Dr. Amanda’s Articles

If you know me, you know I love my kiddo. I love teaching my kiddo. And I am a very vocal advocate of teaching kiddos when they’re babies and toddlers – in a loving, joyful, FUN way. I love the Your Baby Can Read company, Glenn Doman’s methods and those of his Institutes, The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, and anything that upholds what I know – that children from the ages of babyhood to 4 have UNLIMITED learning potential – and are lovely little people besides. Why teach them? Because it’s important. And because they (if it’s fun!) will love it. And that’s what life should be about.

Here are some articles I have written about Preschool Learning as a guest blogger for Dr. Gentry’s blog, “Raising Readers, Writers, and Spellers” on PsychologyToday.com.

Joys (and Frustrations) of Teaching Babies to Read
A mother tells the joys and frustrations of teaching her baby to read.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/raising-readers-writers-and-spellers/201212/joys-and-frustrations-teaching-babies-read

Published on December 20, 2012 by J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D. in Raising Readers, Writers, and Spellers

Teaching babies to read is a political hot potato.

Should you teach your baby or toddler to read? Or not? What’s the best way? Are baby/toddler-reading products safe? Are baby readers “outliers”? A lack of consensus on the benefits of preschool reading leaves too many parents confused about what’s best for their child. There is an appalling lack of research on 2- and 3-year old readers. Too often parents must sort through myths, misinformation, and bad advice from well-intended skeptics. Some parents even endure personal attacks! Skeptics often claim no definitive evidence or focus on the expense of technology-driven reading products or possible harmful effects. What’s remarkable is that when I go to the real experts—the parents who are successful—they almost always express joy in being their baby’s first reading teacher. That’s the case with today’s guest poster, Amanda Stanford, who followed her own instincts. Now look at what 2 ½-year-old Evie can do! It’s time for more parents like Amanda Stanford to speak out on this important topic.
Amanda Stanford is a mother doing graduate work in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. Here’s the remarkable story of the joys (for Amanda, Ryan, and Evie) and frustrations and misconceptions (from well-intended skeptics) surrounding teaching Evie to read. Her remarkable story reaches out across the globe from Japan, to Scotland, to America.

Teach Your Baby to Read

By Amanda Stanford
When I was pregnant with Evie (who is now 2.5 years old) I was a first-year doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh. I made the mistake of telling a professor of mine that I intended to teach my first child to read as a small baby. “Why?” he asked me, horrified, “You’ll take her childhood away from her!”

“Just let her play,” said another American friend. “She’ll be in school soon enough and miserable – why start earlier than you have to? Let her have fun while she can.”

Meaning no disrespect to the professor, or friend, I thought, “What nonsense!” My fondest childhood memories are of reading the newspaper at age four with my father at the kitchen table, a rare occurrence with him as he travelled for long periods and I hardly saw him. I remember hours at the library sitting beside a stack of books, reading with a flashlight under my bed, going on imaginary trips in the stories I read, making my own “books” and filling them with stories – it was all playing. How could early reading take away my daughter’s childhood when it had so substantially enriched my own? An ability to read quickly and easily (and early!) made school easy, and left me more time to play outdoors instead of inside doing pointless homework. Early reading was perfectly normal for me.

Besides, I had already seen toddlers who could read. I had taught them in a small school in Japan. They were sweet, caring, intelligent, bilingual, and great lovers of books – at 3 years old. I ignored the “conventional wisdom” that said I was wasting my time or worse – harming my daughter – because I believe in history and personal experience. Our cultural history is rife with early readers; inventors, writers, and scientists who were taught to read well before the age of three. Personal experience had given me a year of seeing small children learn to read. I knew “conventional wisdom” was missing a vital link.

So I ignored the naysayers and prepared my materials to the specifications in Glenn Doman’s How To Teach Your Baby To Read (the methodology the small school in Japan also used) while my daughter was still in the womb, and was ready to be my child’s first reading teacher before I went to the hospital.
What I wasn’t prepared for was that she would be a “high needs” baby. She was alert at birth, and inched her way up to me as we lay in the recovery room. Her eyes were open and watching us the next day. And the next day after that she cried, and cried, and cried, and cried. After 6 days of this non-stop crying I took a chance and showed her the word cards I had made using Doman’s methods and you know what? She finally stopped crying.

From then on (at one week old, strapped in the sling) we took trips to art galleries and the local Edinburgh cathedrals, shopping malls and cafes, talking about everything going on around her. And I showed her the word cards every day. A few months later we started showing her the Your Baby Can Read videos, using the fold-out picture/word cards and flap books to talk about what she was seeing on the screen. She was riveted – and best of all, when we were showing her Doman words, the YBCR videos, going on trips to local cathedrals (her gawking at the stained glass) she wasn’t crying. Our extremely fussy baby wasn’t fussy if we stimulated her brain visually, verbally, and constantly.

The problem was that we started noticing that we were having conversations with other parents like this:
“How old is she?”
“Six months.”
“And she knows where her chin is?”
“Yes.”
“And her arm, legs, and hair?”
“Yes.”
“She actually understands you?”

Did Evie actually understand me? Of course she did! Some skeptics found her incredible level of comprehension abnormal.

Evie could flip the pages of those big fabric books independently by 3.5 months old. People who met her on the bus (public transportation is exceptionally good in Edinburgh) would see her using a fork properly to eat broccoli and pasta while she sat in her pram from 9 months of age. By the time Evie was walking at 11 months of age she could also follow instructions like, “Here, take this and throw it into the trash can in the kitchen, please.” She could read and point to corresponding body parts and do simple actions from seeing the word cards (without me prompting her) when she was one year old.
And still parents at playgroups would say things like, “Wow, it looks like she is actually reading that book.”

I would have to respond, “Well, she is reading that book!”

And the next thing they asked was, “How did you get her to do that?” and “Why?” which was so annoying that it made me stop going to playgroups.

I was offended that they thought I was doing some magic hocus pocus on my infant; that I somehow “engineered” her intelligence. What was most offensive to me, however, was the underlying insinuation that I somehow forced her to read. I just followed Evie’s lead. She was eager to expand her knowledge, and I was in the unique position to know exactly how to do it. I didn’t “get” her to do this. I simply filled her sponge-like mind with facts and words and stories. We “talked” about everything we did. And most importantly, I made it fun.

At 2.5 Evie can now read her word cards aloud (which she calls “Word game, please!”) She knows (amongst other things) most of the instruments of an orchestra, wild and domestic animals, famous painters’ masterpieces, world landmarks, and major organs of the body. She can hand you the picture of the flute when you ask for it in a pile of other pictures of objects, or hand you the flute in a pile of other pictures if you ask her for the wind instrument.

All this, and yet once when she came to my office in the post-grad building, a skeptical post-grad colleague exclaimed to me, “But she can’t read!”

“There she is,” I pointed, “reading.”
“Well, she can’t read like you or I read.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, she might recognize words, or the patterns letters make, she might even be able to say them, but she doesn’t understand those words.”
“Of course she does,” I exclaimed.

The academic sagely shook her head, “Don’t be offended, but I think you see more than what’s there.”
Gentry: Evie is not only a reader at 2 ½ years of age, she’s incredibly well-rounded. In the photos below you see Evie the artist; Evie the climber with Dad, Ryan; and Evie exploring her curiosity of the world she lives in.

Did Amanda Stanford really “see more than what’s there?” Key in to Amanda’s next post in a week or two and find out when I feature “Can Baby/Toddler Readers Really Comprehend” by Amanda Stanford.

Can Baby-Toddler Readers Really Comprehend?
A mother shows parents how babies learn to read and comprehend.

Published on January 8, 2013 by J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D. in Raising Readers, Writers, and Spellers
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/raising-readers-writers-and-spellers/201301/can-baby-toddler-readers-really-comprehend

The baby sees the word “hair” on a card or computer screen and points to her hair. When an infant seems to read words automatically on sight are they really comprehending or is it simple paired-associate learning like a parrot? Can 2-year-olds decode, comprehend, and make meaning from print? A young mother in Scotland shares her perspectives after skeptical colleagues asked the big question: “Can babies really learn to read?”

Can Babies Really Learn to Read?
By Amanda Stanford

“Word game, please!”
That’s what Evie exclaims when she wants to have fun reading scores of words from our word cards. We also do picture sorts—which she loves—identifying instruments of an orchestra, wild and domestic animals, famous painter’s masterpieces, world landmarks, and major organs of the body.
Too often my colleagues—especially in academia—are skeptical. Even when they see her reading they don’t think it’s really reading and comprehending. The conversation often goes something like this:

“Well, she can’t read like you or I read.”
What does that mean?” I ask.
“Well, she might recognize words, or the patterns letters make, she might even be able to say them, but she doesn’t understand those words.”
“Of course she does,” I respond, somewhat flabbergasted.
“Don’t be offended, but I think you see more than what’s there.”
Any observant parent who talks to their child will recognize whether children show an understanding of the meaning of words read from cards (or the computer screen) or comprehend a story during story reading. A parent can determine if the child is getting meaning from the printed word through observation and communication with the child.

Evie’s First Comprehension Lessons

Using the Doman method I made several books while Evie was only a few weeks old that illustrate short stories about Evie and our family, who live far away from us, using the same words in the reading program. There are pictures of her grandparents, our family friends, and cousins. Her first book, and long-time favorite, is simply called, “Evie’s Busy Day” and has sentences like, “Evie is smiling. Evie is drinking. Evie is crying,” in 3-inch high black letters with corresponding pictures of herself. She grew out of the simple sentences quickly but was fascinated for a long time by the pictures, so I made a lot of them in the same vein.

In one of Evie’s early (and still treasured) little story books there is a picture of myself pregnant, standing in our bathroom. The sentence reads, “Mommy is in the bathroom and Evie is inside Mommy.” We talk about the story.

“Mommy bathroom,” she says and points to my belly in the picture. “Evie here.”
And then she sees a picture of herself at a table, eating dinner. The sentence is, “I am learning to drink from a big girl cup.”
“What’s that?” she points to some small, peripheral object on the table.
“That’s your pacifier. You don’t use it anymore because you’re a big girl.”
“Evie a big girl. Mommy a big girl too.”

Babies and Toddlers Demonstrate Comprehension through Conversation

In addition to the 40-some little books I’ve made myself as well as the hundreds of picture books we’ve bought from second hand shops, Evie loves videos. Luckily, Scholastic® has made many of our most beloved picture-book stories into short videos with wonderful, lively musical scores. We will often talk about which instrument is being played and what’s going on in the story.
Our typical conversation during one of these video stories runs like this (remember, she is 2.5 years old):

“Watch baby Harold one time. Mommy says no, no, watch it again, one time, please.”
I turn on Harold and the Purple Crayon where Harold draws the moon.
“The moon!”
“Yes, that is the moon.”
“When sun comes out, see Mommy, get out of bed.”
“Yes, when the moon goes away and the sun comes out, then you can get out of bed.”
“And go to café. Scottish breakfast.”

(Which just reminded me of what happened recently. We were having brunch at our neighborhood bistro and she took a big bite of her black pudding roll—a uniquely Scottish food—and saw the woman who owns the bistro peek out from behind the counter at her. “Mmmm!” she called out to the woman, “Delicious!” It rang clear across the bistro and made poor Mary blush at the compliment.)
Will Early Reading Create Problems in School?

Sometimes I do worry about sending Evie to nursery (kindergarten in America). As a professional educator, I do not make such decisions casually. In my research of the local schools, I have spoken to several in the Edinburgh area and encountered two distinct opinions:
1. It’s okay if she’s reading in nursery. She’ll grow out of it and become “normal” like everyone else once primary 5 rolls around (fifth grade in the American system).
2. It’s okay if she’s reading in nursery. We’ll see how emotionally mature she is and if she can handle it, we’ll move her up to Primary 1 (first grade, skip kindergarten.)

These attitudes seem to ignore the important issue: A child who can read words such as animal, spider, knee, sitting, gorilla…” at 2.5 years old, among many other splendid things, won’t either “grow out of it” or best be supported by simply skipping grades. Like all kids, parents and educators need to meet them where they are, follow their lead, and help them become who they can be. We need to support advanced kids and we need more of those kids. And how do we get them? One way is for parents to embrace the idea of becoming their child’s first reading teacher—never through force but in joyful literacy interactions. And I believe we need to teach them when they are most receptive—as babies.

Early reading gives kids so many more options, and raises the bar for all kids. Exposure to reading, using a systemized methodology, along with fun, organized and loving parent involvement is what raises that bar. We need to reconsider our prejudices and remember our history. Who taught our historical early readers to read? Their parents. Us. To paraphrase Glenn Doman, “Who has more problems? The kids who can read or those that can’t?” I encourage all parents to start teaching small babies and toddlers and realize that they not only want to learn but have amazing capacities—even for reading and comprehension.

Evie is a sheer delight to everyone she knows—her laughter is infectious and her affection, concern, and love for other little people is moving. People may not remember me very much—but they never forget Evie.

Gentry: Find out how Evie got started as a reader in Amanda’s first guest post: Joys (and Frustrations) of Teaching Babies to Read

Dr. J. Richard Gentry is the author of Raising Confident Readers, How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write–From Baby to Age 7. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and find out more information about his work on his website.

Lifelong Learning Starts Before PreschoolThis expert shares important reflections on early learning.

Published on September 24, 2013 by J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D. in Raising Readers, Writers, and Spellers
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/raising-readers-writers-and-spellers/201309/lifelong-learning-starts-preschool

Should you teach your child to read, do math, and recount facts about the world before age 4? And if you do, what options do you have later for formal schooling? Do parents who foster early learners end up with regrets?

Neuroscience is revealing special capacities for brain development before age 6 when neuroplasticity may be at its peak. Here are reflections from one of the experts.

Today, more and more studies are coming out touting the benefits of early learning. Five years ago when I began an intensive search for the science behind early reading, I struggled to find studies on 2- and 3-year-old readers. What I learned was that parents who taught their preschoolers to read were the experts. This guest post is by one of the hundreds of parents I have worked with who are experts on early learning.

Dr. Amanda Stanford teaches academic writing classes at UNC-Charlotte and Winthrop University. Her interests include teaching babies and toddlers and raising awareness of teaching very young children.

Lifelong Learning Starts Before Preschool
By Dr. Amanda Stanford

My daughter likes to tell strangers that we took her to Morocco when she was a baby and that she once had a wander around the Coliseum.
“When I was a baby, we went to Morocco.”
“That’s nice, dearie.”
“When I was a little girl, I went for a wander in the Coliseum.”
“Oh, my!”
When you are three years old, I suppose the world can seem like a strange place. But from Evie’s vantage point, in a backpack looking over my shoulder, I think the world looks like an interesting place – a place you want to tell everyone about.
“When I was a baby, I rode a camel.”
“Oh?”
“Yes, I did. I’m going to sing a song now. The driver on the bus says, ‘scratch my toes, scratch my toes, scratch my toes.’ The driver on the bus says, ‘scratch my toes’ allllll dayyyyy lonnnngggg.”
They say you can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends. When Evie tells people that she went for a wander in the Coliseum, I can’t help but think that while we didn’t pick Evie, we do shape how she sees the world – and how she wanders through it. At least for now.

We began Evie’s education when she was only a week old. We showed her word cards with letters 5 inches high, which helped develop her eyesight. Only a few weeks old, she would often watch me in the kitchen while her father held her in the living room, and it was obvious that she was watching me – when I would wave she would smile and stretch out her hands. From there we moved on to 3 inch high word cards, word videos, and those big squishy books with simple stories (which she could flip through independently by four months old). By six months, Evie could make her desires understood most of the time with gestures, grunts and eye movements, but was often frustrated by her lack of verbal skills.
By nine months, she had learned how to effectively communicate and she could carry on both non-verbal and verbal conversations. By eighteen months she could mime at least 100 word cards of the parts of the body and actions, in addition to reading the storybooks I had made for her using these simple words. Around that time as well, I began showing her Bits of Information cards (from the IAHP.org) and talking about the places we had been, and the places I hoped we would soon go.

Evie’s actual word usage was well below average at two and a half, but soon after, her language skills exploded. Now at three and a half, Evie speaks in whole paragraphs; clearly, completely, and (hilariously) with a British inflection from her years in Scotland, UK. She can now read more than 250 single word cards, several short books and animated stories on starfall.com, and she knows thousands of Bits of Information. She is also a delightful little girl who loves the color pink, animals, baby dolls and dinosaurs.

Having just moved back to the United States, we are wondering where Evie should go to school. As she is only 3 and won’t turn 4 until April of next year, this leaves us an ample amount of time to consider our options. Back in the UK, when the local educators met her, I was told that she would either “grow out of it” or be pushed up a grade. I was not impressed. I don’t want her to “grow out of it” or be pressured into conforming to expectations of which she would have no prior knowledge.
Here in the US, there seems to be a myriad of educational choices. Montessori, language schools, play school, public school, home school, parochial school, and the list continues. The educators I have met here in the US talk about different literacies and learning styles, helping our children grow, and helping our children fulfill their potential. This is all fine and good, until I think back to being told she’ll “grow out of it” and suddenly, all this “help” doesn’t seem so helpful.

The problem isn’t that Evie needs help; she needs space. Evie is a leader; she starts the games and sets the tone in most situations (no matter how much older the other children might be), and she is very much herself. She knows her own mind and makes connections with surprising sophistication. For example, Evie has a genuine passion for dogs, but would often scare them away with her excitement, so I taught her to hold her hand out to a new dog to see if he would be interested in being her friend. If the dog responded favorably with a lick or tail-wag, I told her it would be all right to pet him. When she makes a new dog friend, she’ll often proudly say, “Mummy, look! He’s interested!”

At the airport on the way over to the US from the UK, Evie wanted to make friends with a little boy. He was a bit older and had no real interest in playing with such a little girl. “Hello,” she said to him. “My name is Evie. What’s your name?” When she didn’t get a response from him, she dashed over to me shouting, “Mummy! He’s not interested!” The other passengers giggled. She found an Italian family to play with instead, because the thing is, Evie doesn’t care if her new friend is an eight-year-old boy, a little old lady, a kitten, puppy or elephant, or five squabbling Italian-only speaking siblings. Her view of the world is interesting enough to be interested in all of them. Like most children who can read, are verbal and intelligent (and curious, stubborn, and willful) at a very young age, I really wonder if any school can fit the bill.

Does this mean I regret teaching her to read, do math, and learn about the world from such a young age? Absolutely not. In doing so, I’ve shown her that learning comes not only from books or teachers, but from life itself. By teaching her so young (and by doing so in a joyous, fun, and exciting way), I’ve embedded the idea deep within her that learning is not only essential, but marvelous. And because of this, and the utter importance I attach to it, I’m reluctant to let someone waltz in and make her feel like a freak – for someone to come in to her kindergarten classroom and tell her that she shouldn’t be reading, shouldn’t be doing math, shouldn’t know so much because she’s so young.
My hope for this world is that children like Evie become more common, not resented or seen as a difficulty to be dealt with, a problem to be solved. I wish that we could let go of the notion that intelligence and potential has a start-date. I wish that we would realize that our babies and toddlers don’t think of learning as we do—as books and tests—but as vivid experiences, complex games, and marvelous adventures. And I hope parents can believe their babies and toddlers can, and desperately want, to learn to read and do math—even before they can walk and talk.

Lastly, I hope we can find a school for Evie that will be a place where she can continue to wander through life learning about our world’s splendid history, its exotic flora and fauna, its cultures, peoples and complexities. The school of my dreams for Evie is a place where intelligent, precocious children are the rule, not the exception, where the teachers lead by example, and is a place where learning is done with creativity, curiosity, and joy.

Dr. Amanda Stanford
Charlotte, North Carolina

Dr. J. Richard Gentry is the author of Raising Confident Readers, How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write–From Baby to Age 7. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and find out more information about his work on his website.

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