Essay on Baby Reading

I started teaching my little boy to read beginning at 22 months, and by age four, he was decoding text (reading, in that sense) quite fluently at the sixth grade level, or above.

I’ve discovered that there isn’t a lot written about the subject of baby reading.  So I have written a 45,000-word essay on the subject:

How and Why I Taught My Toddler to Read
PDFDOCHTML
(the PDF is best)

I’ve worked on this for two years, off and on.  It is formatted as a 140-page book, which I’m presenting to the public free, under a Creative Commons (CC-by-nc-nd) license.  Here is a video of my boy reading to me when he was two, then three, then four.  At age 3 years, 10 months, he read the First Amendment of the Constitution (in the video at 2:47):

How’d we do it? We used a variety of methods: I read many books to him while pointing to the words, I showed him over 1,000 home-made flashcards (careful: 122 MB zip file) arranged in phonetic groupings, we watched the Your Baby Can Read videos, we used these (150+) PowerPoint presentations I made for him, and we did many other literacy-building activities.  All of this was done in a completely pressure-free way; I taught him to say “that’s enough” and immediately stopped when, if not before, he got tired of any activity. (UPDATE: these flashcards are in the process of being converted into a high-quality digital version at ReadingBear.org.)

I hope that by publicizing our case, we will raise awareness of the methods available that can, in fact, teach very small children to read with about as much ease as they can learn spoken language or sign language.

Working on early childhood educational content and issues is now my full-time job; among other things, I’m planning a new tool that will emulate the best aspects of Your Baby Can Read, but it will be free.  I’ve passed off leadership of WatchKnow.org to a new CEO, the very capable Dr. Joe Thomas.  Expect to see regular updates on this blog about my work, and I’ll be asking for your feedback about my various plans and ideas.

Please use this page to comment on both the essay and the video.

UPDATE: if you want a copy of the essay on your handheld device (and can’t figure out how to put the PDF on your device), you can buy it for $2.99 from the Amazon Store.  Someone asked for this, and I obliged!

UPDATE 2 (Oct. 3, 2011): my son is now five years old. He is now reading daily on his own, and has read himself a couple dozen chapter books, including The Story of the World, Vol. 1: The Ancient World (314 pgs.).

UPDATE 3 (Dec. 16, 2012): at six, my son switches between “serious” literature which he reads with a dictionary app, including Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, and The Secret Garden, and easier literature including Beverly Cleary books, the Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown. If his answers to regular comprehension questions are any indication, he’s understanding what he reads pretty well.

UPDATE 4 (Mar. 26, 2013): I’m delighted to report that my second son, following methods similar to those I used with my first, is now 2.5 years old and reading at a first grade level.

UPDATE 5 (Aug. 25, 2014): my second is following in his brother’s footsteps, reading a version of the Odyssey (he’s crazy about Greek mythology—go figure) at age 3.5:

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About the author

Larry Sanger had written 131 articles for Larry Sanger Blog

I call myself an "Internet Knowledge Organizer." I started Wikipedia.org, Citizendium.org, and WatchKnowLearn.org, and ReadingBear.org. I write about education and the Internet from a broadly philosophical point of view.

94 Responses to "Essay on Baby Reading"
  1. Reply Larry Sanger December 13, 2010 16:58 pm

    So, whatcha think?

    • Reply Dominika April 11, 2011 13:08 pm

      Dear Larry,
      This is just to let you know that your essay was read and greatly appreciated in Warsaw, Poland.
      Dominika

    • Reply C. Shim January 23, 2012 21:35 pm

      I just happened on this website looking for a way to teach my 20 year-old daughter with multiple disabilities to read. What I like about your site is the uncluttered background, very big font sizes in clear and well-spaced letters. I’m going to try it on the TV using the Wii and hope it works. My daughter is also legally blind so having big, clear letters is helpful as well as the vocalizations of the sounds and words.

      FYI – please fix short a – bottom left pics stay in blue (3 go around); also didn’t understand how “had” was matched with the picture of a dove being held.

  2. Reply Tweets that mention Larry Sanger Blog » Essay on Baby Reading -- Topsy.com December 13, 2010 17:23 pm

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Larry Sanger, Larry Sanger. Larry Sanger said: I have written a 140-page essay/book, posted free (CC-by-nc-nd): "How and Why I Taught My Toddler to Read": http://bit.ly/f7x6MH [...]

  3. Reply Nbailey December 13, 2010 18:19 pm

    I am so pleased to see that your essay is now available to all. The video you have put together to show your son’s progress is great. It clearly demonstrates that he is not only reading, but comprehending too, which I think is important to note. I have noticed that some skeptics of early reading/education will say that a young child may read, but will not actually understand what they are reading. [Your son] has certainly proved otherwise (except maybe in the case of the constitution, but it is amazing that he can read it so easily). I love the way he changes his voice when a character is speaking. He obviously has a good understanding of what he is reading. Icluding what it means when he sees a full stop, quotation marks etc… Thank-you for sharing and all the work you have put into documenting your journey.
    I look forward to seeing how you progress with [your son] and his little brother.

  4. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » Could you teach your baby to read? December 13, 2010 23:33 pm

    [...] was thinking about how my essay on baby reading hardly made a ripple on its first day out in the world, despite being announced pretty far and [...]

    • Reply Alana November 15, 2012 07:54 am

      Hi Larry,

      I was searching for information and videos on how to teach our 32 month old daughter to read, and came upon your youtube video. I applaud you for your success with teaching your son to read! Bravo! All of your efforts have paid off! It is even more of a blessing that you are sharing your experience with the world, and for free, I might add! Thank you. I plan to read your extended essay, starting today, and I wanted to thank you in advance.

      You are correct in saying that there is very little information available on teaching young children to read. I began searching for information on this very topic just several days ago, and happened upon a website that addresses that very topic. It offered an early reading program, for a VERY inexpensive price, that teaches young children to read. The website is http://www.childrenlearningreading.com. After viewing several videos, and conversing with the creator of the program via several emails (another parent who taught his 2 year old boy and 3 year old girl to read phonetically after approximately just 3 months and in just minutes a day) and reading a lot of testimony, I decided to purchase the program. His method is a self-created method that focuses on phonetically decoding to read-which is very important because they learn to decode words, as opposed to just whole language learning, which focuses more on memorizing the shapes of words. I’ve viewed much of the program already (which also includes videos of all the few minute, 50 lessons he taught his children-you can really see the honesty and brevity in the lessons). I am very excited to begin the “learning to read” process with our 2.5 year old daughter. The Children Learning Reading program is done with 3-5 minute lessons and is wonderfuI for young children, some of whom don’t always have the longest attention spans, including my own daughter. Although his children’s reading levels aren’t quite as advanced as your son’s level, they have had great successes and their now 4 year old daughter is reading at a grade 4/5 level!

      I am an Elementary teacher and I homeschool our eldest daughter, who is 9 years old and learning disabled. After years of struggling to read with proficiency and fluency, this year I decided to homeschool her, as she learns very well with one on one teaching. She is a very intelligent child with a very high vocabulary and an inquisitive mind, but was really struggling to learn to read well. This was very difficult for us, as we have always been a family who loves to read, and we read to her daily day since she was just 4 months old. Many people think that reading comes to children very naturally, and that if you foster an environment rich in literature, then they will just “catch on”. This may be true for a few, select children, but is untrue for most of them. Early intervention can be key to their future success in reading. Also, from my experience, an intensive phonics program, with elements of a whole reading program (especially the sight word learning element that you mention in your blog) has created an environment of reading success, for our 9 year old daughter these past couple of months. Extensive research confirms that intensive phonetical learning, including learning the advanced code, in combination with sight word learning, and other whole language reading strategies, creates the most successes in children learning to read with fluency and comprehension.

      This is our daughter’s first year of homeschooling, and I am teaching her the advanced phonetical code in an easy, but intensive Reading program called “Reading Reflex”t is excellent, by the way) Her reading has already improved by 4 levels since the beginning of this school year, and her comprehension is excellent.

      Because of our her LD and the many challenges she and our family have faced because of it, I have ventured to dedicate myself to creating an early reading learning environment for our three youngest children, ages 2.5 years old and our twin are 9 months old. We are hoping that our 2.5 year old will be ready to begin to learn to read within the next year. I am planning to begin some very easy, informal lessons within the next few weeks, assuming that she is ready to begin to read.

      Sorry for the “long-winded” comment. I certainly didn’t expect to get into this much detail. You are probably asking, “Why is she telling me all of this?” Well, the reason is simple. I wanted to let you know that I thought your dedication to teaching your son to read, and then sharing your efforts and successes with the world, is much appreciated, especially since you are making your knowledge a free gift! There are many parents who are struggling to support their families and make ends meet, who really want the best for their children’s education, but who often cannot afford more expensive tools and programs, including my own family. It may take me awhile to read your essay, as our family life is very hectic with 3 young children and homeschooling, but I will certainly “drop you a line” to let you know when I have completed the reading. Thanks again and God bless!

      Take care, Larry!
      Cheers and Kind Regards,

      • Reply Larry Sanger November 15, 2012 10:57 am

        Alana, thanks for your reply! Have you seen Reading Bear yet? I’ve spent most of the last two years developing it. It is a version of the flash card method that I used with my first son, which you can read about in my long essay. It is specifically designed to teach reading by teaching phonics and vocabulary together.

        Another recommendation is the BrillKids.com forums. They’re a wonderful resource–the best-informed community online on questions about how best to teach very little kids to read.

        You write about “the sight word learning element that you mention in your blog,” but I am not sure what you mean. The only way we have ever learned sight words–either of my sons, ages 6 and 2–is in the context of stories. Basically, after they’ve learned their letter sounds thoroughly, and gone through the first 5-10 word sets from the Flesch lists (corresponding to the first 5-10 presentations in Reading Bear), they’re able to read the first several Starfall.com and Literactive.com stories. Except that, the first couple times through, they need to be told how to read “the,” “are,” “said,” and a few other little words (not all of which are unphonetic, actually). But once they’ve gone through enough of these basic stories, it’s pretty easy for them to remember the sight words. So, while we do learn sight words, we do so as it were “in the background,” not making any sort of special effort or planning to learn them. In my experience, if you focus on teaching phonics according to the method Reading Bear uses, kids to start learning to read phonetically at age 1-2, and the sight words take care of themselves.

        I’ve never seen ChildrenLearningReading.com. I’ve heard of Reading Reflex and looked at the book on Amazon; I can’t help but think that it makes it all much more complicated-sounding than it has to be.

        Good luck with your little ones!

        • Reply Alana December 4, 2012 15:04 pm

          Thank you for your reply, Larry!

          I have read your essay on Baby Reading and it was very insightful. Thank you for sharing it!

          To clarify about the sight words: I meant that I was teaching the 220 Dolch sight words to my 9 year old daughter. She already knew about half of them, and she has now mastered the other half the last 6 weeks. It has really helped to improve her fluency. She is in the process of learning the advanced code.

          As for Reading Reflex, the program could not be any more simple, and my daughter enjoys most of the lessons. It really isn’t complicated, at all. There are a lot of different letter combinations that make the same sound, and the advanced code is made quite simple with the lessons in Reading Reflex. One area that was very helpful in Reading Reflex is topic of teaching blends (str, nk, etc). I have taught that in my own classrooms, and realize that all it does is ask children to learn too many other letter combinations. After all, all of the letter sounds are intended to “blend”. If a child can make the “/nnnnn/” and “/k/”, then they can just blend them on their own. Why make them memorize a lot of blends? Doesn’t this just make sense? It also discusses the detriment of teaching “word families” and cites many examples how teaching them can actually impair reading. It also cites the point how we have always taught children that letters make sounds. “A” says “/a/), etc. We are the ones that make the sounds. The letters are just sound pictures and they don’t make any sounds! I thought this was quite funny, and even most teachers would probably say that they have not ever thought of reading in this manner, though it seems the most common sense fact. RR focuses on teaching the sounds to the letters first, so as not to confuse the child or overload him with too much information. My daughter had already long known all of her letters, but I thought that this was an excellent point. I remember many times when she would say the letter name, rather than make the sound that the letter represents. When teaching a lesson, rather than saying any letter names, you explain to the child that letters represents sounds that we say, and that they are “sound pictures”. I used the examples they cited and my daughter also calls them “sound pictures”. I am probably making it seem more complicated than it really is…it really isn’t at all complicated. The lessons are simple, straight forward and have little to no preparation. And when you begin teaching the advanced phonetical reading code, all of the lessons follow the same format. It is an excellent resource and it is well worth reading the book. Reading Reflex is a very insightful resource, as well. I have briefly reviewed the Reading Bear website. I plan on using it with our 33 month old daughter when she is a little older. Thanks again, for evrything!

          Cheers and kind regards,
          Alana

  5. Reply Larry Sanger December 14, 2010 00:02 am

    Thanks, Nbailey!

    No video is going to convince people–they have to think it through, and most won’t take the time to do that, I imagine. Well, that’s OK I guess, I’ll just be another voice is the rising chorus, which will be harder to tune out as time goes on. Wait, am I sounding religious now? :-) Well, it’s not like that…

  6. Reply Ariel (one of the mom from Brillkids) December 14, 2010 10:59 am

    This is great that you have created a not for profit organization to promote this. That is very inspiring. It would be great help for many families.

    Moms at the Brillkids discussion forum have been lucky as we have watched your and many other toddlers learn to read and more at a young age.

    I and maybe others would also be interested in other curriculum that you are doing with your son to develop his critical thinking skills and the result of those. I have heard some of it from the Brillkids forum but blogposts here to document it all, would be great.

    My daughter really enjoys the Flesch cards.

    The essay is great. It is very detailed and full of information to motivate others to start.

    Thanks!

  7. Reply Larry Sanger December 14, 2010 11:57 am

    Thanks for your kind words, Ariel. I didn’t create the non-profit, I just happen to be supported in this work by one. You can thank a certain southern gentleman, who doesn’t like to have his name passed around much, who was very much impressed by videos of H. (my first) that he saw. We were already working on http://www.watchknow.org/ and now he’s if anything more excited about baby reading.

  8. Reply Tyson Brown December 14, 2010 21:57 pm

    Larry, congratulations on such an accomplishment! What a massive, epic work. Thank you for publishing this – I can imagine how intense the process must have been.

    Any consideration of trying to make it available on Amazon’s Kindle store, or iBook, etc…? That would probably aid penetration by making it more pleasant and convenient to consume by a large & growing population segment.

    If you’re still feeling disappointed with your perception of the splash this release made, keep in mind that Van Gogh was a commercial failure and only sold one painting during his lifetime. Some things just take a little time to sink in. Also, “the world” is weighing pretty heavily on a lot of people right now, just trying to hold on to their houses and jobs. Give them a few years, and keep up your good, important work.

  9. Reply mtb999 December 14, 2010 22:14 pm

    Dear Larry,
    Thanks for all your posts on TYBTR and Brillkids and for sharing your website! The video of your son is extremely impressive and I am motivated to keep on going with trying to teach my DD. I am looking forward to reading your essay.
    mtb999

  10. Reply Larry Sanger December 14, 2010 22:18 pm

    Totally, I want to put it on Amazon (the Kindle store if nothing else). I haven’t taken the time to figure out how to do it, that’s all. Anyway, definitely.

  11. Reply Larry Sanger December 14, 2010 22:19 pm

    Also, thanks for your kind words and encouragement, Tyson and mtb999. It was a lot of work.

  12. Reply Kevin at Veloteq eBikes December 15, 2010 14:42 pm

    Wonderful contribution! Something strange though–I was not able to see the video using Firefox or Chrome–had to use I.E. before the video showed up.

    Have you had to address concerns of a child reading material that may not be age appropriate? Or that reading early could take away from the experience of being a child? Or that a child far ahead of grade level would be bored in a classroom?

  13. Reply Larry Sanger December 15, 2010 15:11 pm

    Kevin, thanks for telling me about the video bug. We’ll get right on fixing that.

    Nobody has ever expressed “concerns” about age appropriateness of what I’ve read to H. As to taking away from “the experience of being a child,” I do have a section in Part 2 about early education vs. play; in short, I think this is a false alternative. My boy spends 90% of his waking, non-meal hours playing. The other 10% we spend on educational stuff.

    If you yourself suspect that reading early could take away from the experience of being a child, I find that fascinating. Why do you think so? Can you articulate your worry?

    As to being far ahead of grade level, that’s addressed in section 3 of the conclusion of the essay. Our family’s solution to that is: well, we’re home schooling, so it’s not a problem.

    UPDATE: the bug is now fixed. How’s that for service?

    • Reply Kevin at VeloteqEbikes December 16, 2010 00:55 am

      Wow! Quick service indeed! Sorry I did not read through the essay before commenting, since you address the questions there.

      I was mainly just vocalizing what I thought other people might have concerns with. As for myself, I think it’s wonderful! Our children have all read at a young age–not as young as your boy though! Our oldest, now 13, reads much faster than I can and simply devours books. Actually, all the kids love to read far more than I did as a child. And, as for being ahead of grade level, we home school too so it’s really not a concern.

      Thanks for your great contributions–I was unfamiliar with WatchKnow.org before coming across your post, so I appreciate that as well.

      I’ll ask you an interesting question that I was asked by a businessman in Turkey. He said they have literally hundreds of thousands of college students who could benefit from the freely available course materials available in English, except they don’t speak English. He then gave numbers for how many were in high school and grade school, then asked “How can we teach English to 3 million students on a budget of only $1 per student?” At first it sounded ridiculous, but I started thinking of some possibilities. I pose the question here because in terms of early childhood education, teaching another language would be ideal!

  14. Reply Tamsyn Spackman December 16, 2010 12:28 pm

    I just finished reading your essay. What a fantastic resource this is for the world! It has brought up an interesting discussion in my local homeschooling community when I shared the link. I think that you hit the nail on the head when you talk about the two main objections from our culture. The “natural education” idea is so pervasive in the homeschooling community, from the very people you would think could benefit the most from early literacy! Thank you for promoting awareness of this issue so eloquently. Congratulations on teaching your son so well, and on the birth of your new baby.

    • Reply Larry Sanger December 16, 2010 13:55 pm

      Thanks very much for the positive review!

  15. Reply Larry Sanger December 16, 2010 17:12 pm

    UPDATE: I just submitted the book to the Kindle store, so it should soon be available to download to hand-helds. This is for people who, for some reason, can’t download the PDF from this page.

    • Reply Teresa February 13, 2011 17:14 pm

      Your essay is certainly worthy of a much wider audience. I am SO glad that you decided to eventually publish your essay via the Kindle bookstore.

  16. Reply arvi December 21, 2010 18:00 pm

    A great article! Though sad that it has not received a wide audience or the ripples that you expected. Currently I am trying to do something on similar lines in my local community, well, the same disappointment. No one is ready to understand it fully though they could see the benefits. I was perplexed about their behaviours, but after reading some of the comments here and in brillkids, I come to understand. Still I am in a dilemma if I should continue the plans or not.

    I appreciate that you are not giving up. Your posts and articles are inspiring and keeps me(and many) truly motivated. So keep posting.

    Cheers
    arvi

    • Reply charles boone December 22, 2010 14:56 pm

      did you see the today show on Nov. 11,2010. Some 10 universities were cited saying children couldn’t read at an early age that they just memororised the text etc. and that Titzer was a charlatan. Why can’t people see? Every country could teach English as a second language to children when they are 2 years old.

      • Reply Larry Sanger December 22, 2010 15:03 pm

        Charles, welcome to the blog. See my latest blog post on that program!

    • Reply Larry Sanger December 23, 2010 14:00 pm

      arvi, I’m glad to help. You really need motivation? I think of teaching H. and E. as being just one of the nice things that is simply expected, like making good food. I call it a hobby, but maybe it’s more than that; I think of it as a duty. I’m not saying others have a duty to do something they’re not even convinced is necessary or beneficial, but since I am so convinced, that’s how it seems to me. I also try to keep it fun and really, I don’t feel obligated to do that much. We read at mealtimes and after breakfast, we usually do something after his nap, and I read to him at bedtime. Some of this is “down-time” or “break-time” anyway, so it’s not like it’s such a huge sacrifice.

  17. Reply Mark December 30, 2010 19:07 pm

    I just wanted to say, Larry, how much I appreciate you and what you do. Many people would have sought to profit commercially from such a book and there’s nothing wrong with that but I can see that you are motivated by a desire to help humankind, not just to profit yourself. That is a rare and precious thing in this day and age, often not acknowledged enough in a person’s lifetime. I do hope you are aware of how much you are appreciated by others, both for the things you do, and for the person you are.

    • Reply Larry Sanger January 1, 2011 15:12 pm

      I really appreciate this, Mark. It really made my day. I didn’t reply right away because, well, what can one really say to such a thing? Thanks, anyway.

  18. Reply Mark December 30, 2010 19:34 pm

    I took the liberty of uploading the essay to Scribd (at http://www.scribd.com/doc/46089066/How-and-Why-I-Taught-My-Toddler-to-Read). The service provides the ability to transfer documents to hand-held devices including AmazonKindle, iPad, iPhone, Android and several others. I hope that’s OK. If it isn’t, please let me know.

    Thanks. :-)

    • Reply Larry Sanger January 1, 2011 15:11 pm

      Thanks so much for this. I haven’t yet put this version on Amazon, but I will.

  19. Reply Laura January 8, 2011 18:59 pm

    Larry,
    Thank you for ALL of your information. I found you on childandme.com and use very much of your absolutely amazing and generous materials. I have a question for you. I’ve started doing the phonics set (prior we did glen doman, and baby can read). My daughter sounds out all the words in set 1 but doesn’t always say the whole word after. So for instance, she will sound out Mmmm—aaaa—-ttt (mat) but not always say “mat” when I ask “what word is that?.” I don’t want her to get bored so I am thinking that I should move on to set #2 because I believe she knows the answer, but just isn’t verbalizing it all the time, what do you think? PS shes 2 yrs 4 mths.

    • Reply Larry Sanger January 8, 2011 21:01 pm

      Not being a reading expert, I can’t really give you definitive advice in such a case. But if I were in your situation, I would say, “OK, let’s change the game. This time, I will sound it out, and you say the word. OK?” Then use the method I used with H.–you sound out the word, then let your daughter say the whole thing. If she can’t or won’t, I am wondering if it’s too hard for her, and she needs a little more hand-holding. Maybe you need to say the word again blended, but very slowly. Then ask: what’s that, fast?

      It’s very possible that your daughter really doesn’t know how to put the letters together. It might seem obvious to you and me, but I assure you it isn’t obvious for first-time learners. I remember that H. definitely required help with it.

    • Reply Alana November 15, 2012 08:08 am

      Hi,
      I was just reading through that comment and noticed your comment regarding your daughter not “putting” the sounds together and saying the entire word. This is called “blending” the sounds and it can be a difficult concept for toddlers to fully grasp. With that being said, you are creating phonemic awareness with the letters, and this will create a great foundation for future reading success. I would continue with the lessons…the blending will come in time. I am an elementary teacher, who homeschools our 9 year daughter, who has learning disabilities. She is beginning to have a lot more success with her reading since I began homeschooling her this year (previous years she was in public school). I give applause to you for your efforts to teach your daughter to read, and it’s wonderful to hear that you are having some success! Please keep us posted! :-)
      Cheers!

  20. Reply Mrs Tovar January 9, 2011 05:05 am

    Hi, I have read your essay and watched the video several times. I did not know it’s possible to teach some toddlers to read without any pressure so this is quite fascinating for me. My son is only 6 months old at this time. Since I plan to homeschool him at least for the first number of years, and hope to do so without insisting that he sit at a desk for hours each day, your essay was extremely interesting to me. Whether or not he reads at two, I think the early exposure to phonics and words will give him a firm and fun foundation for a lifetime of reading.

    • Reply Larry Sanger January 11, 2011 10:27 am

      Thanks very much for the note!

      Frankly, I’m finding that “pressure” of one kind or another is becoming more necessary as my boy gets older; he’d rather be playing with his beloved Legos. It would be a lot harder to do now what we did when he was one or two years old. When the little ones get a better idea in mind how they want to spend their time, persuading them to do anything else becomes more difficult. When they’re tiny, they don’t care so much, they’re “easy”–or mine was, anyway. Same way with my 3-month-old. He just loves interaction, of any kind.

  21. Reply Yael January 17, 2011 11:45 am

    Hi Larry, it was great finding your blog!
    My son is 5 month old and I just stared using flash cards with him. Do you have any idea about ideal age to begin reading program? I think he is too young for phonetics but maybe he can enjoy the flash cards. of course, in this stage I have no way to know if he is learning anything… What do you think?

    • Reply Larry Sanger January 19, 2011 08:16 am

      I really don’t have a clear idea about when to begin a “reading program.” If reading board books & baby books counts as a reading program, then it can start as soon as your baby starts paying attention to books. I am showing my 3-month-old a lot of iPad flashcards and a few powerpoint presentations as well. We have even watched YBCR as well. But I didn’t do any of this with H. (my first), and as you can see in the video, he’s doing quite well. With him I started reading books sometime between 3 and 6 months, and then did that quite a lot (an hour or more per day). We also looked at flashcards, which I think of as baby books without a spine. (A lot of baby books basically have content that is little different from flashcards–it’s just words and single pictures.) Occasionally I have read words with sentences to my babies, but they didn’t seem to capture their attention nearly as well. It’s also an excellent idea at this point to start simply talking a lot about what they are paying attention to. This morning, E. was paying attention to my electric razor, so I told him what it was, showed it to him in different angles, repeated the name, told him about what it does, etc. This is conventional language-building advice given about babies, and I think it’s perfectly solid.

      Hope this helps!

      • Reply Yael January 20, 2011 03:47 am

        Thanks, it was indeed very helpfull!

        Are you at home with both your children? Do you get any help in order to do your own things?

        • Reply Larry Sanger January 24, 2011 14:12 pm

          I work from home, and so I can do educational stuff with my boys at mealtime and during breaks. Do I get any help? Well, sure, I’ve benefitted greatly from different tools others have made (found, for example, on BrillKids.com). Their Mama reads to them sometimes as well, and otherwise helps with their education; I think they benefit by being spoken to in her native language, which is not English. I’ve also benefitted a great deal from lots of advice gleaned here and there…

  22. Reply Shonge January 17, 2011 21:53 pm

    Thank you so much Larry.

  23. Reply Yael January 19, 2011 03:41 am

    And one more question- is it OK if I’ll translate some of your power point presentations into Hebrew and use it for my son and publish it on my blog? (with credit ofcourse…)

  24. Reply Larry Sanger January 19, 2011 08:09 am

    @Yael: of course, no problem!

  25. Reply Lappy January 26, 2011 04:27 am

    Yet again, thank you very much Larry for giving us such an invaluable information resource – I read your essay and have no doubt that it will inspire many parents to think more deeply about the importance early education. :)

  26. Reply Charles January 26, 2011 15:46 pm

    I have a 2 year 1 month old that we have been teaching with various methonds including YBCR and Doman’s flash cards. We are having similar results to what you report at the same stage. I know that my mother used a similar method with me in the 60’s – Doman’s flash cards and the Hay and Wingo Reading with Phonics. I very much appreciated your essay. From what we have been doing with our daughter, I belive that starting with flash cards and then teaching word decoding is probably the better approach. I did start teaching our daughter the letter sound when she was a little over a year, but its very hard for her to integrate it into a word. She learns whole words with ease and I can see her starting to apply the letter sounds that I have taught her.

    I have so much to say on this subject that it is more than I can put in a comment here. But, I want to again express my appreciation for all that you have put into this site. There is a lot of useful information here.

    • Reply Larry Sanger January 26, 2011 16:06 pm

      Hi Charles, thanks for this very interesting mail. If you want, I would be happy to host a guest blog post from you, or two, in which you explain what it was like growing up as a very early reader, how you react to the people who say it can’t be done (when it was done to you in the 60s), and what you’re doing with your own child. I personally would be fascinated.

  27. Reply Joan February 2, 2011 12:50 pm

    Larry,

    I really enjoyed reading your essay. I decided to teach my first daughter to read starting at 9 months. I did a combination of YBCR, Starfall, PowerPoint slides and I made my own YBCR type videos. Plus, I read a lot to her. I became aware of the fact that she was reading phonetically at 21 months. By this, I mean, she was reading words I had never shown her. She read her first book aloud a few weeks after her second birthday. She is almost 6 and will read 80-100 page chapter books in a couple of hours. Luckily she enjoys reading the same books over and over because I think we would have a hard time supplying her with enough books, if she didn’t. Weekly trips to the library help. She is in Kindergarten now through an online public school. But they put her into 1st grade phonics and LA. They would have put her directly into 2nd grade if I had asked, but I chose 1st grade for spelling and grammar.

    I don’t know her reading level. It’s probably about 4th grade. But her decoding ability is probably high school level. I’ve tested her on college level books, and she decodes some of them almost flawlessly. But some big and unfamiliar words trip her up, especially science terminology.

    Teaching my second daughter has been more effort for me. YBCR did not work but I have ideas as to why. She is almost 3 and she has made huge progress in the last few months using the Brillkids Little Reader. I printed your flashcards and she loves them. Since I got Little Reader, she is actually asking to do “baby reading.” I expect that she will be an actual reader by 3 1/2.

    In terms of why to teach your baby, I’m a big advocate of pressure-free early learning in the home. For me, it’s about giving my children a solid foundation. My hope is that I can give them a knowledge foundation that will allow them to become whatever they want to be. It isn’t about being better than other kids. It’s about ensuring that they reach their full potential.

    I was also surprised to read in your essay that some “experts” say children aren’t capable of learning to read before the age of 5 or 6. I come from Ireland originally and learned to read in both English and Irish starting at the age of four. Learning to read at 4 is the norm in Ireland and Britain. I’m sure a lot of kids start at 4 in other countries as well. I’m surprised that experts would not be aware of the fact that many children around the world are easily learning to read at 4, often in more than one language.

    • Reply Larry Sanger February 2, 2011 15:06 pm

      Joan, thanks for your very interesting response! It sounds like we’ve had very similar experiences and we have similar views on the subject as well.

      It’s possible that I misstated the expert position in my essay. Whatever I did say, what I should have said is this: they (American educationists & reading experts) think that the vast majority of children are not really “ready” to learn to read before the age of five or six. They know, of course, that some children can learn before that, but they explain this away by saying that those children are statistical outliers. This, in fact, is exactly how Jane Healy described my boy; I guess she would say that our experience, the experience we had with our children, is due to the fact that the children were exceptional, and most parents couldn’t possibly do what we did and expect to have similar results. Frankly, I disagree, and I don’t think they know what they’re talking about when they say that.

  28. Reply Common Criticisms of Teaching Babies To Read February 23, 2011 20:41 pm

    [...] details on this study as well as some other studies can found in Larry Sanger’s essay “How and Why I Taught My Toddler to Read” which I highly recommend [...]

  29. Reply Stina March 7, 2011 18:29 pm

    Hi Larry,
    I enjoyed reading your essay and think my experience teaching my son to read is probably quite similar to your own. So I was wondering if you could give me some advice?
    Just before my son’s second birthday I began teaching him to read with the Doman method, very quickly he was reading 50 words but I realised after a short while that although it was an excellent primer for learning to read (and improving memory skills) I felt a more eclectic approach would be better in the long run. So I started using flash cards that were phonically grouped at about 2.5 years, as you did and that’s when his reading really kicked in. I then started with some little phonic readers which he loved, and he was also using the Starfall website independently at that age. He asked for all the Harry and the bucketful of Dinosaurs books for Christmas this year, and was also able to read those independently.
    He is now 3.5 years, he’s reading chapter books more regularly now with excellent comprehension, but he still enjoys picture books the most.
    He has obviously picked up the phonic rules, because if he attempts a word he doesn’t know you can see his phonic logic, even if it isn’t correct.
    My problem is that occasionally he makes the most bizarre guesses, although after one or two attempts he’s usually back on track – or close at least! And sometimes he’ll read a simple word backwards or rearranged, admittedly it isn’t very often. I do have an idea what the problem is; he had never sounded out words aloud (until very recently) even when I sounded out the phonically grouped cards he wasn’t keen, so I didn’t push it. So I’ve now gone back to the phonic basics and made up a game of sounding out the words, I’ve already seen an improvement and he’s able to write simple words by listening to the sounds without my help now.
    My question is; did you have this problem of word guessing or inverting (if you see it as a problem) and if so, do you have any advice or suggestions?

    Thanks! =)

    • Reply Larry Sanger March 11, 2011 10:52 am

      Sounds like your little guy is doing extremely well. Fascinating that we used similar methods!

      Of course H. guessed wrongly from time to time, but other than that, if he was prone to a inverting problem like what you’ve seen, I’m not sure I would have known it. I did most of the reading to him, and while he did read a little to me at that age, it was usually simpler stuff. When he read to himself at that age, he did so silently.

      Anyway, my guess would be similar to yours: if he’s inverting letters within words very much, that is possibly because he never had much sounding-out practice (or was not exposed enough to you sounding things out for him). This is a common problem for kids with insufficient phonics training.

      WatchKnow Reader is going to do the sounding-out appear systematic and very clear, similar to Starfall (but better!), and with phonetically-grouped words. I’m going to be very curious to see how it works with my #2, who is now 5 months. Anyway, by the time it’s available (this fall, I hope), it’ll be old hat for your son.

  30. Reply Al March 22, 2011 12:23 pm

    Hi Larry. I love your website and absolutely love your video of your son reading! It is a-mazing. I have recommended your website to many of my friends who are interested in early child development.

    I was wondering if you were going to publish an ongoing list of books that you and your son are reading? I am particularly interested in the book about the two stroke engine your son is reading in the video. Where did you find such a beautifully illustrated book for children?

    • Reply Larry Sanger March 22, 2011 12:50 pm

      Al, thanks!

      The book you asked about is [i]Mighty Machines.[/i] Definitely recommendable.

      I’ve posted various lists of books I’ve read to H. on BrillKids.com (where I am “DadDude”). You can see my Amazon reviews here. This is a very small sampling of what we’ve read. I wouldn’t want to make a full list. I guess it’s time to update our “read chapter books” list–I can post that.

  31. Reply Stina March 24, 2011 18:11 pm

    Hi larry,
    Thanks for taking the time to reply! =)

    Well, it took less than a week to eliminate the problem(hopefully), with a daily sounding out game and review of letter sounds.

    The WatchKnow site looks great, my little boy has already been exploring. I’ll look forward to seeing WatchKnow reader, and how your #2 progresses with it!

  32. Reply Dangervil April 13, 2011 14:26 pm

    Hi Larry. I love your website and absolutely love your video of your son reading! A friend of mine recommended your website to me and I absolutely love it. I actually wanted to know exactly 1. HOW MANY BOOKS DID YOU READ TO YOUR SON PER DAY/WEEK 2. HOW MANY BOOKS DID YOU READ 3. DID YOU READ THE SAME BOOKS FOR A WHOLE WEEK OR DID YOU CHANGE THEM UP? 4. did you read chapter picture books to you son or was it just picture books.

    • Reply Larry Sanger April 14, 2011 16:05 pm

      Hi Dangervil, thanks so much for your positive feedback. It means a lot.

      To answer your questions:

      1. Books per day, well, it depended entirely on what age he was. As a baby we read at least a half-dozen board books, sometimes we read a stack of them all at once, and read more during mealtimes as well. So, lots, as a baby. The books we could read when he was two were longer, so it then dropped down to an average of 2-3 books per day, perhaps, sometimes more and sometimes less, depending on the books. But since he was three or so, and definitely now that he’s almost five, we *finish* reading a book maybe once a day, or every other day, since most books we read are longer. Occasionally of course we still pick up relatively easy or short books and can get through them over lunch (as we did an Usborne Young Reading book yesterday).

      2. How many books, TOTAL? I’ve never counted them up, though I’ve wondered. We have many hundreds of books on our shelves, probably well over 1,000, and we’ve read the vast majority of those, so probably over 1,000. How much over, I don’t know. Of course, many of these are very short and can be read in 20-30 minutes.

      3. I’ve been wondering this myself, now that I’m reading a fair bit with my second, who is now 6 months. I think I tended to read the same book daily for several days in a row, then put it down for a few weeks, then pick it up again, etc. I tried to pay attention to what excited my son. I seem to remember putting several books in front of him and letting him choose by reaching/pointing. He often wanted to read books again and again, especially when he was one year old. This habit stopped rather abruptly sometime when he was two.

      4. I read many different kinds of books–basically, if there is a kind of book for a little kid, we read that kind, probably a lot. I didn’t start reading chapter books of any kind to him until he was two, I think, or maybe 20-24 months–and the first one was Winnie-the-Pooh. I now know that there are simpler chapter books than that. We didn’t actually finish a chapter book until shortly before his third birthday. Other people read lots of chapter books to their babies, but I don’t see the point. If you’re going to spend the time, why not read something that they have some prayer of understanding?

  33. Reply Gene May 7, 2011 01:18 am

    The youngest graduate of Washington State University learned to read at 18 months. The mother said she laid out flash cards and her baby daughter learned them after two months. This is another case that suggests early reading may be an important factor in developing academic abilities. Early readers appear to be able to read faster and to remember more. These reading skills make it easier to achieve academics. We also need to learn how much reading books during the early years influences academic abilities.
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42772396/

  34. Reply Lezah St Jean May 28, 2011 06:55 am

    I finally sat down and read your essay. I should be sleeping but I was captivated and there are so many things that I wish to respond to. I am sure I can’t remember them all now but I wanted to share a few of them.

    1. My son will be 18 months in a few weeks and I will be teaching him to read, early. Not just so that he can get ahead, or for any elitist reasons. I just want him to be able to get a little push start in the hopes that school (I plan to homeschool) won’t be a struggle for him. I want him to develop the same life long love of learning that I have. I also want him to get a post secondary education, even if it is a tradeschool. I excelled at school, to a point, I reached 10th grade and became bored and refused to do any work and skipped classes to go to my school library to read Encyclopedias. I still have the same lust to know everything. I am sure you can relate.
    I learnt to read at an early age, my brother, who is 4 years older, was in remedial reading classes that my mother tutored when he was in 1st and 2nd grade. I got to be there at the time and I learnt to read at 3.
    My husband on the flip side struggled all through school and it is a miracle that he graduated. He had tutors and was in special education for learning disorders.
    I have to concede my son is half him and half me so I have no idea what his take on school will be. But if I can give him some tools now to ease the burden of learning to read when he is 5-6 I will. My son was also failure to thrive for 6 months and some studies say that over 80% of FTT infants have mental retardation or a learning disorder. Currently he has a speech delay. As his mum I will try my hardest to help him any way I can.

    Here are 2 anecdotal stories of early reading sisters. I taught both girls to read by the time the were 3.
    Sister A was average all around, a little emotionally immature, but she hit early childhood milestones in the middle of average. She too loved to read the Magic Treehouse books. She devoured them. In kindergarten she was reading beyond a 5th grade level. She was taught with a similar approach to your son. I garnered my word list from S. Blumenfeld’s “How to Tutor” It was hard for her to understand the more pure phonics approach. Hooked in Phonics was very popular at the time, and very frustrating for her. However by using these word family cards in a flash card, whole language approach she learnt to read with ease.
    Sister B… She was literally the most astounding toddler I and many other people had ever encountered. She talked at an early age. At about 13 months old she could flawlessly sing ABCs, and count 20 one on one correlated objects. She climbed out of her crib at 9 months and walked the same month. She was 10 months old and would walk to the computer turn it on and ask to play ‘puter. She potty trained herself by watching her sister at about 16 months. At 3 she would play on the same level as 8-9 year olds when she went to the park. At 22 months she talked on the phone to my mum and explained in detail the water cycle. Even with the accent barrier my mum could understand her clearly. At 3 her and I had some wonderful debates using the Socratic Method. I was reading her a college text book on World Religious and she became obsessed asking me many questions about Buddah. You see where I am going? I am sure you have heard of many brilliant kids like this. She had a mind that was able to take things apart and put them back together. The quasi whole language phonics intense approach did not work for her. She was able to decode pure phonics with easy.
    Skip forward 8 years: Sister A is in 7th grade, top of her class and has been accepted to a magnet school, she entered kindergarten a year early much the the worries of school officials. She loves school and is obviously thriving.
    Sister B just finished 5th grade and has struggled for years, she had a tutor but to my understanding she will be repeating 5th grade again next year.
    Just wanted to share my examples of 2 early readers, in the beginning it is just so hard to know if there is a benefit or not to early reading. However I figure it doesn’t hurt to try.
    I think that the struggles with Sister B is that she is not a child that can sit still. She needs to be constantly challenged at a high level. I think that the public schooling system just didn’t do her justice.

  35. Reply Paula nassif July 10, 2011 16:23 pm

    Hello mr. Larry,

    I will start to teach my 5 months baby to read next month ( need to prepare material first and also I want to do more research and fully understand this science). I bought Dr Doman book ( how to teach your baby to read) two days ago and have already finished it, I am so eager to start! However, I have a question and maybe you could have an opinion. My husband and I are Brazilian but we leave in the UK with our little man. My husband although Brazilian he loved in France while a toddler so his first tongue was French ( he does not have an accent like I have with English). Well my question is: in which language should we do the flaschcard? Portuguese, English or French? I would be fascinated to see my baby read the three language but I don’t know if it is possible this early… Any thoughts? Many thanks

    • Reply GPC July 10, 2011 21:50 pm

      You should go to brillkids.com and ask on their forum. The issue of teaching reading in more than one language does come up from time-to-time.

  36. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » I gih dah bah! (update about the baby’s “education”) September 4, 2011 23:07 pm

    [...] also sometimes do the YBCR slide-the-picture-out cards.  Haven’t yet done my Fleschcards.  I don’t expect we’ll have to, because Reading Bear is going to cover the same [...]

  37. Reply Gene September 27, 2011 00:51 am

    Teach young children how to draw.
    This worked with my son when he was young. He learned to draw cartoon type drawings. I think young children can learn other drawing skills depending on the type of drawing books you give them.
    Instead of giving your child a coloring book where the fill in the colors, give your child a drawing book along with some blank paper. Let them have some fun scribbling pictures from drawing books that illustrate how to draw. Your child will gradually learn some drawing skills, as long as they have fun drawing. If you are a little more ambitious, you can draw along with your child and encourage them. Always keep it fun.
    You can find many drawing books on eBay by doing a search of
    draw lot
    or
    draw set
    Here are some of the many types of drawing books your child can have some fun:
    Animals or pets
    Cartoons
    Funny faces or caricatures
    People
    Monsters
    Airplanes, cars, trucks
    Dinosaurs
    Maps
    Plants
    Scenery

  38. Reply Dan October 21, 2011 01:21 am

    You don’t happen to know about William James Sidis, child prodigy of the early 1900’s, do you?

    His parents had very interesting opinions on child rearing. Here’s a snippet from the wiki:

    “Sidis’s parents believed in nurturing a precocious and fearless love of knowledge, for which they were criticized. Sidis could read the New York Times at 18 months,[2] had reportedly taught himself eight languages (Latin, Greek, French, Russian, German, Hebrew, Turkish, and Armenian) by age eight, and invented another, which he called Vendergood.”

    If you don’t know about this, I suggest you digest some of the interesting reads from this website:
    http://sidis.net/boris_sidis_archives.htm
    http://sidis.net/

    In my brief personal opinion, most, if not all, children can learn just about any skill set/intellectual area, and whatever catches their eye they will gravitate towards.

    I hope this helps you in your exploration of early learning.

    • Reply Larry Sanger October 23, 2011 14:21 pm

      Haven’t heard of William James Sidis. There have been many prodigies that were ultimately “created” by their parents, haven’t there?

      Doman, too, has said things like “children can learn just about any skill set/intellectual area.” I find this too vague to evaluate. If interpreted broadly, the claim is very obviously false. Most children cannot learn quantum mechanics tomorrow. No child can learn any but the most rudimentary facts about history before the age of two or three, though they could parrot without understanding. And if the claim is admittedly vague, the interesting question is then: what exactly do we want to say here? By failing to articulate more clearly what children are capable of learning, and how, we have arguably made the case for early education harder to make.

  39. Reply Michelle Breum November 5, 2011 16:00 pm

    I think you are doing great work. The free part is super! The technology you are using is good for Reading Bear. I noticed you called ending blends suffixes and beginning blends prefixes. Work with prefixes and suffixes is helpful in decoding words. Here is post with some free resources about root words, prefixes, and suffixes. http://beginningreadinghelp.blogspot.com/2010/07/teaching-root-words-prefixes-and.html
    I’d like to promote and use your site, but blends would need to be defined as blends for me to promote your site. I’m pulling for this program. If you need any help please contact me. You can find information about me at my Beginning Reading Help blog.
    If you’d like to connect, I’m in a few forums and groups.
    We Teach Children to Read – http://www.facebook.com/pages/We-Teach-Children-to-Read/103519196359196
    We Teach – http://www.weteachgroup.com/
    Beginning Reading Help BlogFrog community – http://theblogfrog.com/1501335/forum
    Best wishes and keep up the good work!

  40. Reply aly in va. November 30, 2011 19:24 pm

    I’m curious to know which ipad apps you use for flashcards with your young one? We used a similar method (Doman) for my oldest when she was an infant, and she was a very early reader as well (before age 2) and continues to be an advanced student. We also used a strong phonics approach instead of strictly flashcards (sight words). Thanks!

  41. Reply Neil March 22, 2012 01:42 am

    Dad Dude! I was just on the brillkids site last night and I wanted to thank you for all your incredible work you’ve put into your resources Larry :-)

    My daughter loves them.

    I’ve downloaded your 122mb (WOW!!!) resource and we’l be starting with them next.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful material Larry

    From one dad to a true dude of a dad :-)

    Neil

  42. Reply Nut March 29, 2012 00:28 am

    thank you so much.I used this for my baby, she 1.4 years.

  43. Reply Bess Richfield April 17, 2012 12:54 pm

    About thirty-five years ago, Glenn Doman came to our attention. He made so much sense that we started teaching our toddlers (two and three) to read, largely based on the critical components of his method. It was a huge success. They took to it like ducks to water. They had only a start from us, and took it further themselves, both were biligual, and taught themselves to read a second language early. They are both now multilingual.

    They were allowed to read what they wanted. By age six they were going throught the whole series of the Narnia books by CS Lewis – just an example of their capabilities and interests. Both spell impeccably (although in my experience that is largely inherited) Both parents spell well, and at five the eldest spelled “haberdashery” correctly from hearing it in a conversation.

    Before age eight they read science fantasy (the Broken Sword) with some dodgy below-the-belt stuff, but it passed over them, as we discovered later.

    I would do it again, but earlier, if I had to go back. Highly recommended! Teach your baby to read!

  44. Reply Dom Massaro July 15, 2012 13:37 pm

    There is very little doubt that all children can learn to read well before schooling begins. Currently, all of the reading programs including Reading Bear use the same instruction methods used in our schools but add video entertainment. This formal instruction for learning to read contrasts sharply with spoken language which is acquired from birth onward by natural interactions with speech. It is possible that reading can also be acquired without direct instruction if print is constantly available at an early age. We have developed an Apple Read With Me! application, which modifies shared picture book reading to include print that is easily attended to by the child and is formatted to be easily perceived. Thus, the child is able to learn to read written text in a meaningful context of the narrative of the book, without formal instruction.

    • Reply Larry Sanger July 15, 2012 13:54 pm

      I’ll try it out myself. I’m sure some children are able to learn this way.

      By the way, the use of pictures and videos isn’t “entertainment” in Reading Bear’s case, but essential to the teaching of vocabulary/concepts. It’s just a nice side-effect that children enjoy learning vocabulary this way.

      • Reply Dom Massaro July 20, 2012 07:33 am

        Thanks for giving it a try, Larry. I agree that the pictures and videos are critical for learning. The best learning occurs when the content being learned is embodied in the child’s direct experience. This is also a goal of our shared picture book reading app Read With Me!

  45. Reply Umm Abdullah (means mother of Abdullah in Arabic!) December 10, 2012 05:10 am

    Hello,
    Firstly i would like to say Thank you for allowing us to read your essay online. Just to set the context – My son who is 2 and 4months – was playing in his nursery today when suddenly he said SH-O-P…SHOP – reading from one of his toys. I was very surprised as this is not something i’ve read to him before. what really caught me was his use of phonics to help him to read the work. the look on his face was amazing – like YES! I READ THAT BY MYSELF!!!
    I then went on to google how early a child started reading adn came across ur essay. i’ve been reading it all morning…skimming towards the end as it was longer then i expected.
    fantastic stuff – and to be honest i felt like i was reading my own work lol meaning – i’ve done many of the things you suggested – lots of books,environmental print etc…sounds… We used bee bright stuff by Justin and my son has watched lots of ‘something special’ which has signing. i am currently living in Saudi Arabia and the experiences i would have liked to give my son i can’t seem to do like i would have done in the uk. so these DVDs have been great – as they show everyday things where you pick up the words as well as sign. we reinforce this when we visit the uk every 6months or so.

    Anyhow, i’m going off sorry! I’ve worked as a primary school early years teacher for 10years! i was always told and to be honest believed that children shouldn’t be taught phonics until 5 or 6. now ive had my little one i think this is completely RUBBISH! Your essay hit the nail on the head! you covered most aspects and i particularly liked how you stressed on no force as well as the homeschooling. I agree totally – if your child ends up reading early or mastering anything early be prepared for ‘school’as its prob not going to be good for them. i’ve seen many children turn to bad behaviour because their needs have not been met i.e. not challenged enough – the work is too easy…bored. i’m all for homeschooling and i hope others will consider this option if they are able.
    Thank you again so so much for sharing with us.
    look forward to reading more and learning more.

    I want to write so much more but not enough time right now.
    Anyhow – i run a toddler group in KSA from my own home. its completely free and i have about 15mums who attend with their children. i’ve emailed the link to them so they can have a read too – they are all eager to get their children to ASAP too.

    just remembered, sorry to go on. you mentioned that your child wasn’t writing when he learned to read other then capitals. well i really believe that children can still write very earlier on maybe not as early as reading but def. before we are TOLD they can…and esp BOYS! my son has been markmaking from about aged 7-8months. weve done lots of mark making in different mediums too e.g. flour, sand etc… chalk outside is a big one. my son can now write the m a and almost the letter t. he can write the numbers 1 and 2 and draw many shapes. I think the main reason why he has picked up so well is because i’ve role modelled with him – most times we mark made i had my own paper and pencil and did my own writing and drawing/colouring. i think this has helped in his reading too as most things that i drew i labelled. its amazing how things are so interconnected.
    okay i’m going on again.
    i’m soooo excited about this esp to get started with flashcards!
    thanks again

  46. Reply Arguments Against Teaching a Baby to Read and Why They're Wrong | Family and Parenting March 5, 2013 16:41 pm

    [...] How and Why I Taught My Toddler to ReadFree essay from Larry Sanger who started teaching his son to read beginning at 22 months, and by age four, he was decoding text (reading, in that sense) quite fluently at the sixth grade level, or above. [...]

  47. Reply jess March 15, 2013 23:33 pm

    amazing… he does not seem to be stressed!

  48. Reply Yoland J June 13, 2013 09:55 am

    Australia
    Hi Larry, I read your essay with interest some time ago but did not see this blog. I taught my son to read commencing at two and a half years using a combination of phonics and sight words. We used short, play based lessons usually twice a day, 10 minutes each “lesson”. By three and a half he was reading simple texts fluently. He is now aged four and a half years and is a proficient reader and lover of books. I hope your work goes some way towards turning around the negative attitudes and folk lore that seems to prevail out there on the subject of very young readers. It seems that, for some, the idea of a non-reading five or six year old is more acceptable than a reading two or three year old. So many people are very wary of the young reader! The very subject of toddlers reading seems to whip up such emotional dialogue. It has been such a positive and rewarding experience for us… it never involved forcing the child to sit at lessons or anything like that. The result is an avid reader and many books shared happily. There is little research out there on very young readers ( I am searching at the moment) and the dialogue around the place that says that very young children cannot or should not read, is not based on studies of young children reading. Thank you.I am a fan of your work!

  49. Reply Sharon Toji June 30, 2013 10:49 am

    Larry, from a fellow Reed graduate, avid reader, and former teacher. I’m the mother of 8, grandmother of 9. My own natural children (four of my children were adopted when they were a little older, and one child with severe disaiblities died at age 2 1/2) learned to read quite easily and naturally, and essentially without any such “lessons,” before they went to school and became skilled and avid readers, reading ahead of their grade levels and for pleasure. My own mother was a skilled “master” reading teacher who taught first grade for 35 years, and i believe was able to teach just about every student she ever had, to read, and to read quite successfully. She had deliberately not taught me prior to starting school (I was in her first grade class) so I wouldn’t be bored. However, she had done, since I was born, all the things that are necessary, I believe, to create a successful and avid reader. Consequently, while helping her set out the pre-primers and name tags on the first day, and asking her “what’s this word,” I learned to read in approximately an hour or less and proceeded to read every book in our small town library, essentially withut further instruction. She used a combination of whole word and phrase reading, along with intelligent phonics where it made sense, mostly relying for that on poems and rhymes. For instance, every night as we did the dishes, she recited poems, dramatically and from memory, to my sister and me.

    As I listen to your little boy read, which appears to be a sort of rote exercise in “translation,” I wonder what the purpose is. Will he enjoy reading and get more from it than my children have, or I have? I can’t imagine that he will. I think that you certainly prove that it is possible to take a very young child who is chemically “wired” to be able to sit still and have that kind of attention span and auditory function to read, but would his time, at that age, perhaps be better spent sitting on YOUR lap and listening and participating as you read, or even tell him, stories, infused with great drama and side discussion? That is what my mother did. As a matter of fact, I came home from kindergarten the first day to tell my mother that my teacher was not very smart, because she had to look at a book to tell the story of the three bears. My mother’s stories were like mini-dramas, and children sat enrapt by them. I think it led them to have a greater interest in reading stories for themselves. Her stories also led to discussions about the motives of the characters, and to the consequences of their actions. Very early, she taught me and other children to think of others before we acted, and it was almost always based, in those early years, on the stories we listened to and then read.

    Or perhaps he would benefit from more time spent playing with other young children, setting up transactional rules as young children learn to do, getting into a “dress-up box” to take on roles, make up plays to put on for parents, or maybe he could use more time with tinker toys, Lincoln Logs, farms, doll houses, railway stations — setting up, experimenting with connections, tearing it down and trying something new.

    Larry, I’m quite sure this is not your intention, but this appears to me almost like a performance by your son, like the tiny children who play profound music on their violins without a thought or understanding of the emotions that the music engenders. It’s an excellent technical trick, but surely reading is not just a technical accomplishment, the ability to pronounce a string of words — indeed quickly, as phrases and sentences — correctly.

    My mother always noted that the children who came to her class able to count to 100, sound out words, quickly and correctly say the alphabet — whatever they had been taught by proud parents — were virtually exactly at the same place they would have otherwise been, and in relationship to their peers, by the end of the year. Indeed, all the children in the class could do all those things, and everyone could do more, with some children having progressed on to read several grades above first grade level. And those children were not routinely those who had come “ahead of the game.”

    It will be interesting to see how much your son enjoys reading in later years, or if he merely uses his skill to perform his job, and how his other “life skills” have developed.

    In the Reed Way, with respect for your position!

    • Reply Larry Sanger June 30, 2013 21:16 pm

      Sharon, thanks for your perspective and the opportunity to explain a practice that so few people really understand.

      I’ll just quote you and add replies to a few points.

      “She had deliberately not taught me prior to starting school (I was in her first grade class) so I wouldn’t be bored.”

      Fortunately, I haven’t had to worry about my boys getting bored later because I knew we’d be homeschooling them. I knew they wouldn’t slow down suddenly when they hit school age, which is what happens to a lot of early-educated kids.

      “Consequently, while helping her set out the pre-primers and name tags on the first day, and asking her “what’s this word,” I learned to read in approximately an hour or less and proceeded to read every book in our small town library, essentially withut further instruction.”

      Well, probably you were exposed to alphabet books, and many other books, before this, which made it easy. I don’t at all doubt that what you describe here is possible, if a child is well-primed for it. But I would doubt it for other children who don’t have that preparation.

      “As I listen to your little boy read, which appears to be a sort of rote exercise in “translation,” I wonder what the purpose is. Will he enjoy reading and get more from it than my children have, or I have? I can’t imagine that he will.”

      The question is what the purpose of early reading instruction is. You can’t really determine that–or what his comprehension level was like–from the video snippets I’ve posted. You could get a better idea from my essay (not that I’m asking you to read it; it’s pretty long).

      No, it has nothing whatsoever with developing a greater enjoyment of reading. I think that’s orthogonal to when you start learning to read. I’ve heard of early-educating kids who absolutely love reading to themselves from a very early age. And then there are kids like my boys–who love me reading to them, and who know how to read to themselves, but don’t really like doing that (or rather, my first didn’t like it until he was five or so). But when they do start reading to themselves, they’re far ahead of their age peers.

      As I explain in the essay, the purpose of early reading instruction is simply to enable a child to read and take on board more advanced texts sooner, and thereby ultimately learn more while he is still a full-time student. I think knowledge is important and (very roughly speaking!) the more, the better. Yes, I know this is contrary to so much educational theory; well, I think a lot of educational theory is anti-intellectual, so put that in your pipe and smoke it. As I see it, it’s ultimately simply a matter of efficiency. If he had learned at the age that I learned (five years old), then chances are that he might not have been able to understand or even decode the sorts of things he can read for pleasure today. And yes: he does read for pleasure, which he evidently does enjoy.

      In the last school year (at the age of six) he finished reading three books that weren’t exactly for pleasure: Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, and The Secret Garden. The first two in particular were challenging, but with a dictionary (app) and plenty of follow-up questions and other aids, I’m confident he understood most of what he read. For fun he reads Harry Potter, Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy Boys, etc. The point is that he is capable of not just decoding but understanding books that are far beyond his age level. If he had started learning to read at age five, all these things would now be far beyond him. They certainly were far beyond me when I was six.

      “I think that you certainly prove that it is possible to take a very young child who is chemically “wired” to be able to sit still and have that kind of attention span and auditory function to read, …”

      That’s not quite what I claim to have proven. In fact, my second doesn’t have the attention span of my first, and indeed he doesn’t have either the motivation or the patience to sit down and read a book by himself (not that I’m happy about this situation). But he has learned to read as well as my first did at this age (2 years 9 months or so).

      “but would his time, at that age, perhaps be better spent sitting on YOUR lap and listening and participating as you read, or even tell him, stories, infused with great drama and side discussion?”

      That’s the main way that I taught my first to read. I read enormous amounts to both sons (my older one still), with lots of expression. As Timothy Kailing in Native Reading explains and argues, an effective way to teach children very early is simply to read a lot to them while running one’s fingers under the words. That’s the main way I’ve done it. So my second has even made lots of progress even when we weren’t doing anything remotely similar to flashcards. But I think my first had a bit more facility because he went through the phonics rules fairly systematically, albeit in a fun and visual way and at his own pace.

      I think maybe the reason my boys have not wanted to read to me is that they want me to read to them. They enjoy it so much that they don’t want to put the experience in jeopardy by demonstrating that they don’t actually need me in order to decode the words. Obviously, there is more to full-fledged reading than decoding.

      “Or perhaps he would benefit from more time spent playing with other young children, setting up transactional rules as young children learn to do, getting into a “dress-up box” to take on roles, make up plays to put on for parents, or maybe he could use more time with tinker toys, Lincoln Logs, farms, doll houses, railway stations — setting up, experimenting with connections, tearing it down and trying something new.”

      I see you take the “play is children’s work” line. My boys have both played a lot. The time I spent reading and (occasionally) teaching them stuff before the age of five was much less than the amount of time they spent playing. But I also maintain that a certain kind of conceptual (call it academic if you want) work is also very much part of children’s work and it’s a mistake to leave it out. It doesn’t hurt kids not to get it, but I’m convinced that it’s a mistake to think they can’t benefit profoundly from such early training.

      “Larry, I’m quite sure this is not your intention, but this appears to me almost like a performance by your son, like the tiny children who play profound music on their violins without a thought or understanding of the emotions that the music engenders. It’s an excellent technical trick, but surely reading is not just a technical accomplishment, the ability to pronounce a string of words — indeed quickly, as phrases and sentences — correctly.”

      You don’t know whether it’s just a “technical trick,” do you? The fact is that he was able to comprehend at a few grade levels below whatever level he was decoding at, so that by the time he was decoding stuff at the 7th grade level (when he was five or so), he was able to read and comprehend (even for fun) stuff written at the 4th or 5th grade level.

      The point of posting the videos was precisely to demonstrate that the “technical trick” of decoding is possible at a very early age. It’s silly to dismiss this as unimportant, however; it’s precisely the technical trick that most kids that struggle with reading have trouble with. And once the technical trick is mastered, kids can read whatever they can comprehend; it depends on their vocabulary and their experience with similar sorts of books. If you’re thinking that my son, and the now thousands of others like him who have used “Your Baby Can Read” and other such systems, are only able to decode, and not capable of understanding–well, why assume that?

      “My mother always noted that the children who came to her class able to count to 100, sound out words, quickly and correctly say the alphabet — whatever they had been taught by proud parents — were virtually exactly at the same place they would have otherwise been, and in relationship to their peers, by the end of the year. Indeed, all the children in the class could do all those things, and everyone could do more, with some children having progressed on to read several grades above first grade level. And those children were not routinely those who had come “ahead of the game.””

      She sounds like she was wonderful teacher. How great for those children. But as to the claim that the better-prepared ones didn’t do better by the end of the year, I have to wonder: did she differentiate their instruction, so that the better-prepared Kindergartners were actually challenged to learn more? Because, well, everyone who works with children knows that while children learn quickly, they forget quickly too. If they weren’t challenged to improve faster than those who didn’t have their training, there’s a good chance they’d just coast while the others were working harder.

      This, by the way, is something I absolutely loathe about schools, public and private. Children are forced to learn the same things at the same time, rather than speeding up and slowing down and choosing more appropriate books for them, etc., etc. How many gifted children have been stunted by this practice? One wonders. I think I was.

      Suppose I had sent H. to Kindergarten at age five, when he was starting to read about Henry Huggins and other stuff for third or fourth graders. Suppose, too, that at that age I stopped teaching him, as most parents do, and simply read to him at bedtime as usual. (By the way, if I had done this, H. would have screamed bloody murder. It would have been terrible.) Then while I’m sure he’d be farther along than his peers by the time he was in the second grade (which he’ll be in nominally next year), I am very sure he wouldn’t be capable of reading the sorts of things he can read now after two full years of homeschooling. Sure, if you put kids in public schools that by necessity teach kids pretty much the same thing, they’ll regress toward the mean. After all, you’re taking away something that gave them an advantage in the first place.

      My essay refers to some interesting studies longitudinal in which so-called “precocious readers” (those who arrive at Kindergarten knowing how to read) are followed through their schooling. It turns out that while their age peers catch up with them after a few years in decoding ability, they remain ahead of their age peers in comprehension ability, some of them even gaining (“the rich get richer”).

      “It will be interesting to see how much your son enjoys reading in later years, or if he merely uses his skill to perform his job, and how his other “life skills” have developed.”

      I’m giving my boys a liberal arts education in a way roughly similar to The Marva Collins Way. It’s hard to imagine that they won’t be highly intellectually curious and capable.

      No need to speculate. Many people have already lived through the consequences of very early reading, albeit with virtually no attention from researchers or the media. Go to BrillKids.com or the Glenn Doman organization, and ask some of the parents, whose extremely precocious readers are grown, whether their children love reading. My impression is that, yes, they remain avid readers and they become intellectually curious professionals.

      But, obviously, it depends. Having observed my boys and discussed reading with many other parents, I’ve come to the conclusion that regardless of what parents do, some kids will love reading and some won’t. Already I see that my first–who FWIW received more early education in his first three years than my second–likes reading more than my second did at his age. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first becomes a book-loving sort while the second becomes more athletic. They’re both already very thoughtful, lively little guys.

      And of course, these things aren’t settled only or even mainly in the first five years of life. Why think they would be? It depends on later experiences of all sorts as well as natural proclivities, surely.

      In sum, while one can’t help but respect your experience, I don’t think there’s anything in your experience as you’ve described it that indicates we’re on the wrong path. And, considering some of the rather closed-minded things you’ve said, I suspect that there are facts that you weren’t familiar with that might slightly change your outlook on these issues, if you let them. Or are you saying that, with your substantial and impressive experience, you’ve got it all figured out?

  50. Reply Carroll August 15, 2013 14:27 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments, so I apologize if someone already pointed this out. Your reasons for teaching a young child to read are certainly compelling, but I think you missed the biggest reason. I was drawn to research this topic because I think my toddler will enjoy learning to read. And, I am willing accept that in 3 months he may no longer be interested.

    At 18 months, reading books together is his favorite activity, and he asks to do it all the time (probably 2+ hours each day, mostly at wake ups and bed/nap time). He can pretty reliably read about half the alphabet and it occurred to me to start teaching sounds since he loves animals + their sounds. (Tip for others: He loves foam bath letters. Our set includes some aquatic creatures as well.) He says at least 200 words and enthusiastically learns new words everyday. He delights in pointing out associations, and is probably approaching the formation of sentences. I think teaching him to read is simply an extension of something he already enjoys and pursues on his own. Now to see how it goes!

    Thanks for sharing your essay! It is a good start to this path.

    • Reply Larry Sanger August 15, 2013 14:55 pm

      Good points.

      You’re probably right that there are some children who would enjoy learning to read very early, but that they become harder to teach later. That would be an advantage. But it’s also the other way around: some kids do not like to have books read to them at age 18 months, but like it when they’re 2 or 3. My boys, both of them, went through phases in which teaching in one way was difficult but teaching in another was easy. Basically, you do what they like (e.g., use Reading Bear, YBCR, read books to them, play with fridge magnets and foam letters, play other games, etc., etc.), and they’ll stay happy and learn a lot.

  51. Reply Leni November 16, 2013 22:38 pm

    Hi Larry, thanks for sharing the video and your essay. It is quite an easy task to teach your kids to read if you yourself love to read. As the saying goes, you teach by example. If your kids see you read or even hold a book few minutes a day, then they would be interested in doing the same.

    we can also read to them or engage in a conversation with them. Consider reading time as our quality time with your kids.

  52. Reply Cheryl August 25, 2014 09:14 am

    Thank you!

    I am excited to read your book. Especially the chapter about supporting early readers in school. Kindergarten went great for my early reader… first grade a disaster. One teacher (K) let him explore reading anything he wanted any level. The other (1st) limited him.

    I believe our schools have a long way to go with the question of what to do with children who can read at this level.

    Can’t wait to see your perspective.
    Cheryl

    • Reply Larry Sanger August 25, 2014 10:01 am

      As you might know, we solve this problem by homeschooling. I threaten my 8-year-old with school if he doesn’t study enough!

      I can hardly advise you, but if I were you, I’d talk to the principal and, if you get no joy, look into other options such as a different school. If your son has been tested, I’d take the results to the principal and explain that your son deserves the best possible education, and that involves letting him read more advanced stuff. If your son hasn’t been tested, having test results in hand might help make your case.

  53. Reply Dora Chen October 13, 2014 21:43 pm

    Dear Larry,

    I am writing to say thank you and ask for your permission to translate your work.

    I am teaching English to children aged from 7 to 13 in China with the phonics method. I came accross readingbear when searching for phonics material. It is exactly what I want. Now we are using it on class and students are required to watch it at home. I also recommend my students to use the app of bitsboard.

    I then read your essay with great interest. The teaching of phonics is not taught in public primary and middle schools here. A 6th grader would come out from school with a vocabulary of around 1500-2000. A 9th grader has a vocabulary of around 3000-4000. Many are worse. They may spend years in school learning English but still don’t know how to pronounce a new word.

    We basically can not rely the public education system to learn English. In recent years, many educated parents tried to teach kids English at home. But they are lack of knowledge because they were taught in the old way. I believe your essay would be of great help to these eager parents and teachers. So would you please allow me to translate your essay and publish it on line? Thank you in advance!

    Your presentations on YouTube are also loved by my students.

    Thanks and Regards,

    Dora

    • Reply Larry Sanger October 13, 2014 23:47 pm

      As long as it’s free, you certainly have my permission. Thanks for your kind words!

  54. Reply Alice October 22, 2014 16:07 pm

    I’m kind of despairing recently. I gave up my job to help our son in his formative years, and yet, I feel he is nowhere near this level. Things seemed to be going so well at first. He learned his phonics early – before he actually learned his letters; this was actually because we were doing phonics cards per the suggestion in your essay. He used to go to the mall with me since he could walk (around 14 months), and he would point to each letter in succession on the various signs and sound them out. When he was about 19 months, we were in the doctor’s office and he spelled out the word C A T, and then said “CAT”; I was so proud. But, at around that time I got morning sick with our second child, and for about 2 months I just lay in bed ill. And we didn’t eat so great. I’m not sure if that is what has undermined everything. He’s now 21.5 months and, nowhere close to reading. At around 21 months, he actually learned the letter names, and it took a lot of creative thinking to get him back to phonics; he still now gets the letter names and the letter sounds confused. He has absolutely no interest in sounding out more than one letter together. He does memorize some words in his favorite books, but I know he is not reading them, he is just committing them to memory. I just feel really sad. My IQ is only 135, and so is my husband’s; I was assessing our son per a new thing I found – “Ruf levels” – and he seems like he’s a level 4 there, which is depressing, because that would mean with all of our efforts, he’s still at 135 like us. I know that may sound silly but, I recently feel very depressed about all this, and am not sure how to get him to read. Or to do 35 piece puzzles, in which he has no interest in. He does know his shapes and colors, but, I still feel like he’s falling behind. Don’t know what else I can do at this point….

    • Reply Larry Sanger October 22, 2014 17:38 pm

      Geez, don’t despair!

      It’s not a competition!

      Did you read when you were two? I didn’t. I just want my sons to have a better education than I did, a real, liberal arts education. I don’t require them to go to Harvard (fuck Harvard!). (No offense if you went to Harvard.)

      As to the particular issues your little ones are having, by golly, he’s only 21.5 months (do we really have to count the .5?).

      My IQ is about yours. Who cares. A person with an IQ of 100 or probably 80 could have a go at this. Learning to decode is not a matter of IQ; it’s another language modality like speaking. My boys really started picking up both reading and speaking at the same time, when they were two. They started at one, but didn’t make much headway until they were two.

      I didn’t think any scientist thought that IQ under age 5-8 could be stably and reliably measured. You’re just using some guy’s theory. Who cares. Also: who cares about IQ? I await the empirical proof that early education improves IQ. We can see kids reading, so that’s proven, as far as I’m concerned. But we haven’t seen their improved IQs, nor measured it. Here’s what we know, as far as I’m concerned: little kids can learn to read, and start amassing many facts, and have fun doing it. They can arrive at kindergarten age having internalized a lot of stuff (but frankly, a lot of stuff is forgotten as well). This will make them bored in regular school, so plan on unusual schooling of some sort. Similarly, early, fun (not forced, please not forced!!) exposure to music and various sports can make kids into, if not prodigies, then playing very well.

      What that means is only that your kids are getting more sophisticated educations by age 18–well, of course, that depends on later educational practices, and unless of course you let them slack off when they’re older and they lose any benefit of earlier knowledge.

      I teach my kids stuff early because I care about education and I want them to have an awesome well-rounded liberal arts education before they start specializing, like insects.

      Stop worrying! I’m sure you’re doing great! :-)

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