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:
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 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:
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).