elevating child care

Experts Agree! Really, Babies Don’t Need To Read

I received this caring mom’s comment in response to How To Help Your Baby Become A Math Genius (Or Not):
I am a mother of a 17 month old girl and I had her do the Baby Can Read program. I did this because I struggled with reading and vocabulary in school. My daughter has been successful with the program and can read better then my nieces and nephews who are 3 and 5 years old. I am not bragging because I watch my nieces and nephews during the day and want them to succeed as well. I only let my daughter watch the videos at the most twice a day (30 minutes) and no other TV. The rest of the day she is allowed to explore play and be a toddler. Now I have been teaching her more new words on a daily basis and has learned them after two or three times after seeing and hearing the word. I think she can read close to 200 words. I don’t see what can be wrong with this? My other nephew (who is 8 months older then my daughter) throws tantrums because he can’t communicate what he wants …my daughter who has been able to develop her speech at a faster rate does not throw fits because she is able to communicate to me what she needs. I am still struggling with the idea of parents being scolded for teaching their kids how to en they are able and ready to learn? Is there any information or studies to show how this is not beneficial? So far I have not seen it…if I do in the next few years I will let you know…

First of all, I sincerely apologize if you felt I was scolding you for teaching your baby to read.  It’s clear you care passionately for your daughter, and I understand and admire your desire to help her avoid the reading difficulties you experienced as a child.  It sounds to me like she would have good communication skills for her age regardless of her ability to recognize words in print because of your attentive care and the time you spend reading and talking to her.

My point is this: Babies need to build a good base for reading comprehension through natural interactions with parents and caregivers and real experiences in the world. They need to internalize words with all their senses, like your daughter does when you tell her about the warm water and yellow washcloth you bathe her with, or acknowledge the birds, big trucks, or helicopters she hears outside. These language lessons are not the isolated words heard in videos or images on flashcards. They are in context and have relevance to your baby’s life.  When we direct a baby — eager to explore his world — to words on a page, flashcard or TV screen we are misunderstanding brain development.

I don’t judge you (or any parent) for giving children early academic instruction. We all have good intentions. Parenting is a series of difficult choices, and we’re all choosing the best we can. I do assail supposed ‘experts’ — product manufacturers and marketers — for capitalizing on a parent’s worries, misleading us with false claims, misinformation, and fabricated ‘studies’ that support their pitches.

Yes, babies are ready and able to learn. That is one thing all the experts agree upon. The first years are a crucial period for brain development. Those who sell early learning products (that can run as much as $200) will tell you to take advantage of this precious time by using videos and flashcards to stuff babies with information (which they call ‘knowledge’), get them on a “fast track” by gaining precocious reading and math abilities before school even begins. However, other psychologists, neuropsychologists and educators warn that teaching babies to read is not only a waste of time and money, but can be detrimental to the higher level brain function a child needs to be a success in school, and even have emotional consequences.

So, to your question: where is this information that shows teaching babies to read is not beneficial? I didn’t have to dig deeply to find examples, even though these experts, researchers, and educators don’t have marketing campaigns, TV commercials or 800 numbers. Here are a few of their opinions:

Regarding the “earlier is better” myth… Early childhood educator Tonya Wright, in her insightful article “Teach Your Baby To Read???“ (on the site: Literacy Connections – Promoting Literacy And A Love Of Reading), writes, “Really…what is the rush? Do we stand a four-month old up on his feet in an effort to make him “walk”? Because surely if he walks at 4 months old, he will be the best walker in his class by the time he gets to kindergarten! Why do we have to rush children? Why do the wonders of infancy have to be punctuated with flashcards and DVDs?”

Psychologist/neuropsychologist Marsha Lucas, Ph.D., explores the threat early instruction can be to healthy cognitive development and secure attachment in “Your Baby SHOULDN’T read” . ”The brains of young children aren’t yet developed enough to read without it costing them in the organization and “wiring” of their brain. The areas involved in language and reading aren’t fully online — and aren’t connected — until age seven or eight. If we’re teaching children to do tasks which their brains are not yet developed to do via the “normal” (and most efficient) pathways, the brain will stumble upon other, less efficient ways to accomplish the tasks — which lays down wiring in some funky ways — and can lead to later learning disabilities, including visual-processing deficits.”

Educator, brain researcher, reading/learning specialist Jane Healy, Ph.D., explains in her book Your Child’s Growing Mind , “Yes, even babies can be trained to recognize words. Babies, however, cannot read, tapping into a vast personal storehouse of language knowledge that takes years to build. Most preschoolers, likewise, can be trained through a stimulus-response type of teaching. The human brain can be trained to do almost anything, if the task is simplified enough and one is willing to devote the necessary time and energy. Yet the brain power – and possibly the neural connections – are stolen from the foundation of real intelligence. Reading becomes a low-level skill, and there is a danger that it will remain at the level where it was learned and practiced.

I believe that formally teaching reading to preschoolers is a serious intrusion on natural mental growth. Only a few, who spontaneously, motivated by their own curiosity, teach themselves to read because they want to find out the meaning, are true early readers. Pushing others to call out words is a grossly oversimplified version of a complex intellectual feat.  If we get children to “read” words before they have ideas, thought and language to make reading interesting, we hand them a key to the door of an unfinished garden.”

In Your Self-Confident Baby, infant expert Magda Gerber implores, “Does it ever come up later in one’s life whether a person learned to read at four, five, or six?  Learning academic skills should be saved for school-age children. Before that, let your child learn and follow his own rhythm. If you push, he loses his appetite for learning. And it’s that appetite that makes him interested and want to learn.”

I don’t believe you hindered your daughter by teaching her to read. But I do feel protective (maybe overly so) of those first years of a child’s life.  I know how hard it is not to project, to worry about every aspect of our baby’s development, rather than accept what our babies choose to do — and do naturally – as enough.  My hope for all of us is to find a way to slow down and enjoy the present, relax, trust nature, our children and ourselves.

For more, please read the articles and books linked to (above) and my other posts on this subject: “Your Baby Can Read” Costs Too Much and Baby Einstein Is No Genius.

(Photo by antisocialtory, on Flickr.)

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53 Responses to “Experts Agree! Really, Babies Don’t Need To Read”

  1. avatar Barbara says:

    When ours were young I was kindly told ‘there is no prize for the youngest child to be potty trained’.

    “Parenting is a series of difficult choices, and we’re all choosing the best we can.”

    I also criticize hawkers of bad product to vulnerable parents.

  2. avatar Tonya Wright says:

    Janet, Thanks for the great article and the mention. I understand a parent’s desire to teach their baby to read. After all, early literacy is a big deal, isn’t it? But I think we have to help parents to see that early literacy is different than teaching your baby to “read.” Thanks for keeping this important issue in the forefront!

    • avatar janet says:

      I loved your article and hope everyone who sees this will take the time to read it, especially your suggestions for encouraging early literacy! Yes, reading is a big deal for us, and yet another thing for parents to worry about “making happen”. But if we prepare the soil with lots of language modeling and reading to our children, we can trust them to blossom in their time. I have experienced this myself with 3 very different children. It works!

      • avatar Gauri says:

        Worry, worry, worry. That is what we parents do. :p

        My child has taught herself to read at 3. This is about the least hippy/AP/RIE thing that could have happened. I find myself apologising for it, all the time. Critics tell me she didn’t entirely ‘teach herself’. We have lots of books at home, we read to her and when she showed an interest we bought her ‘early reader’ books. This was supported ‘self-learning’, I admit. We never pushed. There were no flash cards or videos. We never set up times for her to read or anything like that…

        And still, I find myself worrying that I unwittingly ‘taught’ her to read. That she is using the wrong pathways in her brain to read – that she has memorised the words, by rote, rather than really getting phonetics (which I think is true – she has memorised them) and yet, it seems to me to be nearly 100% self-driven. She reads road signs, ads in shop windows, anything she can see.

        So it is that I can’t really talk about this though, it always comes off as a ‘humble brag’. I AM proud of my daughter. I think it is awesome that she can read… but occasionally, just occasionally, I read this stuff and find myself doubting all over again whether I should have done the Steiner thing and somehow kept her away from books and actively discouraged her from engaging with the written word so early.

        Thanks for the safe space to process this. Cheers,
        Gauri

        • avatar janet says:

          The first basic principle of the RIE approach is TRUST in our children’s natural development and self-direction (as I think you know). THAT is exactly what you are doing, Gauri. You have trusted your daughter by allowing her to self-direct her learning and words are one of the things she has chosen to focus on. She knows what she’s doing! I would only be proud. I’d be just as proud as if she demonstrated athletic ability, or a social skills, or creativity, a warm sense of humor, an exceptional talent for making mud pies, etc.

          I imagine your daughter’s precocious learning abilities were developed during the long periods of self-directed play she has always enjoyed. I remember you sharing how you’ve fostered her independent play. Through this kind of play, children learn how to learn. They develop focus, attention span, persistence and problem-solving skills…all of which have helped your daughter learn to read, along with all the other important things she has learned and continues to learn. Reading to your daughter has been a huge factor as well. I imagine you have always made this a pleasant experience, rather than a tense one (which parents sometimes do when they have “agendas” around reading).

          Gauri, I would be nothing but proud and excited for your daughter! Encourage this interest, and continue to trust her to lead the way… There will be many more happy surprises to come…

  3. avatar Olivia says:

    I remember learning to read at the age of 3. Nobody pushed me, I just knew that reading had to be the best thing ever, and I pestered my 7 year old sister to help me figure it out.

    I’m only saying this to provide context for the next bit: When I was 10 years old, my 8 year old sister still didn’t really read. I was very, very worried about her. I was worried that she would never be able to enjoy fiction and non-fiction, and that she would struggle in school, and that she’d be dumb.

    Well, I needn’t have worried. Suddenly (she must have been 8 or 9) she decided she needed to know how, picked it up in the space of a couple of months, and has since devoured many, many books of her own volition.

    She’s smart as a whip, has an MBA, is fluent in three languages, and at 30 years old is the coolest lady you’ll ever know.

    I just wanted to share these (completely unscientific) anecdotes because they both seem to support the idea that self-motivated learning isn’t about early or late.

    • avatar janet says:

      Olivia, great to hear from you! I’ve observed a range of reading readiness almost as wide as yours and your sister’s within my own family. Thanks for sharing your anecdotes.

    • avatar Sarah says:

      Thanks for sharing! I really like what you said, “Self-motivated learning isn’t about early or late.”

  4. avatar Jackie says:

    Wow. I have been looking for an article like this. Very well researched! It seems the only info out there is the info. that is paid for my the makers of these products. As a reading specialist (turned SAHM), all the moms in playgroups hound me about YBCR. At first, I would tell them, I wouldn’t spend the $ but if they wanted to, it probably wouldn’t hurt. Then I started really thinking about some of the problems it could cause, for instance, creating a child who CAN read but doesn’t enjoy it, creating a child who can only decode or even setting up problems with how the child looks at text (I mean really, can we tell where the baby’s eyes are looking when they are “Reading” words that pop up on screen.) Anyway, thanks for your amazing article. I am going to pass it along to every one of my friends!!

    • Really a good point Jackie, parents are exposed to reams of marketing by makers of so-called educational products for babies and preschoolers. The voices of reason are quiet and have no PR campaigns.

      What we also need to realize is that reading requires the kind of brain maturation that arises from physical activity and bodily sensation. Building complex neurological pathways and kinesthetic awareness doesn’t come from screens or pages, it comes from exactly what little kids are motivated to do—-climbing, jumping, snuggling, drawing, singing, and so on.

      Here’s more about how movement is essential for reading readiness:

      http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/08/07/reading-readiness-has-to-do-with-the-body/

  5. avatar Monika says:

    Thanks for this timely topic. My opthamologist, actually told me that a child’s eyes aren’t developmentally ready to ‘read’ until around age 6 or so. That by forcing a child to read from left to right can have some detrimental consequences later on in life. I didn’t ask for further research on this.
    I suspect that it is not ‘reading’ that is going on, but imitation with children this young anyway. My two year old can ‘read’ back to me the “Brown Bear” book, and I know that she is not reading, their brains just work that way. They soak EVERYTHING in their environment in, and if they see a few symbols a few times put together in a certain way, with a sound attached to them – voila! So these programs are nonsense, in my opinion. Reading is decoding. My 8 year old is learning to read just now, she is in 2nd grade. I’m so glad we waited. I haven’t had to deal with her asking me when she was 4 “mommy, what does ‘killing’ mean, when looking at a newspaper headline”. I wasn’t ready to have those conversations with her. I don’t know who is….

    • avatar janet says:

      Monika, interesting what the opthamologist said. I haven’t heard that one. And, yes, I agree that young children absorb everything in their environment. Directing infants and toddlers to what we decide they should be working on seems like an intrusion to me.

  6. avatar Monika says:

    Two more points that seems to get lost when speaking about literacy. We know that the two most important precursors to reading comprehension, not just reading by sight, are 1) a rich vocabulary, and 2) a rich imaginative life.
    Telling children stories, lots of them, and allowing them the freedom to play by themselves and others (something that is dwindling in preschools, and being replaced by academic instruction) both build this. It is not uncommon to find these days, children who have learned how to read at a young age, but who cannot hold the images of what they are reading in their minds eye – their imaginative capacities are poor. The way to build that is not through media. It is through having them listen to stories, where the images are not fed to them and where they have to imagine in their mind’s eye. This is how we build ‘brilliance’. Imaginative capacities allow us, later in life, to think outside of the box, to ‘imagine’ something else that can do to solve, both personal and societal problems.
    Lastly, I am continually curious why countries where academic instruction, including reading is not introduced until 1st grade, are ranked in the top ten in education, and in the US where we live with such a fear about reading, and keep trying to teach it younger and younger ages, keeps dropping…last report I saw I think we were ranked #34. Perhaps, the myth of “the earlier the better” is just that….a myth that began in the 50s when Russia was the first to enter space, and we looked at ourselves and wondered how can, we as a country, not be left behind and began making some (faulty) assumptions about learning and education.

  7. avatar Miven Trageser says:

    It’s very interesting to me that as mothers we have so much self-blame already built in that we tend to experience most inquiry as something like scolding or criticism. I have been on both sides of this experience too. Both of you are right–the Baby Can Read mom feeling that she’s being told she’s doing something wrong, and Janet wanting to open a conversation, to explore more deeply why we do the things we do.

    • avatar janet says:

      Miven, excellent point. I agree. Many of us are extremely sensitive about our parenting choices because the job is so important. I’ve been on both sides as well.

  8. avatar Kari says:

    Once again, I was thrilled to read this article today. We were asked by a kind friend if we would like to borrow her My Baby Can Read program when my daughter was 3 months old. This began my research into TV/media and helped me stumble upon your blog when my daughter was 6 months. I am so thankful that I didn’t ‘buy into’ pressuring my child into academic ‘success’ at such an early age. We didn’t use any reading programs– just good old fashioned reading & storytelling (and LOTS of singing) and our daughter is thriving w/ speech and interest in language. We are working to build upon her life experiences through the use of all her senses. I’m sure she’ll decide to read when she is ready! Thanks again, for the reminder to trust our children and ENJOY them without rushing them through life.

  9. avatar Liz Memel says:

    From the vantage point of Magda Gerber, her always potent questions lead wondering parents into new turf to consider the ramifications of their choices. I believe her guidance for this question of early teaching would be the following: What would the baby be doing/learning during the time you decided what she should learn? “Who knows best how to be a baby?” “All babies are motivated from within.” She equated such stimulation with interruption. “Let babies be babies.”

  10. Excellent response! I’m including this in my weekend reads tomorrow! Thanks for all the links to the literature!

  11. avatar Lisa C says:

    I’ve been reading a little on the Montessori approach to writing and reading. They believe most children are ready between the ages of 3 and 6. Their approach is very holistic, factoring in several skills a child must develop before they can truly begin reading and writing (interestingly, these skills don’t appear to be academic at first glance, like learning to control one’s physical impulses). It makes a lot of sense, though…if a parent is eager to get their child reading, it’s probably worth looking into. At the very least it will show the parent that their is no short-cut to this life-long skill, but many children can learn before they hit kindergarten (if they are interested, anyway, it’s all very child-led).

    • avatar janet says:

      Interesting, Lisa. I didn’t realize Montessori believed children should be guided to reading and writing so early. My personal hope is that parents would not be “eager to get their child reading”, or eager to get their child to do anything, especially academics. I think this precious, brief window of time before kindergarten should be spent playing, socializing, learning about oneself, being joyfully inner-directed.

      • avatar Lisa C says:

        Yes, but the skills required for learning to read and write can be done through play. Like playing a game of red light/green light. Or telling a story. Or looking at a picture book.

        I feel that part of childhood is learning about the world around them. Reading is part of that world. Reading stories to children is the most effective way of developing a love of reading in a child. Reading to a child is the beginning of teaching them how to read. You wouldn’t save that until they are five or six, would you? People misunderstand that learning, even academic learning, can be fun and natural. You can incorporate it early and they won’t even know you are trying to teach them something. They will just think they are playing.

        I introduced letters to my son when he was 18 months old, and he was so fascinated by them that he quickly learned the whole alphabet. I didn’t even really “teach” him the letters, I just pointed them out. He sees them everywhere, of course, and excitedly tells me what letters he sees. I feel it is enriching to understand more of one’s world.

        I’m not too eager to get my child to learn anything in particular…but I do like making certain things visible to him so he is free to learn them if he wants. I see nothing wrong with making things available to children to learn, regardless if they are “academic” or otherwise. I just see them as things that are a part of their world, and it makes sense to introduce them when they seem interested and ready.

        • I could not agree more with your comments. The key, I think, is curiosity. Play is in the realm of curiosity. I believe that boring reading programs hurt literacy. We take our kids to the library often. The feeling of discovery and curiosity beats toy store visits any day. And it doesn’t cost us anything but gas for the car. http://www.nea.gov/news/news04/readingatrisk.html

          • avatar janet says:

            @Lisa, I absolutely agree that reading to our children, telling them stories, taking them to libraries, exposing them to a literature rich environment is a hugely important for literacy — and so do all of the experts I have quoted above. I also believe in trusting development, and not pushing or nudging in the early years, even if it is in the guise of “play”.

            @Martin, I agree that curiosity is the key…and that means being child-led, allowing our infants, toddlers and preschoolers to show us what interests them, what they are curious about. At the library, that might mean exploring the way the drinking fountain works rather than looking at the book that we think they will like. At home that might mean collecting stones in the garden, or going up and down the same steps dozens of times rather than playing a letter or number game with us.

            It is up to us to expose our children to interesting, challenging, age-appropriate learning environments (and for babies, less is usually more), but then I believe we can trust an infant or toddler to show us what he is working on, and allow him to learn rather than be taught. Babies need lots of time to learn how to think, and practice the kind of self-motivated learning they do naturally. Play is enough.

            Babies are very smart and sensitive. They want to please us. They also sense our agendas a mile away, no matter how subtle we are.

        • avatar shasta says:

          Lisa,

          I totally agree with your sentiments. I’m all for exposing my daughter to things she might find interesting, which happens to include YBCR. She does find the videos somewhat engaging, although I suspect it’s because there are people talking and babies laughing.

          Also, she likes to chew on the flashcards and picture books. Apparently they also have a sensory learning function!

      • avatar Megan says:

        The Montessori method was designed by observing thousands of children and determining what they were interested in and what they could do. Montessorians don’t tell children to read or write, we offer them the tools and show them what to do with them, and then let them use or not use them as they are interested. They spontaneously master the skills, and if you ask,who taught you? They look at you like you’re crazy and say, “no one. I taught myself.” In the very first classrooms Montessori and the others observed that children would spontaneously have an explosion into writing at around age 4 and a similar explosion into reading about 6 months later. However, they were given a very rich environment to explore beforehand and given the freedom to develop the necessary skills. They were always offered concrete materials to work with. I have observed in many schools and the children are *happy* to learn in this way.

  12. avatar Fernanda says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post and all the comments above. The information provided is really relevant for me as a mother and educator. I just wanted to share one more point, which is about competition. Why do we need our children to learn earlier and better? Do we really want to prepare them for a world where individualism and competition are the only “skills” leading a child to a suceessful adult life? Or do we dare to dream of a humane and environmentally friendly humanity, where love and self-satisfaction are the real treasures that can make a difference for a better, happier and succcessful life? I´m convinced a free, beloved baby, to whom parents talk and play with, gets the gift of respect, self-confidence and love. Tell me, are these not the most valuable gifts we can give our child? And best of all, no marketing can be involved here: it´s for free!
    Not being English my mothertongue, I request you to feel free to edit my comment in case I made any mistake. Thanks again!

  13. avatar Lisa C says:

    I don’t push or nudge my child anywhere. I simply introduce experiences into his life. It’s completely up to him whether or not he’s going to do something with it.

    I brought him to a dance class to see if he’d enjoy it, but didn’t require him to participate. I allow him into the kitchen so he can watch me cook, but I never “make” him do anything. It sounds like you are saying that by bringing these experiences into his life, that I am pushing or nudging him. I just don’t differentiate between academic and non-academic activities. To me they are all a part of life, all enriching. I don’t think we need to feel pressured to introduce anything early, and I also don’t believe we have to save things for later. I just believe in introducing things when it feels natural to do so.

    • avatar janet says:

      Lisa, I totally agree with you. I’m sorry if I misunderstood what you meant by, “You can incorporate it early and they won’t even know you are trying to teach them something. They will just think they are playing.” I want to relieve parents of any pressure to teach academics, period, and encourage trusting a child’s inner-directed process.

      • avatar Lisa C says:

        Thanks. I know I went off an a tangent a bit there. You are right, there shouldn’t be pressure to teach academics early. I just don’t like the idea of purposely saving them for later, either. I just believe in following the child’s lead, and offering experiences.

  14. avatar Common Sense says:

    You guys have really taken this “new-generation-parenting thing” to a ludicrous level. Self-learning? What? If that was the case, then why are you still around? If they wanna motivate themselves to do things, why do you even have a job as a parent?
    I’m disgusted at the fact that you people are willing to tear down the parenting of others and to insult programs that are purely meant to help infants RECOGNIZE words because you’re obsessed with “alternative parenting”. You wanna talk about brainwash, you people are the epitome of brainwash. Reading BEGINS as recognition. You quote these psychologists and pediatricians, but their claims are only based off of what they’ve read in books or learned in school.
    Clearly, the mother who wrote you had full confidence in her product, and you have no right to belittle her willingness to help her child learn.
    Parents can raise however they want. They’re trying to do the best they can for their kids, even if it involves teaching reading at an early age. You people can take your new age crap and shove it up your stay-at-home asses.

    • The opinions of psychologists and pediatricians are based on scientific research and observation. When you actually work with children and pay attention to them, you learn quickly that children learn by doing, not by watching alone. And just because children can recognize a word doesn’t mean that they have the experience to give the symbol meaning.
      Janet writes this post, and every other one, from an RIE perspective and readers of this page should expect her to do so, since it is an RIE page. I don’t always agree with everything she writes (though I do agree with the vast majority), but I know that it is coming from a place of wanting to help parents and not to tear them down. I’ve been reading this page for at least a year now and I’ve never read anything that wasn’t encouraging and RIE-based.
      Finally, I’d like to ask you to please keep your language polite when disagreeing with people, especially on their own blogs. It’s rude to swear at people anytime, but a blog is the internet-equivalent of a home and to swear at someone in their home for daring to disagree with you is beyond rude.

  15. avatar Michael says:

    Wow. Angry man. “New Age crap”? Nothing New Age about Magda Gerber. Old school, in fact. Very. Old. School. She and Pikler gained their knowledge and insights through observing thousands of infants. Thousands. 50-60 years ago.

    Word recognition is great when it evolves naturally. But ‘teaching’ it? In MY opinion (and I am not speaking for RIE or RIE parents), it can be something of a parlor trick. Seriously, chimpanzees can be taught to recognize hundreds of words and communicate through them. Very impressive…

    We agree that every parent is doing the best they can. Again, in MY opinion, the best parents open their minds to others and aren’t personally offended by clearly defined philosophies which don’t line up with their own.

    Be well, and read on!

  16. avatar Aunt Annie says:

    Oh dear, how sad that this person needed to insult others to put across a contrary point of view. Perhaps he was pushed too hard by his parents and didn’t have his emotional and developmental needs attended to. (splutter)

    There is a very interesting book by Mem Fox, of ‘Possum Magic’ fame, called ‘Reading Magic’. It addresses teaching children to read before they go to school. It’s a long time since I read it, but I do remember that she emphasised the importance of spending quality time sharing a love of books with your children and creating games based on what was in each storybook, like ‘find the letter’. I thought it was an eminently sensible, non-pushy approach for those who have anxieties about their child ‘keeping up’ in school.

    Reading to your children and interacting over a book can start at a very early age, and is far, far preferable to sitting a baby in front of a screen- which has been shown to cause problems for children under 2 years of age.

  17. avatar Tracy says:

    Totally agree Aunt Annie – read to your baby! Cuddled up at bedtime.
    My three children all learnt to read at school. Each in their own time. I have two who love to read and one who’d rather play sports, so i read to her at bedtime even though she’s ten so that she develops a love of books.
    I think one of the best ways our children learn that reading is fantastic is by seeing how much their mums and dads love reading too.

    • avatar janet says:

      Aunt Annie and Tracy, thank you…I totally agree with both of you!

  18. avatar Elanne Kresser says:

    My God daughter’s parents followed a RIEish philosophy (without knowing about RIE) all through her life. They home schooled and waited for her to learn to read on her own. The late great educator John Holt advocated this approach to reading teaching us that children can learn to read the same way they learn to walk and talk — by being surrounded by reading and giving them the time and space to determine when they are ready both intellectually and emotionally.

    She taught herself to read when she was 10 years old. Within a couple of years she was reading adult literature. Throughout her teens she has been an avid reader and a self-motivated learner. Now she’s a sensible, grounded, thoughtful 18 year old traveling in Europe before she settles into college.

    We forget or don’t realize that all intellectual skills, in order to be integrated, need to be part of an emotional, social, kinesthetic matrix that makes them have meaning.

  19. avatar jenni says:

    Reading in children is a subject I am so passionate about. There is some wonderful research in the UK that shows academic success later in schooling can be predicted at the age of 5 on 2 or 3 indicators, the most important being how often a child is read out loud to by their parents and it doesn’t actually seem to matter too much what they read….menus in restaurants, posters at the bus stop, books, etc. Etc. It is the act of the parent reading and demonstrating a love of reading which is far more important than a child’s reading age. Interestestingly it has also been found that one of the other main indicators is the sheer number of books in the house, with households that have over 500 books having the most academically successful children. So there is no evidence, as Janet says, that teaching your child to recognise words (they aren’t reading as they arebt decoding the word) will benefit them in the long run and the best thing you can do is read and instill a love of books in your children. See The Sutton Trust website for lots of work in this area.

  20. avatar Ann says:

    I am so happy that you said in the post, ” a few, who spontaneously, motivated by their own curiosity, teach themselves to read because they want to find out the meaning, are true early readers.” I taught myself to read at 4. My parents read to me constantly, as did my nanny, to foster a love of books in me, but they never pushed me or forced me. They just read to me all the time, and soon enough I taught myself how to read. Was that wrong?

    • avatar janet says:

      Definitely NOT! Two of my three children read just after they turned 4. They had loved books since they were babies. I saw it coming, but made sure I wasn’t urging them on. I wanted it to be totally their accomplishment, intrinsically motivated.

  21. avatar Deb says:

    We had decided not to “teach” our son anything, but to follow his lead on things he was interested in. He has shown a HUGE interest in letters and what they say. He will point to print and want to know what it says. He loves having us read the newspaper, magazines, books, packages of food, anything to him. His name is on wooden blocks in his room. He loves for us to say the letters and sounds the letters make. He can now do this himself, at almost 3. Just recently he has found the magnet letters I had in the kitchen cabinet. He takes them out and puts them on the fridge or dishwasher. If he knows the sound he’ll say it, or if he doesn’t he’ll ask me. All of this was completely on his own… and to me, that makes it AMAZING! : )

    • avatar janet says:

      Amazing, and a sign that this is a true intrerest of his, an area of talent for him, perhaps. Congratulations on following his lead, trusting him and letting his process be “enough”. Well done, Deb!

  22. Well, Janet, you might know what I’m going to say. Whether we are talking about reading, math, science, basketball, or chess playing — what I see is nourishing and nurturing a deep sense of self through compassionate parenting. And then when they are in school, compassionate “teaching.” I’ve seen, too, how “rushing” in any form creates stress. And when there is stress – in the body, in the brain – we don’t learn. We don’t absorb what we are being ‘taught.’ I think you are right on. This article speaks to be mindful and compassionate. Such a parent is always observing, watching, noticing and is able to respond to what he/she sees. Blessings, Lisa McCrohan

  23. Things have become so ridiculous I’m all for banning books for children under three!!

  24. avatar Laurence P says:

    What I find interesting (besides your arguments) is the fact that we are so upset when we think our children are going to have the same difficulties we had.
    This mother had trouble to learn how to read so even though she is so keen on free exploration and play, she tried to cope with the problem SHE had.
    I have some hard time with my son right now. He hits himself when he gets frustrated, even bangs his head on walls and floor. I was really distressed about that, and still am. But it improved when I talked about it, and realized that what moved me the most was when he did it because he failed to accomplished something, or when we tell him even really nicely that he did something he shouldn’t have. I’m like that : really hard on myself and sooo SAD when I feel I’ve been making a mistake (and even more if someone saw it). So I understand only too well how he feels. And even though I told myself it was only a phase. It was I who couldn’t move on. When I realized that, I calmed down, I realized he wasn’t really hurting himself. I tried to talk to him, to prevent him from doing it but in a less emotional way. And I have the impression he is doing it less…
    I find it so human to want to prevent our children to have the same problem we had. And we tend to forget that these are OUR problems, and that sometimes we might just make things worse.
    I know you know that, and that you said nothing else in your article. But, as I do with my son, I read it from my actual piont of view and difficulties ;)

  25. avatar katepickle says:

    Loved this… it echoes all I believe as both an early childhood educator and a parent.

  26. avatar blydie says:

    I loved this and totally agree but also am confused as I work as a Montessori teacher in an environment where children often learn to read at a young age. Since the process is child led would you say it would be detrimental to their development? (since they’re not really taught rather just guided?)

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Blydie! I would need to hear more about how the children are “guided”…

  27. another perfectly timed article. the other 3 year olds on my block are learning to write their ABC’s (upper and lower case!!!), and Sisi just learned how to make a circle. a mighty beautiful circle :) it’s so tempting to want to play catch up with the other parents, but i know in my heart that Sisi is learning so much about the world everyday on her own. i love what you said about an “appetite for learning” being the most important thing. i am searching hard to find a pre-school that won’t squash that appetite. it’s been tough!

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