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. Yael

    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?

    1. 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!

      1. Yael

        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?

        1. 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 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…

  2. Shonge

    Thank you so much Larry.

  3. Yael

    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…)

  4. @Yael: of course, no problem!

  5. Lappy

    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. 🙂

  6. Charles

    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.

    1. 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.

  7. Joan


    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.

    1. 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.

  8. […] 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 […]

  9. Stina

    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! =)

    1. 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.

  10. Al

    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?

    1. 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 (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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *