My parents love to tell the story of how I learned to read. They even have a home movie of me reading the flash cards, which is pretty cute if I do say so myself. After many months of my parents reading books and flash cards to me, one day I picked up a book and started reading on my own.
I was 3 years old.
I used to think it was because I was a bright kid with a propensity for language and words. No doubt, I was a certain kind of learner who was willing to sit and be read to, but it turns out that a lot of kids can learn to read young if they're constantly exposed to words. Even though Jason and I weren't early-childhood or elementary education majors, we still took classes that discussed the concept of reading and how kids learn (or have troubles learning), and definitely our background in education has played a role in our interactions with the girls.
From us reading to her, to pointing out words, to phonetic exercises sprinkled throughout the day, Sydney certainly gets a lot of exposure to the early processes of reading. For a few months now she has started identifying the letter that words begin with. "Look at that red truck! Tih...tih...ter-ruck. 'Truck' starts with T!" But I have to be careful if I try this little game too often: "Hey Syd! There's a horse. What letter does 'horse' start with?"
"No," she says, "not today."
Right after Sydney was born, I saw a program that taught babies to read. I added it to my Amazon wish list--mostly for my own future reference--and thought it would be pretty cool if I ever had the opportunity to try it out on her. I remember thinking, Wouldn't that be something if I could teach Sydney to read?
Well, since Sydney won't be going to pre-school next year (because of the cost, not because I have anything against pre-school) and she's already really close to reading, I think Jason and I will probably end up being the ones who teach her to read. Pretty cool. And that program that teaches babies to read? Amazingly enough, I've been able to try it out with the girls. Parent Bloggers Network had a handful of review copies, and I asked ever so nicely (okay, begged a little bit) to try it out. I was dying to see if it worked. After months of trying it out, the verdict is...kind of.
This early language development system is called Your Baby Can Read, and it was developed by Dr. Robert Titzer. We tried out the 5-DVD Box Set, which includes sliding word cards. The program asks that you begin with the Starter DVD, and have your child watch it twice a day, for a month. Already this seemed like a difficult task because carving out time to watch a video twice a day, while easy to do with Sydney, was not easy to do with Jules. But I wanted to give the program a fair shot, and so we tried.
The very first time we watched it, Jules (at the time just over 12-months old) kinda-sorta-maybe paid attention and did, in fact, learn something. The phrase "arms up" was shown and repeated several times, along with pictures of babies putting their arms up. Jules heard the phrase, saw the picture, and started doing it. "Arms up!' the voice would read. And Jules' arms went up. Since we don't use the phrase "arms up" around here (having long ago adopted the phrase our nanny taught us: "Praise the Lord!" said in our best southern charismatic voice), I know Jules learned it from the video.
After that first day, however, Julianne had no interest in watching the video, so mostly I was watching it with Sydney and evaluating the program myself. I definitely think the program would work in the right circumstances, with a child who was interested.
We know that children first learn to read using "whole word recognition." Which is to say, most of the time kids first learn to read by recognizing whole words, not through phonics (however, beware of schools that don't teach phonics because it can be detrimental to a child's future reading abilities). Dr. Titzer's program focuses on teaching reading through whole word recognition, although he does incorporate some elements of sounding the word out, which is good. There is a lot of repetition, which is exactly what children need in order to recognize words. (It's through repetition that Sydney has learned to "read" books.)
Both Sydney and I found the pacing of the word presentation a little too fast in some places. She would try to read the word, but either the answer was given too quickly, or the screen would move to a new word too fast, and it would frustrate her. Sometimes I would help her out by pausing the video so she could see the word--I suspect her vision issues were a factor in not seeing the word right away--and this helped. The word screens that accompanied songs moved way too fast, and so when the song "Old MacDonald" was playing, Sydney would read along in her own book rather than on the screen.
So, the videos? We'll probably continue to use them here and there, but I think the real gems of the system are the flash cards.
Sydney loves these flash cards. They're heavy duty, and you can write on them with a dry-erase marker. Sydney traces the words, "writes" her own words (not with recognizable letters, but she's writing from left to right, so that's a step), and overall enjoys playing with the cards. The word cards are clever in that there is a word on the front and back of the card, and a representational picture of the word pulls out from the card. I'm definitely getting more of these word cards for Sydney to use because they seem to work for her.
Overall, I think the Your Baby Can Read program is very educational, and certainly is a great addition to any early language development. I would recommend it to parents interested in introducing reading skills to their kids, particularly if they don't even know where to begin in helping teach their child to read. My 16-month old didn't learn to read, but my almost 4-year old is getting there. They'll both figure it out eventually--in their own timing--and I'm just happy to help them out, presenting reading in a fun and interesting way.
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