Can Your Baby Really Read?
The Difference Between a Child Who Can Read, and a Baby Who Can "Read" by Memorization
Teaching small babies who are just a few months old, and cannot even speak yet has become a rather popular topic among parents. Think about that, your baby who can't even speak yet reading. Sounds wonderful. But if you dig deeper and analyze what is really happening, and you'll quickly discover that these babies are in fact NOT reading, but merely memorizing 'shapes' through repeated exposure. No phonetic reading skill or knowledge of decoding has been gained, and I'd like to say, no, that baby can't read...
Sadly, we've gone through this ourselves with our first child. I began researching the topic of teaching children to read many years ago, even long before our first child was born. Unfortunately for me, I saw an infomercial showing small babies reading, or appearing to "read". Without putting much of a second thought into this whole thing, I picked up the phone and made a purchase. When we received the package, we immediately started it with our first born. After a little while, she appeared to be able to read some of the most simple, and basic words. I thought "wow, this is great. My baby can read." Boy was I wrong to the infinite degree. Not long after, when I paid more attention to her supposed new "reading" ability, and seriously analyzed the method being used to teach reading, it became pretty obvious that our first born baby could NOT read.
She was not reading by any stretched definition of "reading". No, she simply memorized the SHAPES of a few words, and associated certain meaning to the "picture" she had memorized. It quickly became apparent that our false hope of teaching our baby to read was just that, a false hope. We showed our daughter some very simple 2 and 3 letter words she had not seen before, tried to teach her to read those words, and she had no idea how to read. Why? Simply because she had not had enough exposure to those new words yet to memorize them! The process of memorization was not the way I was going to teach our children to read. Heck, we're learning english here, not an ideographic language like Chinese where you absolutely have to memorize the characters.
I had been doing a lot of research on the topic of teaching children reading, and had a very good understanding of the process of developing reading abilities. I wanted to be able to teach our child to read by phonics and phonemic awareness, not the whole language method. There was no way we wanted our baby to memorize words and pretend to know how to read. So we stopped that program a short while after ordering it from the infomercial. I decided to take matters into my own hands. We taught our 1st child to read at 2 years 11 months old, and also taught our 2nd child to read at 2 years 9 months old. By "reading", we mean real phonetic reading. No silly memorization of word shapes. Here's a short video clip showing our 2 year old toddler's reading progress:
Whole Language Method of Learning to Read is Not Ideal for Teaching A Child to Read
If someone had asked me back then "Can Your Baby Read"? I would have to have answer an emphatic NO. As much as I didn't want to admit it, but my baby really couldn't read. Unless you consider memorizing shapes as reading, but that would just be silly. Poor readers almost always result from trying to memorize word shapes than trying to learn the basic building blocks of the English language. English is NOT an ideographic language like Chinese, and therefore, it should NOT be taught like one.
The "whole language" method of learning to read is a controversial approach to teaching reading. With the whole language method, students are expected to simply look at a word and say it out. This approach to learning reading is very much a "word memorization" plan, and it is also known as sight reading. Would you rather have your baby work on memorizing hundreds of shapes of English words, or learn the proper decoding methods where your child can learn to read almost anything within the English language? When babies learn to "read" by memorizing shapes and by the word configurations, they rarely develop a real understanding of the phonetic relationship between the letters of a word and the whole word itself. A child who is able to read fluently without memorizing hundreds of words is able to do so by developing phonemic awareness, and a keen understanding of the phonetic relationship of letters, sounds, and words.
You don't have to take my word for it, that the whole language learning reading method is not ideal. The National Reading Panel conducted an extensive review of over 1,960 studies, after which they stated: teaching phonics and phonemic awareness produces better reading results than whole language programs.
After we stopped with the baby reading program, we decided that it was simply best to wait until our daughter was older, and was able to speak more clearly before we start teaching her to read again. This time, we were determined to teach her to read the right way, and not by simply memorizing word shapes. During this time, I continued by research, and continued to greatly expand my own knowledge base of teaching children to read. By the time we started teaching our first child to read, I had already done several years of extensive research on the matter, and have develop what I thought was an effective plan for learning how to read through developing phonemic awareness. We began teaching our daughter to read when she was 2 years and 8 months old. Of course during this actual process of teaching her to read ourselves, we learned a whole lot of new things - what worked and what didn't.
After just three months of teaching, our daughter could quickly and efficiently decode and read almost anything we asked her to. Her progress was nothing short of amazing. And this time, she was NOT memorizing words and word shapes. She was able to sound out and decode new words that she has never seen before. She displayed a real ability to read and decode printed text. By the time she turn 3 years old, our daughter was able to read children's books (Step into Reading: step 3 books) that are intended for children up to grade 3. She developed a true love of reading. Friends and family who see her reading ability are amazed; however, I think it is my wife and I who are amazed the most at the reading level a young child can accomplish if just given the appropriate reading instructions.
We have 2 videos showing her reading abilities and reading progress. One video at 2 years 11 months old, and another video at 3 years 4 months old. Click here to watch the two videos, and discover how we were able to teach our daughter to read.
1. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.