It’s no surprise that many Queensland parents are looking outside the school system to give their kids a better chance in class.

So many new programs (such as Brainetics, Fast ForWord and Your Baby Can Read) are advertised in high rotation on daytime television to demonstrate that kids can do better at maths and reading. But do they work?

Parents Lina and Michael Tesch, of Oxley, are banking on it. Although their son Samuel is only three months old, Lina and Michael already have bought several programs to give Samuel a head start in his education. Samuel watches Your Baby Can Read dvds, which use nursery rhymes, songs and flip books to familiarise children with written words while they are learning to speak. “They say that you learn the most from birth until five years and we can really see it working,” Lina Tesch says. “Already Samuel can recognise animals [from the dvd] when you show him the cards.”

The Teschs hope Samuel eventually will move onto other programs such as numeracy and memory program Brainetics, aimed at children over age nine. Kaya, of Cooroy, is only seven but her mum Annette Bain purchased Brainetics three months ago after noticing Kaya’s keen interest in numbers. They now run through the maths and memory games together several times a week. Already Kaya can understand mathematical concepts such as fractions and square numbers, and is learning her multiplication tables.

Annette Bain was so impressed with Kaya’s progress that she volunteers with Year 5 students at Kaya’s school once a week to teach them the program. These children can now multiply two and three digit numbers in their heads – a result that also has impressed the school enough for it to consider adopting the program for grades four and above.

US-based Mike Byster is the founder and owner of Brainetics and he says most schools don’t teach students how to learn. “A lot of kids never learn how to memorise, how to focus, how to follow directions, how to think a little bit outside the box, think creatively,” he explains.

He believes the key is to make learning fun. “The same kid that can’t memorise his multiplication tables can memorise hundreds of sports statistics if they love sports or dozens of songs with thousands of lyrics if they like music,” he says.

Anna Streater, of Kelvin Grove, agrees. She bought memory and literacy program Fast ForWord for her 10-year-old son Luke after teachers complained about his lack of focus in class. Streater took Luke to see specialists before one doctor suggested Fast ForWord to improve concentration and reading.

The program uses games and cartoon characters to enhance learning and provides weekly updates as an incentive to beat your personal best. After three months Streater says Luke’s improvement was “out of sight”. “He used to go off with the fairies a bit, his teacher actually thought he might have Aspergers,” she says. “Now, his attention is much better and he’s completely involved in tasks.”

Learning to memorise and focus could also help adults, with recent research indicating puzzles and memory games may help ward off dementia. Brainetics user Annette Bain admits exercises can be a challenge. “You get out of the habit of learning,” she says. “I can really see the benefit just in having your brain working…if you don’t use it, you lose it.”