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
(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 (here’s an enormous 862MB zip file), 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

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 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:

UPDATE 6 (June 4, 2020): for over a year now, my older son (now 14) has been studying a humanities sequence of my design (including history, literature, art, philosophy, religion, etc.). The texts are classics in English translation, including the Bible, Gilgamesh, myths and texts from ancient Sumeria and Egypt, Hesiod, all of Homer, selections from Confucius, Lao Tsu, long selections from Herodotus and Thucydides, plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, Socratic dialogues of Plato, much of The Republic, much of Aristotle’s Poetics and Nicomachean Ethics, other philosophy, Plutarch’s life of Alexander, and just now he’s getting into Livy. The younger son (now 9) finished Harry Potter a second time and is now reading The Lord of the Rings. Like his brother, he has read plenty of age-appropriate classics like Treasure Island and Tom Sawyer. Both have managed to get by without reading a single Language Arts text (I wouldn’t do that to them).





Please do dive in (politely). I want your reactions!

132 responses to “Essay on Baby Reading”

    1. Dominika

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

    2. C. Shim

      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.

    3. Faizah Downing

      Hello! In your essay you wrote “I’m planning a new tool that will emulate the best aspects of Your Baby Can Read, but it will be free.” Have you started or finished this project?? Very much interested and am sure everyone else is as well. Thank you!

    4. Basia

      Yes yes so good to see role models such as yourself spreading this important message. I too am a huge fan of early childhood learning and my 4 kids all attend Montessori schooling as a result (the oldest is now in a Montessori high school!). I taught them all to read using the Glenn Doman method which also included math and great facts about art, history, biology, etc… all before 3yrs of age. Such an important time these early years.
      I congratulate you for spreading the word about early childhood reading. I hope people read this and are encouraged to engage with their babies and nurture their powerful brains! Hopefully more funding will be generated in the future so every baby & child can have access to this early childhood gift. Well done !
      Basia, PERTH Western Australia

      1. Thanks, Basia! It’s actually quite sad to me how much resistance there has been to early learning and baby/toddler reading.

    5. Star

      Hello Larry,

      Thank you for your knowledge and resources. However most of your links do not work, is there another way to access them?

      1. Which links in particular?

  1. […] 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": […]

  2. Nbailey

    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.

  3. […] 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 […]

    1. Alana

      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 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,

      1. 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 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 and 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 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!

        1. Alana

          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,

  4. 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…

  5. Ariel (one of the mom from Brillkids)

    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.


  6. 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 and now he’s if anything more excited about baby reading.

  7. 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.

  8. mtb999

    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.

  9. 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.

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