Teach Your Baby to Read: Step By Step Guide

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Today, let’s get right to it! Are you interested in teaching your baby to read? Maybe you’ve seen some of the many videos on social media of babies reading and you thought that a baby would have to be a genius or prodigy to do that? Dr. Glenn Doman thought that all babies are geniuses, and after teaching two of mine to read before they could walk, I agree.  Logically, it just makes sense to me to teach a baby to read, sign, and read in multiple languages during that critical window of time they are absorbing language. And the results at my house were amazing. Our first baby was reading by 16 months and our next baby was reading by 9 months.

Teaching babies to read: A step by step guide for Christian homeschool families
Teaching babies to read: A step by step guide for Christian homeschool families

GUIDELINES:

If you haven’t read this book  by Dr. Doman I highly recommend it! I did deviate from his methods a bit, but I absolutely followed his ground rules:

  • Mothers (or fathers or primary caregivers) are the best teachers. No one else can know your child like you do. You have good instincts and your child’s best interests at heart. Trust yourself.
  • Always teach with joy – if it’s not fun, STOP. Try again later after you’ve both had a snack or nap or whatever.
  • Start as early as possible. (Some recommend 4 months, but my oldest slightly preemie baby was ready at 3 months and with the next baby, we started IN the hospital)
  • Be consistent and show words every day.
  • Show the words VERY quickly. Each reading session of 5 words should take about 30 seconds and be followed by showers of love!
  • Never bore your baby – stop before he wants to stop and move quickly through new words.

LIMIT TV!

We watched some TV when our babies were asleep, but they did not see TV until they were a few months old, AFTER they had been seeing written words for some time. And even then it was limited to a rotation of just a handful of dvds, including these  and all 5 of the Baby Bumblebee dvds, using all the language options that were available at the time. We learned signs from Joseph Garcia’s Sign With Your Baby but if Baby Signing Time had been available then, we would have watched those early on, too.

PHONICS OR WHOLE WORD READING?

And that brings me to another CRITICAL tip: You may have heard about the phonics vs whole word/sight reading debate, which is better to teach first, is one better than the other, etc…  It’s probably THE biggest source of contention I’ve run into, and one reason is that people may not have considered  that babies learn differently than older children. Dr. Doman believed that babies figured out phonics from being able to read the many many words they learn, just as they figure out many grammar rules as little guys before ever having a formal grammar lesson years later in school. While I do think he was right, I didn’t want to take any chances, so, and here’s the tip, I taught BOTH. This will be the subject of another post, but I want to mention this up front, because I think it’s SO important.

And one last tip: CONSISTENCY

It’s up to you to follow through. YOU are the parent. I’ve seen so many comments on various sites where someone says something like, “Well, I used the dvds on and off and showed flashcards a few times, but now my child isn’t reading so I don’t think it worked.”.  That’s a not even a fair trial.

STEP 1:

So to start with a newborn to 3 or 4 month old baby, you will need some fairly stiff clean white paper cut into strips that are 6 by 22 inches – I used poster board because that’s what I could find. Yes, that’s big. You need big so your baby can focus on the words. On the front of each card, write your first 5 words in large neat lowercase letters with a wide tip RED marker. Choose words that are important to your baby – I used baby, Mama, her name, foot, hand. I do use capital letters at the beginning of names and other words later that are supposed to be capitalized, but only lowercase for the others. On the back, write the word on one corner so that you can read it without even having to look at the front and the date you are starting with these words, because you will retire these words after showing them about 15 times.

Large family tip: Write the date IN PENCIL because Lord-willing, you will use these cards with another baby.

Note: It’s a great idea here to go ahead and make about 200 words, if you can – sorry, everything that’s good requires a little work. And this is WAY better than good! Definitely personalize those words as much as possible for your family and baby.  Babies show interests very early, so capitalize on those! Pets, family members, body parts, favorite toys, things in your house, colors! We lived under the flight path for a major international airport, so airplane, jet, plane, and helicopter were some of our early favorites. We QUICKLY graduated to smaller cards and words, so don’t panic – you only have to do this in the very beginning. (:

Dr. Doman recommended that for each reading session your baby should be facing you if at all possible. Honestly, I found the changing table to be ideal early on – ours even had a drawer to keep the cards in! I always tried to make diaper changing time loving and warm, so taking 30 seconds to show these super fun reading cards afterwards was just natural. Later we used the Boppy  or Bumbo before we graduated to a high chair. If your baby has to be in your lap with you holding the cards out in front, that will work, but you really want him to see your face and pick up on your enthusiasm and joy! TV, if you have it, needs to be OFF and if you have music softly playing, make it instrumental. You want your baby’s full undivided attention.

*Tip: He’s eventually going to want to play with the cards, so keep them out of reach! These are NOT teething toys! Safety first!*

Your very first 5 words: With your baby facing you, from a distance of no more than 3 feet, enthusiastically show and read the first word for 1 second or less. Yes, 1 second. Just say the word and smile and put the card down! DO NOT point out the letters or sound the word out or say the word s-l-o-w-l-y. Now repeat for the next 4 words.  Praise and love on your baby! YAY! Repeat this at least 2 more times during the day, waiting at least 30 minutes between sessions.  That’s day 1, and you are awesome!

DAY 2: Today, repeat the 3 sessions with word set 1, and add in a second set of 5 words, for a total of 6 sessions. I found this to be really easy with a tiny baby because of those frequent diaper changes!

Day 3: Repeat the 3 sessions with sets 1 and 2 each and add in a third set for 3 sessions, so you are showing your baby 15 words a day, 3 times each, for a TOTAL of 9 sessions.

15 words total, 3 times per day, 1 second per word = 45 seconds. It actually takes a little more than that because of moving cards around and getting yourself and your baby comfortable, but that’s it!

Now this where it gets a little complicated for busy moms: Dr. Doman recommended retiring words after they’ve been shown 15 times, so after 5 days, but he did not say to do that all at once. Take one word out of the set and replace it with a new word every day, using those dates you wrote on the back as a guide.

PLEASE don’t get overwhelmed here and just give up! (Not that I know anyone who was tempted to do that….) I did not find this to be a hard and fast rule, and I deviated a bit because life happens. Perfection is not the goal. It’s so exciting and amazing to see your baby’s face when you bring out a new word, and that was motivation enough for me.

Keep working your way through the first 200 words and then you are ready for step 2. The first 200 words are the hardest part because you might not SEE results yet, and you absolutely should not test your baby in any way. There will be voices of discouragement. Satan doesn’t like to see Christian families succeed, does he?  Pray, take care of yourself and your family, and keep going!

Step 2: Couplets

That just means 2 words that you’ve already shown your baby put together as a little phrase, like yellow yarn, big dog, happy boy. You can show a couple of sets of these a day while continuing to show new words. I combined these with live demonstrations or homemade books whenever possible, and sometimes I just added a couplet at the end of a set of words.

This is where I really started reducing the size of the cards, eventually down to index cards. They were focusing on the words at this point and it’s just easier to use smaller cards.

NOW is when I introduced dvds like Your Baby Can Read (now called Learn) and Baby Bumblebee products and I used Powerpoint presentations that I made myself, because BrillBaby was not yet out then. If I were to do this again, I would still start with written words on cards and then add in Brill Baby’s programs at this point.

This is also a great time to introduce phonics. I used phonemes, the individual sounds that make up our language, like at, ug, in, ed, etc… on flashcards and in my Powerpoints and I used these amazing dvds from TweedleWink (NOT an affiliate link, by the way!). Honestly, I think the Tweedlewink dvds were critical to our success. If the affirmations at the beginning bother you, you can just use your remote and skip them. Phonics lessons are built in to the BrillKids LittleReader system, so you get phonics there, as well, with no extra effort on your part.

 

Step 3: 3 word phrases or sentences

These are fun!!!  I used things like:

  • Daddy is tall.
  • Mama is sleepy. (Mama yawns a big yawn to demonstrate – my babies thought this was hilarious for some reason!)
  • the blue ball
  • one purple cat
  • a gigantic hippopotamus

The benefit of using cards here is that you can easily change the phrases and sentences, and because you are using words your baby knows, that just makes it even more fun and interesting for him! You can easily customize your phrases to his interests or things going on that day.

Tip: Don’t wait too long to move on to longer sentences in the next step – you will have a voracious learner on your hands by now.  I realized I was boring both of mine during this phase!

Step 4: Sentences

It’s so easy to grow into this from Step 3, and you just use longer sentences. BrillKids Little Reader  has sentences built in to the program, and  I recommend you also make some homemade books with sentences personalized for your baby and family.  The more ways your baby is exposed to sentences, the more she will learn. We still have all of our homemade books, and they are treasures.

Step 5: BOOKS!!!!

Oh yeah! SO much fun! A few rules of thumb:

  • the younger the child, the larger the print
  • words on one page with NO pictures, followed by the picture on the next page
  • use realistic photos or illustrations if possible – you can fudge a little, but babies need REAL at first
  • whatever you use for your books, keep safety and durability in mind

These sorts of books are REALLY hard to find, and lots of us have found it’s just easier to make your own. And it’s fun!!! But that’s another post!

Is there more to know and discuss? YES! But it’s really not that difficult to teach a baby to read.

I’m so proud of you and can’t wait to see how much your baby learns! Please comment or e-mail me at drlynn@literatelittlelearners.com with any questions!  See you soon!

 

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Posted by Lynn Spivey

Lynn Spivey is a veterinarian, Christian homeschool mom, adoption advocate, keeper of WAY too many chickens and goats, and homeschool curriculum junkie. Lynn's life changed when she taught her children to read, and read well, as babies. Through her blog and forthcoming e-book, she shares encouragement and her exact steps, resources, and tips with friends around the world.

8 Comments

    1. Thanks Cathy! There’s so much info out there and I know it can feel overwhelming, but it’s really easy and fun! By the way, I’m LOVING your blog! Learning so much and making some serious (needed) changes to my wardrobe!

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