Adventures in Learning to Read

We began today to use the Doman method to teach baby D to read. Glenn Doman, through his work with brain injured children starting in the 1950’s, found that it was possible and natural for very young children to learn to read, and that some parents had been doing just that for a long time. Just as the child learns to speak his or her native language effortlessly by exposure to the sound of the spoken language, so the child  learns to read by exposure to written language. His method was popularized in the 1970’s with the publication of How to teach Your Baby to Read. The method is simple: show the child large, clearly written words and tell the child what the words are. He suggests beginning with fifteen “first words” that are familiar to the child– mommy, daddy, the child’s name, names of relatives, familiar items in the child’s environment, favorite activities– written on 6″ by 24″ cards. They are very large so that the child can see them easily and clearly. Over time the vocabulary progresses to body parts, household items, verbs, and other words needed to make complete sentences. The cards the words are written on get progressively smaller over time, so that eventually the child is reading standard sized print in a book.

The book How to teach Your Baby to Read is brief but informative. The first part of the book addresses that it is possible to teach a very young child to read and why one would want to begin that early. The second part of the book covers making materials and the progression of vocabulary. It is highly unusual to begin teaching reading this early, I know, so I will let Mr. Doman speak for himself:

“When we began to study the literature on the subject intensively we were impressed by four facts:

1. The history of teaching little children to read was not new and indeed stretches back for centuries.

2. Often people generations apart do the same things although for different reasons and philosophies.

3. Those who had decided to teach young children to read had all used systems which, although they varied somewhat in technique, had many common factors.

4. Most importantly, in all of the cases we were able to find where small children were taught to read in the home, everyone who tried succeeded, no matter what the method.”  How to teach Your Baby to Read, pp.55-56

“The question as to when to begin to teach a child to read is a fascinating one. When is the child ready to learn anything?… Beyond two years of age, reading gets harder every year. If your child is five, it will be easier than it would be if he were six. Four is easier still, and three is even easier. One year of age is the best time to begin if you want to expend the least amount of time and energy in teaching your child to read. (Should you be willing to go to a little trouble you can begin at eight months or if you are very clever at three months of age.” How to teach Your Baby to Read, pp. 104-105                     

“If you start your child at one year old or before, he may not yet talk, or say only ‘mommy’ and one or two other words. It is quite possible to be able to read before one is able to speak. We have seen thousands of children who can read thousands of words who can not yet talk.Among adults it is almost always true that an adult can read a great deal more of a new language than he can understand of that language through his ear. Remember that a baby is learning a new language.Let us suppose that you have decided to teach your six-month-old child to read. Absolutely fine, go right ahead. Do it exactly in the same manner in which you would teach a child who talks. It will be easier for the six-month-old but more difficult for you… Remember reading is not talking. We adults are apt to think the two are the same thing. This is both unfortunate and unwise. Tiny children are capable of reading before they can talk. A six-month-old can not say his name yet but he can most definitely recognize the reading card with his name on it if he has been shown it frequently… The fact that your child may be too young to speak or may not wish to say his reading words does not negate the fact that you are increasing and enriching his language by teaching him to read. Indeed such investments in teaching the baby to read will speed his talking and broaden his vocabulary. Remember that language is language, whether transmitted to the brain via the eye or via the ear.” How to Teach Your Baby to Read, pp.123-124        


We want learning to always be natural and pleasurable for baby D. While it is certainly possible to learn to read at the traditional “school age”, it is not as easy at that age and often proves a frustration to children and colors the perception of learning and reading throughout childhood and maybe even into adulthood. The aim of early reading is not to make the child more “advanced”, but to ensure that learning is a delight rather than drudgery.

Here are our first sets of cards:

The first set of words. Baby D's name is also in this set to make five words.

The second set of words also includes the names of two family members, again to total five words.


The third set of five words.

Baby D, just because.

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