A product that says it can teach babies to read from three months is being sold to parents and used in childcare centres in Australia, despite its makers being prosecuted for misleading claims in the United States.
Child development experts have warned against the Your Baby Can Read! education program of video, flashcards and pop-up books.
The product retails for up to $300 from an Australian website and reputable retailers such as Baby Kingdom and Kids Central. It's used in at least 10 childcare centres.
If parents follow the instructions, their baby will have watched more than 200 hours of Your Baby Can Read on DVD by the age of nine months.
The product has received publicity on current affairs and morning television shows, and Australian model Miranda Kerr has spoken on radio saying the product gave her toddler son a large vocabulary.
In the United States, national watchdog the Federal Trade Commission is pursuing the product creator, Robert Titzer, in court for making "deceptive expert endorsements", which he contests.
In August last year, product manufacturer Your Baby Can and its former chief executive. Hugh Penton Jr, made a US$185 million settlement with the commission over false and deceptive advertising charges. The company has since gone out of business.
However, the product is still being sold in Australia, where its NSW distributor lists an online community of more than 14,700 members.
Endeavour Hills mother Donna Carthy said she was "absolutely over the moon" after using the program every day for up to 90 minutes with her son Emmanuel, ever since he was three months old.
Emmanuel, now 15 months, loves to sit in his high chair to watch the DVDs and can now read words such as "elephant" and "car", she said.
"I just really want to give him a head start in life," Carthy said. "That's what every parent wants."
Your Baby Can Read is also used in some childcare centres, such as First Steps Child Care centre in Whittington, Geelong, where centre director Michelle Roncon said flashcards and flip books were still used but the use of DVDs had stopped.
"We had a portable DVD and TV in the babies' room but that whole 'screen time' aspect does take away from the personalised education," she said.
In Sydney, the Clovel group of nine centres also uses the program, and its owner, Lyn Connolly, testifies to its success.
Bridie Raban, an honorary professor of early childhood development at the University of Melbourne, said time spent doing the program would be better used talking, singing, playing or telling stories to children.
Research has linked infant screen time to sleep disturbances and delayed language acquisition, as well as problems in later childhood such as poor school performance and childhood obesity.
"You can train babies, like you can train a dog, to respond to certain words, but why would you want to do that?" she said. "Reading is not about memory. It's an intellectual process, it's about understanding, and these kinds of programs are not based on the principles of early learning."
A statement from Dr Titzer said that more than 1 million families around the world, particularly in Asia, had used the program.
He said recent studies on TV use and children showed content made a big difference, and his DVDs were interactive and taught babies something of lasting value.
"There are long-term studies in every area of language acquisition showing the earlier the child is taught the language skill, the better the child does later in that area."
Dr Eva Dobozy, a senior lecturer in early childhood at Curtin University, said young children learnt more valuable skills through play, and such programs could turn children off learning, leading to behavioural problems at school.