Stop the presses—another uber-intelligent celebrity baby has been identified.
I haven't watched Beyoncé's documentary, but full disclosure, I probably will. She's Beyoncé after all. But I did see the US Weekly piece this morning, with a quote given to Oprah about her daughter's intelligence:
"She's very smart. She's already reading flashcards. She's beautiful."
Look, Mrs. Carter, it may appear from this picture of me sitting on my Grammy's lap that I'm reading, too, but ... I hope you know that your daughter really isn't reading. (And yes, I know she probably doesn't mean it literally. Keep reading for the point.)
Confident that she is just plain crazy, I did a quick Google search on babies and reading and now, feel even crappier as a parent. Maybe I screwed up with my kids after all. In a 2010 Psychology Today article by J. Richard Gentry, he says:
"It's not unusual for babies and toddlers to learn to read before entering kindergarten. In some cases, albeit with lots of happy attention and time devoted to the process, I've seen five-year-olds read age-appropriate books at third- to fifth-grade level. But entering kindergarten already reading a few very easy books is a reasonable goal. One four-year-old learned to read the First Amendment of the Constitution before he learned to write his name. I found that to be a little strange."
A little strange? No, that's a lot strange. I don't even know that kid but his parents scare the ever-loving crap out of me. I can feel bad about not teaching my kids phonics in the womb, but I'm willing to bet my kids are grateful I didn't make them read the Magna Carta.
Too many times, parents get caught in the "Am I doing enough?" cycle that is most likely the fifth circle of Dante's vision of Hell. It ain't enough that our kids can read before they tie their shoes—now they have to be able to read before they are out of diapers. This is simply too much pressure. On kids. On parents. On teachers. Now before the haters go all nuts on me, I'm not judging—if you read to your child in utero and they are now 13 and headed to Harvard, brava. I love reading -- it's what I am all about. I still read to my kids when I can, though most days now, it's the Riot Act. I actively encourage reading—I just don't want it to be so you feel like your child can remain on par with all the other little geniuses in his or her preschool class. Pressure to perform is a turnoff, and this skill is too vital for life to have them hate so early on.
Debate on parenting and how to parent is rife with varied opinions already -- add education to the mix and people get ready to throw down. I just worry when I see statements like that from Beyoncé and all of the sudden, everyone's pushing for their kid to master first grade coursework before they finish their first year of life. On the flip side, if it encourages some enterprising person to create a luxe set of must-have flashcards, then all the better for America. Capitalism wins!
In his article, Gentry does point out the most important reason to read to your baby:
"The answer is love. "You will love your baby more by reading to her!" The most powerful enticement for early reading may be feelings--both the baby's and yours. When doing research for my book, I was surprised to learn that many bonding studies support the notion that early contact--touching, skin-to-skin contact, the parent's smells (and baby's pleasant scent), which are all part of early reading aloud, improve feelings of love and attachment and make you a better parent."
OK, now I feel better. For reading to my kids was the one thing I did without fail almost every night before bed. And I highly recommend it—just forget the academic expectations and enjoy. Snuggle, cuddle, share a favorite book, tell stories ... They've only got that new baby smell for a few months.