Upon Baby’s arrival, at least one parent begins to plot how to teach Baby to read. Flash cards are made with broad stroke sharpies that label the refrigerator, sofa and the dog. Books have been read aloud to Baby since conception. It is a goal pursued with vigor.
Then, the play dates begin. Mothers with an Early Reader Baby chat away about when Baby began to read – often around age three or four. They regale their audiences with stories of the Early Reader Baby and the newest four-syllable word that has been mastered. While mothers of not-yet-reading Babies are amazed and appreciative of these stories, they internalize the message that their baby must be behind because he is not reading and he is already three and a half. Mothers who do not have a Reading Baby go home distraught or with a vow to double down on the reading instruction. Early Reader Babies appear to be brilliant while the not-yet-reading Babies look like…well, Babies.
Take heart, mothers of the Non-Reading kind – some Babies come pre-wired to read.
It is unlikely that the parents of Early Reader Baby did something phenomenal – although good modeling of reading behaviors, rhyming, singing and the like all stimulate those brain reading centers. But the fact is you can’t really stop Early Reader Baby. They are surrounded with letters that can be combined into words and they have the keys built-in to their brain to decode them. I know, because I have lived this.
As I was pushing around Baby #1 in a fabric store cart, she looked up and declared to me, “Look, there is the “Exit” sign!” I chuckled. So cute. She often watched the kids’ TV shows de jour and I figured she had been taught “Exit” in some episode. Soon, I noted that the Hop on Pop book that I thought she had memorized, was actually being read. I tested her with new material and discovered that indeed she was reading. There you have it. I had an Early Reader Baby – and she was just short of three years old.
Life moved on and I did not make too big of a deal out of it. I found a nice little preschool and she had a good time. Then, off to kindergarten she went. One day the phone rang; it was Kindergarten Teacher.
“Did you know your child can read?”
“Why yes, “ I replied (I was thinking that they all could read by Kindergarten).
“No, I mean she can REALLY read. She is sitting in a corner reading a book to a group of children.”
Again, I didn’t see how this merited a mid-day phone call, but I certainly picked up that Kindergarten Teacher thought it was unusual. It was the tone in her voice that tipped me off – a combination of amazement and alarm. The school (hereafter known as “Big School” which is something like Big Pharma – all powerful and life controlling) decided to test her with the Woodcock something or other reading test – she tested at tenth grade level. It was the end of the school year and so they really didn’t have a plan. They sent home a sixth-grade reading text in an effort to respond to the needs of this strange Early Reader Baby. It was a perfectly boring book to a five-year-old and it gathered dust over the summer while we dove into more Dr. Seuss.
In first grade Baby #1 tested at a twelfth-grade reading level. Now what? Do we go straight to the graduation ceremony? Big School decided to move her to second grade for reading time. Even as a young mother, that did not make sense to me – but she went to second grade for reading time and was not too happy about it as I found out much later. Kids don’t like to stand out and be weird at that age – maybe not at any age.
By the following year, Big School had convinced me she was special. So I transferred her out of Big School and into Cooperative School, an “open plan” school where multiple grades studied together and she could easily move between age groups for different subjects. It was a lovely place where parents participated freely and Early Reader thrived.
There is much more to the story, of course, and Baby #1 ended up a bright student with lots of nice talents. However, once her classmates mastered reading, she did not stand out so vividly. She was mainly an Early Reader and public schools then and now are not geared for Early Reader Babies. I know this.
Fast forward to Baby #5, also known as Early Reader #2. Upon entering the Kindergarten classroom for the first time, she noted many boxes labeled with wonderful words: “Feathers,” “Sequins,” “Glitter.” She started reading the labels out loud and proceeded interrogate Kindergarten teacher regarding the use of those materials and exactly when would she would be able to start projects. I got the Phone Call that day. Kindergarten teacher thought it best if Early Reader #2 be moved up to first grade where they sat quietly in rows of desks and did lots of reading.
I said, “No, you keep her in Kindergarten where she is happy, and I’ll keep her reading.” Fool me once…
Because the school really wanted her to try the first grade-reading group, I consented. Upon completion of the first day of this experiment, Baby #5 came home crying because she had missed Kindergarten arts and crafts time.
Done. No more. Developmentally, she needed freedom to be a free-playing, song-singing Kindergartener studying arts and crafts much more than she needed first grade reading.
If Babies read before Kindergarten, they have accomplished at least fifty percent of all tasks for the next three years. Big School just needs to keep them engaged and happy. Parents are often the only ones that can protect Early Reader Baby’s overall development through age-appropriate activities.
Their peers will catch up.
Reading Promotion Behaviors
- Love your Baby.
- Allow for many free play opportunities. For Babies, play is their work and that is where important brain processing takes place.
- Teach phoneme awareness – which can be accomplished by talking to them – and then talk about your words.
- Sing to them. Singing words allows another part of the brain to light up and support the word processing.
- Make silly rhymes. When you rhyme two words, neurons connect in supportive pathways that enhance memory of those words and understanding of the sounds those letters make.
- Read to Baby – again and again – the same story if it is requested. Again.
- Let Baby “read” to you – point to words as he or she tells a story which connects words out of the mouth with writing on a page.
- Read signs as you are driving – STOP is a great first word to read. Or, “Stop Ahead” stenciled on the road can turn into a hysterical discussion of “Stop – A Head! Where is the Head? Did we stop before we hit the Head?”
- Love your Baby – just the way he or she is. Many boy Babies don’t bloom into efficient Reader Babies until age seven or eight. It’s OK. They are doing their work but not showing it to you yet.
The Reading Mother
by Strickland Gillilan
I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.
This poem is in the public domain.