Children from birth can begin to learn language Ė both spoken and written. There is very little difference to a child anxious to make sense of the symbols of communications. Children Ė even infants Ė are very motivated, as long as the process is natural, gentle and rewarding. They can learn spoken language, sign language or written language.

There are four essential steps for young children to learn how to read early and well:

  1. UNDERSTAND VALUE OF WRITTEN SYMBOLS: Parents and other loved ones need to read to children from birth and also read materials of their own interest. Through such modeling, young children begin to understand the nature and value of written communication. If reading is valuable to parents, it is perceived to be valuable by children. They will want to read, too, and we often see children pretend to know how to read if their parents have read to them regularly.
  2. UNDERSTAND NATURE OF WORDS: As adults and older siblings read to children, the younger children begin to understand the nature of words -- written symbols that represent reality. This can be achieved in more powerful and systematic fashion if young children are taught some sights words. As explained below, even children 1 to 2 years old can gain a 100-word reading vocabulary through sight reading techniques. Through this process, they understand the nature of these written symbols and begin mastering them.
  3. UNDERSTAND NATURE OF LETTERS: Sight reading does not, in and of itself, teach children the nature of letters, that letters symbolize sounds. Most children do not gain this understanding simply from parental modeling. However, it is vital for children to gain this understanding before they start kindergarten if their parents want them to succeed in school and in life. Various multi-sensory techniques can facilitate this process for children starting at about 3 years of age. The Frontline Reading Curriculum, for example, provides powerful musical and visual aides that help a teacher or parent to teach letter names and sounds to children quickly and systematically.
  4. UNDERSTAND HOW LETTERS CAN BE BLENDED INTO WORDS & INTERPRETED: At about age 4, children who have achieved the prior three steps can be taught how to blend letter sounds together and to sound out words they have not learned by sight. While most mature readers read more words by sight than by phonetic understanding, every fluent reader must also learn phonics. Again, the Frontline Reading Curriculum is an excellent instructional resource for parents and early childhood educators. It was developed in a preschool that teaches all of its 250 preschoolers how to read in just a couple hours a week. The children attend class 4-6 hours a week, but only a small portion of that time is spent on the reading curriculum.

Currently, the International Education Institute's free Early Reading Curriculum emphasizes Steps 1 and 2, helping parents and early childhood educators to teach young children -- 1 to 4 years old -- hundreds of sight words and prepare them to begin the journey toward full reading fluency. We will add curriculum for Steps 3 and 4 over the coming months.

In the meanwhile, we recommend you review the exciting work of Frontline Reading Curriculum, Reading Master and Glen Doman's Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential. All three organizations have demonstrated that children are capable of learning to read fluently before they enter kindergarten.

Frontline has demonstrated that 3-year-olds can begin learning letter names and sounds, and 4-year-olds can begin blending letters into words, learning hundreds of words very quickly.

Reading Master of New Zealand has shown that children can be reading by age 2. Reading Master children first build a sight-reading vocabulary, but are provided visual clues to help them begin learning phonics, as well.

Reading Master based its approach, in part, on the work of Doman. The "Gentle Revolution" of creating "baby geniuses" was launched by Doman in the late 1960s, and emphasizes sight reading. He showed that young children can start learning to read at birth, and that they can master a wide array of complex concepts during their preschool years.

We read Doman's book, "Teaching Your Baby to Read," and tried his approach on our young daughters more than 25 years ago. While we were using word strips with our older daughter, then 3, our 1-year-old demonstrated that she, too, could read the words. As we played the "Word Game," our older daughter learned to read such words as "knee," "elbow," "head," "mouth," "eyes," and "nose," while our younger daughter would touch those parts of her body in response to the word strips even before she could say the words.

There is research that indicates that early reading instruction can be harmful in that it can turn children off from reading. But the research does not distinguish adequately between instructional approaches. The key is to make sure early reading NEVER seems like formal instruction when children are under 4, and even after 4 if they lack sufficient motivation. That motivation typically correlates to the amount of "lap time" the children have had reading with family members. Lap time models the reading behavior and provides incentive to children to learn how to read "just like mommy and daddy." All parents should be encouraged to read with their children 20 minutes a day if they want their children to be successful in school and later careers.

The Doman/Reading Master approach for young children is simply "story time," "Word Game time," "TV time," or "computer play time," depending on the instructional medium being used. But inserted into all of these fun activities is a learning component that will allow young children to learn to read as naturally as they learn to speak their native language.

The Doman and Reading Master organizations claim they have never received even one report of failure from the parents of tens of thousands of young children using their systems. But neither you nor your children should refer to these learning activities as "instruction." This is just fun. For 4-year-olds you can be a little more direct.

You can tell young children, "Itís reading time." But in any case, donít ever ask a child, "Do you want to learn to read now?" Instead, instill in them certain habitual expectations. Every day, for example, you should turn off the TV and say, "It is reading time now." At first, all you will mean is that it is time for you to read a story to them. Once that is a habit, you can add Word Game and other reading-related activities. Regarding "donít dos," donít let your young children play games on your computer unless you know they are valid learning exercises. Otherwise, you quickly begin losing some of the glamour of the computer for serious learning. My advice: no games on the computer at ANY age unless they are educational exercises. Then the computer will be a useful tool throughout a child's life.

The music-enhanced Frontline Reading Curriculum is wonderful with 4-year-olds who have had sufficient lap time with their parents. But, if not, these children and younger ones need first to understand what words are all about before they can be taught phonics. The Doman/Reading Master sight reading approach accomplishes that even with children who lack lap time.

For this reason we have chosen to utilize the Doman approach in the first eight books of our free Early Reading Curriculum. Ultimately, 95% of the words we read as adults have become "sight words" that we have memorized and no longer have to sound out. It is important that children learn phonics, but they can begin learning sight words from birth (the same as they learn spoken "sound words") -- long before they can comprehend phonics rules. Over the coming months we will add books and other tools to help children learn letter names and sounds, and to accomplish Step 3 of the four essential steps needed for full reading fluency.

By learning to read the first eight books of our free Early Reading Curriculum, however, children can develop a vocabulary of over 200 words. But more importantly, the children understand what reading is all about, that words are symbols for reality. And children are then ready to expand their reading capabilities. Soon we will add more books and other learning tools to teach the letter names and sounds -- along with additional sight words -- and help prepare children to make the transition into phonetic reading typically taught in schools.

As soon as children master the first eight books, currently we recommend the Frontline Phonics Reading Curriculum. The original instructional music that comes with the curriculum is a great tool for younger children. Even birth is not too young to begin playing or singing these instructional songs with your children. For more details, email us at Reading@ReadToSucceed.com.

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