ year old reading and counting.

On the other hand academics seem to either say that they don't have long term positive effect, or worse yet, that they have negative effect (child did not learn at that age, what it should have normally have learnt, for example socializing). See Pat Wolfe's Q&A or book by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek "Einstein Never Used Flash Cards"

Are there any scientific, evidence-based, studies showing that they have either positive or negative effect on children's literacy or numeracy?

Related question: Is “Your Baby Can Read” effective and helpful?

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    How is this different from the other question?
    – nico
    Aug 14, 2012 at 17:12
  • @nico: other question answer is basically "TV is bad for babies", which is irrelevant in case of flashcards.
    – vartec
    Aug 14, 2012 at 20:23
  • well... it's about "learning to read using a memorization method on TV", not really about TV.
    – nico
    Aug 15, 2012 at 7:56
  • @nico: still, the only and accepted answer is "TV is bad for babies".
    – vartec
    Aug 20, 2012 at 8:38

1 Answer 1


There is a growing number of baby media products that claim to teach babies to read targeted to infants as young as 3 months old. Flashcards make no difference in learning reading/counting to the children, but had a massive effect on the parents per study 'Can babies learn to read? A randomized trial of baby media'. The grown-ups were convinced their children were learning to read, although there was no scientific evidence to show this was true.

Researchers from New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development designed a randomized controlled trial to examine the claim of 'teaching babies to read' by investigating the effects of a best-selling baby media product on reading development. The trial 'Can babies learn to read? A randomized trial of baby media.' by Neuman, Susan B.; Kaefer, Tanya; Pinkham, Ashley; Strouse, Gabrielle was published in Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 106(3), Aug 2014, 815-830.

One hundred and seventeen infants, ages 9 to 18 months, were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Children in the treatment condition received the baby media product, which included DVDs, word and picture flashcards, and word books to be used daily over a 7-month period; children in the control condition, business as usual. Examining a 4-phase developmental model of reading, the trial examined both precursor skills (such as letter name, letter sound knowledge, print awareness, and decoding) and conventional reading (vocabulary and comprehension) using a series of eye-tracking tasks and standardized measures.

Those given the products were asked to use them daily and researchers paid the families regular visits to test the language development of the infants and to interview parents. The youngsters were also brought into the lab to be given reading tests while tracking their eye movements. These tests can show experts for instance whether a child is actually reading and recognizing words or simply looking at shapes on a page.

Results indicated that babies did not learn to read using baby media, despite some parents displaying great confidence in the program’s effectiveness.

Variability "among individuals in verbal abilities is influenced to some extent by genetic factors [Oliver & Plomin, 2007 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17539369)", but "the contributions of early experience to differences in language proficiency are also substantial". Research on language problems in twins has also shown that environmental factors are more powerful than genetic factors in accounting for similarities in language development in children in the same family Oliver, Dale & Plomin. There is consensus that infants’ genetic potentials in these domains can only be realized with appropriate environmental support. In families where adequate resources and support are consistently available, children are more likely to be buffered from adverse circumstances than are children in impoverished families, and so are more likely to be able to achieve their developmental potential.

We will need at least two completely independent measures listed below to truly investigate the relationship between quantity of interaction and vocabulary growth per research mentioned above,

They are

  • a measure of quantity of interaction such as that used by Hart and Risley (1995).
  • a measure of vocabulary size such as a vocabulary size test.

However these measures are yet to be studied.

  • Welcome to skeptics and thank you for contributing. I have noticed you're referencing links incorrectly (check the edit to see the correct way), also you can use bullet and quote directly and be less wordy, that would make the answer more interesting. Jun 16, 2015 at 7:49
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    I think it is important to highlight parts that you have taken from the paper using the quote formatting (just prepend > to the sentence), to avoid confusion between things you are citing from the paper and things you are writing yourself. I would edit the answer myself, but do not have access to the paper.
    – nico
    Jun 16, 2015 at 11:30
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    Echoing @nico's concern, I've added some quote formatting and quote marks, but I suspect there is a lot more. Quoting someone without attribution is plagiarism, and is not tolerated here.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 16, 2015 at 12:39

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