Nothing in your life will really change until your daily habits change.
The easiest way to maintain a consistent reading program with your baby is to TIE the new, desired routines to CURRENTLY EXISTING parts of your day.
In my house, that meant we would “wake up and read” every day. The first thing I would do when I got the baby out of the crib was to grab a basket of books, snuggle, and read with them on my big bed.
We read lots of books, but we especially loved the BrillKids and Preschool Prep book series. We used BrillKids paperback books to teach classic fables in a simplified, child-friendly way and to reinforce high-frequency words.
We used Preschool Prep board books and “lift the flap” books to teach colors, shapes, letters, and numbers. My kids loved Touch and Feel books that offered different textures for them to explore.
Later on, I also introduced the Preschool Prep Easy Readers and Meet the Sight words series. The font is generously sized and they have limited text per page, which makes them ideal for teaching little ones.
We read many others, including lots of homemade books, but those mentioned above were particularly beneficial for my kids.
Whenever I read to my kids, I ran my finger along under text to help them make the connection between written words and spoken words. As their own skills developed, it was adorable to watch them imitate what I had been modeling.
They would babble and interact with the book using their own tiny little fingers!
I also read to them excitedly and with inflection, trying out different voices for each character, which they particularly enjoyed. Later in life, I would discover that they never went through that phase of struggling to sound out words while reading in a flat, monotone voice, as many kids do.
They had intuitively learned to use natural rising and falling voice patterns when reading out loud.
Our “wake up and read” sessions lasted maybe just 5 or 10 minutes in the beginning, depending on their attention span that day. They were always freshest first thing in the morning and in a good mood, so it was a great time for positive interaction.
After reading time, we would head downstairs for breakfast and Little Reader lessons while they ate. I would hook up the laptop to the TV nearby, so the font was MASSIVE and perfect for a baby.
They were still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and they were going to eat breakfast every day anyway, so I figured I might as well show them their lessons in the process. They would watch a 5 minute Little Reader lesson from their high chair and maybe a quick youtube phonics video or two afterward.
When waking up from an afternoon nap, we repeated the book basket and snuggle time routine on my bed.
If there was a day I might have considering skipping it, they might toddle over to the basket and bring ME a book. I knew we had successfully built a routine because the kids actually helped reinforce it.
I would quickly show them the ABCs with flashcards during lunch time or let them watch a learning DVD right before naptime. They were tired so their bodies were still, and they would often cuddle their favorite blanket and doze off to it.
Of course, there were other learning moments sprinkled throughout our day, but these were the core behaviors that helped us stay on track.
And then there were days when someone was sick or maybe our schedule was unusual and we were rushing out the door, but I tried to make those days the exception and not the rule.
So what steps can YOU take to build a successful early learning routine for your child?
Determine what time of day that your child is in a great mood and responds well to deliberate early learning interactions. Also, note when they are cranky and SKIP those times, for sure!
Prepare your environment in advance. Prep a basket with the chosen books you would like to read the following morning. Make sure the tablet or laptop is charged and plugged into the big-screen TV so it’s ready to go.
For the first month of building your new routine, put a star on your calendar for every day you stuck to the plan. It takes a dedicated parent to faithfully implement a learning program, so don’t forget to pat yourself on the back when you follow through!
As your program grows, look for other teachable moments throughout the day. Those hidden opportunities might present themselves in the form of counting rocks your child found in the backyard or sounding out the name of the grocery store.
By implementing a learning routine that is tied to naturally occurring parts of your day, both you and your child will grow to EXPECT it.
So no matter how crazy your day gets or how swamped you are trying to catch up on laundry, at least your child will have benefitted from those specific, built-in times already set aside to bond and learn.
Do you remember an old movie from the ’80s called “Short Circuit?” It’s a tale of a military robot, a.k.a. “Johnny 5,” who got struck by lightning and somehow gained human consciousness in the process.
Johnny 5 spends a good chunk of the movie trying to decode the mysteries of his new environment, which included everything from operating his own robot body to learning about his new habitat and figuring out human interactions.
One of my favorite scenes of the movie was when the robot was speed reading a dictionary, yet was still clamoring for “More input! More input!”
This was basically my kid! When we figured out that our firstborn was actually capable of learning, we went out of our way to CREATE a home environment that would stimulate her brain. But it seemed the more literacy and sensory-play opportunities she experienced, the more she wanted.
It was an awesome snowball effect! We would chuckle and lovingly refer to her as our little “Johnny 5” now and again on account of her always needing “More Input!”
The thing is, as her mother, I was the one with the choice. I was in charge of the screens and quality of toys in the house, not the toddler. I had the privilege and responsibility of deciding what APPROPRIATE and BENEFICIAL content was going to be!
If you ask kids what they want to eat, most don’t choose candy over broccoli. One is going nourish their body, the other….not so much. But certainly, you’re not going to let your child eat candy for every meal! That would be toxic to the body!
So why do the equivalent with their brain?
Poor quality screen time is not much different than junk food. A deliberate, healthy choice must be presented or the default “junk food” setting will easily take over. And that snowball will gain momentum and leave your child craving “More Input” of the same!
Like constant broadcast TV with ridiculous advertising aimed at kids or unfiltered access to youtube channels with nonsensical content. Unwittingly exposing your child to values that don’t align with your own. Once you start those habits, it’s very difficult to put the cat back in the bag!
Sure you can plop your child in front of any old screen without careful consideration and it will pacify them, no doubt. Maybe it will let you finally “get some stuff done around the house.”
And admittedly, some of those traditional kids’ cartoons can be MESMERIZING to a child! Much more so than a slower-paced learning DVD, on account of their rapidly flashing scenes, loud voices, and familiar pop-culture characters.
But are you feeding their brain broccoli or candy? Are you after immediate gratification or are you playing the “long game” when it comes to your child’s education?
By far, the EASIEST thing to do is NOT to introduce junk screen time to begin with! At least not until they are much older and the literacy foundation has been laid. And if they’ve never viewed junk shows in the first place, they won’t know the difference.
But if typical kids’ cartoons are currently airing in your house and you are already regretting your decision, try to at least scale it back. Maybe just let them watch their favorite one weekly as a special treat on Fridays instead of every day. Prep some popcorn and make it an event. Perhaps choose to watch that cartoon in a targeted second language; Netflix now offers lots of language options. Even better, create some matching flashcards and use your child’s favorite cartoon character to their advantage!
So what can you do as a parent to ensure your child is getting the quality input they deserve?
Turn OFF broadcast TV and invest in high-quality educational programs. You can let your child choose, but make sure ALL choices are parent-approved choices!
Restrict youtube access to specifically curated playlists and keep a very close eye on it while they are watching. Perhaps “push” that playlist from your phone to a big-screen TV or connect your laptop using an HDMI cable, versus just handing a device over to your child.
Use the “guided access” feature on your iPad to prevent your child from exiting the educational app of your choosing. Or dedicate one specific tablet just for them (to use in moderation) with all app choices being great choices.
Interact with them as much as you can! Talk to them constantly, long before they can respond, even if you look a little crazy while you are pushing the stroller down the block! Look for “teachable moments” to explain things and help them decipher the world around them, all while continuing to improve the parent-child bond.
And of course, read, read, read! Keep a basket of books in every room in the house. Digital books like Tumblebooks are a great way to balance screen time with literacy, it’s worth checking if your local library offers free access.
The bottom line? Avoiding junk programming and replacing it with high-quality input will make a MASSIVE difference in your child’s early education.
Have you ever heard the phrase “You don’t know what you don’t know?”
Or perhaps, “When you know better, you do better?”
These phrases have never been more true than when it comes to teaching babies how to read! Most parents don’t even have a clue that babies are capable of reading. But when they finally DO accept out that infant literacy is the real-deal, they recognize that it’s obviously the best choice to make for their child.
Parents just like you go through a few stages and beliefs when embarking on this journey. Let’s be real, you wouldn’t have found this website otherwise. Just sayin’.
Stage One: EVERYONE KNOWS BABIES CAN’T READ! That’s impossible and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool or trying to scam you.
Stage Two: I watched a few youtube videos, but I still don’t believe it. They are just TRAINING the baby like you would train a dog. Unbelievable. The kid doesn’t even know what they are doing! They don’t even know what it means! It’s not REAL reading. It’s just a parlor trick…nothing more.
Stage Three: But wait, the kid in that video is sounding out words phonetically? Huh? And the other one is reading an entire storybook. Surely, he can’t have memorized the ENTIRE thing? It’s pages and pages long…could there be something to this after all?
Stage Four: Okay, wow. I don’t know how this is true, but I’ve looked into it enough and I’m feeling pretty dumbfounded right now. I’ve seen some really little kids actually reading.
How could this even be true? And why in the heck did no one tell me about this? How is this not common knowledge? Surely ALL those parents can’t be faking ALL those YouTube videos? But hang on, I don’t want to be some pushy parent. Even if this IS possible, is it something I SHOULD be doing?
Stage Five: I really don’t know what I’m doing but my kid means the world to me. I know it sounds crazy. But if there is a CHANCE this might work for my baby, I am going to try and give them the best headstart in life. I can’t tell anyone about this, they’ll think I’m either nuts, stupid or both.
But if I can somehow do this, the payoff for my child is just too big to walk away from. If the experiment fails, so what? But if it works….wow, how amazing would that be for my kid?! I am not 100% convinced it’s even going to work for us, but I guess I’m willing to give it a shot…
Stage Six: Now how the heck do I do this?
Does any of that sound familiar?
I, too, didn’t believe babies that could actually read. I actually found out that they are natural-born learners completely by accident. Way-back-when, my father bought the original Your Baby Can Read VIDEO CASSETTES for my sister when my niece was born. (Yes, actual VHS tapes…the kind you put in a VCR!)
You see, my brother struggled in school. BIG TIME. I’ll write more about that and my own childhood role in his education another day, but let’s just say that the school system failed him and he didn’t get a fair shake at life. Not even close.
When my father saw the Your Baby Can Read videotapes on an infomercial, he wasn’t fully convinced it was real but thought, “If this could somehow work, I could potentially save my grandchildren from the same fate suffered by my youngest son.”
Maybe he was just trying to redeem himself, I don’t know. But he bought them. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination and they were not cheap. But after the turmoil of dealing with my brother’s reading struggles for years, he figured a few hundred dollars would be well-worth it, IF the program somehow worked.
My sister wasn’t particularly convinced and never did much with them. She was an overwhelmed first-time parent and reading was pretty much the last thing on her list. I think she made a set of homemade flashcards once that she had laminated (expensively!) at Kinko’s Copy Shop and never did it again.
She realized it was going to take a bit of effort on her part to do the program, without any guarantee that it would even be worth her while. She got busy with life, abandoned the Your Baby Can Read tapes, and put Barney on repeat instead.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently WRONG with Barney. “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family” and all that. But what we’re talking about here is OPPORTUNITY COST. Every minute spent on that big purple dinosaur was a minute my baby niece could have been TRULY benefiting from early learning. She later started, and struggled with, learning to read in elementary school as so many kids do.
Fast forward to a few years later and my husband and I were expecting our firstborn, Lily. My sister handed me the tapes and said “I don’t really know what to do with these, you’ve always been a big fan of education so maybe you want to use them?”
I remember looking them over when my daughter was just one or two months old. I flipped through the booklet and read that I might have to use them for months before I could even know if it was working? Who could even wait that long?! It seemed like I was supposed to wait until my kid could TALK to know if I was wasting my time or not? I think not.
It just sounded like way more effort than it was worth, especially since I was exhausted from raising a newborn. I mean, it probably didn’t even work anyway! I tried to research it online but couldn’t get any real confirmation that it was legit. Instead, I found a lot of sites that said it was a scam. I put the tapes back in the closet and forgot about them.
I cringe now looking back on this moment.
A dear friend of mine had her second baby around the same time as I had my first. She was an established mom and already had a “Mommy & Me” playgroup that she met up with for playdates and such. My friend mentioned in passing that one of the toddlers in particular at the playgroup was “really smart.”
Now, my sister was correct in her earlier observation that I DO highly value education. And my friend’s comment certainly piqued my interest. So I asked her — what exactly did the parents do to make their baby so smart? She said that she didn’t know all the details, but she knew for sure they taught her baby sign language with a program called “Baby Signing Time.”
Aha! So NOW I had some information I could work with! A first-hand, unbiased testament. Sweet! I immediately ordered the DVDs.
At that point, Lily was three months old and my husband had to leave on a very long work trip for many months. In the meantime, I had to juggle raising a baby by myself and still somehow take a few minutes for self-care. Like, actually take a shower!
My solution was to set up the Baby Signing Time videos on a TV near the bathroom and to put my daughter in the Exersaucer to watch them. I could still peek out from behind the shower curtain and check on her while she was being entertained.
After a while, I attempted to communicate with her using baby sign language over and over and again to no avail. I might as well have been speaking Chinese. I truly had her best intentions at heart when I spent money on a program that I THOUGHT would benefit her. I couldn’t help but think – what gives?
She gave zero indication of understanding what I signed to her. Even for MILK! Clearly, it was not working. I guess my kid just wasn’t as smart as the little playgroup genius.
Oh well. I shrugged it off and stopped attempting to sign with her. I wasn’t going to force the issue, after all, I wasn’t THAT kind of mom! Okay, so despite my best intentions, it turned out my kid was NOT genius…so what? Whoop-dee-doo. Moving on.
But even if the program wasn’t actually working like it was SUPPOSED to, the fact is that I still needed to take a shower. She liked the songs on the DVDs and they kept her occupied for a few minutes while I handled my business, so I just continued to play them for her every day. What’s the harm, right?
(I know, I know. Electronic babysitting at it’s finest! But hey, “a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.” Don’t judge my journey, bro!)
My husband finally returned from his way-too-long long work trip overseas when Lily was about 12 months old. Thankfully, she heard his voice, looked at him curiously, and immediately recognized him from all the Skype calls.
About a week or two after he got back, Lily was having a little temper tantrum, as one-year-olds are known to do. I had literally not attempted to sign with her for MONTHS by that point. I had given up on that a LONG time ago.
But in a random gesture to distract her and calm her down, my husband asked her- “Lily, what’s the sign for bird?”
The little stinker. I couldn’t believe it. She signed it right back to him, plain as day. Like it was nothing. Shocked, he asked her another. And another. And another.
She knew them ALL. Every single one. Four DVDs worth of friggin’ baby sign language came pouring out all at once. What the heck!? I had no idea she knew even ONE sign, let alone all of them?! And she just treated the whole interaction like a no-big-deal, really fun game with her dad!
Maybe I had eagerly signed too early in the process when she hadn’t fully learned them yet? Maybe she just didn’t “feel like it” when I tried to sign with her? Who knows.
Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter. This was a huge breakthrough in our house! This was PROOF, no question about it, that babies absolutely COULD learn. EVEN IF there was no outward indication that anything was actually sinking in!
I immediately upgraded our ancient Your Baby Can Read VHS tapes to DVD’s and started using them. Within a month, Lily was recognizing words on flashcards and matching them with toy animals. We played word games every day and she loved it. Holy smokes, this stuff was actually working!
We introduced letters, shapes, colors, and numbers using the Preschool Prep program. She BURNED through the curriculum and could not get enough. We did board books, flap books, flashcards, you name it. She was learning the Preschool Prep program so quickly that I had to look for new material as she was nearing the end soon.
When I stumbled on Little Reader software, we unknowingly hit the learning jackpot. While the Your Baby Can Read DVD set introduces 200 words, Little Reader teaches 3,000 words and is customizable to add even more.
I downloaded the free trial and we started using it with her right away. It kept her engaged and she seemed to enjoy it. We made it part of our daily routine every morning.
When Lily was 17 months old, my mother was visiting and she was helping give Lily a bath. I was demonstrating how to sound out three-letter words using foam bath letters while Lily splashed around.
I stuck a new set of letters to the side of the tub but before I got a chance to announce them, Lily pointed and said “wwww……aaaaaa….xxxxx.”
Whaaaat?! My 17-month-old had just sounded out the word WAX!!? Phonetically AND unprompted?!
Not only did she sound out a word for the first time, it was a novel word she had never before encountered in her lessons. Wow!
If my mother hadn’t witnessed it, I’m not sure I would have believed my own eyes and ears. I knew at some point she was going to transition from “whole word” sight-reading to phonetic reading, but I didn’t think it was going to be before she turned TWO?!
She’s been soaking up knowledge like a sponge ever since. No, CORRECTION: She has ALWAYS been soaking up knowledge like a sponge since DAY ONE, but I was just too blind to believe or recognize it in the beginning!
It was then I realized that it didn’t matter WHAT the experts claimed was or wasn’t possible…all the “proof” I needed was my own sweet daughter splashing around in the tub! Babies are simply capable of so much more than we collectively give them credit for.
I later repeated the process with my son Owen and teaching him to read was even easier than teaching Lily. “DOG” was the first word he read and he signed it to me long before he could talk. He later read the word CRIME while viewing a Hoooked on Phonics DVD. I think he was around 15 months old at the time and I KNEW I had never introduced that word before.
Here’s one of my favorite videos of Owen’s early reading progress taken on Christmas Day just before he turned 3. All he wanted from Santa was Angry Birds and a race car. As you can tell, he was over the moon with his presents. He was reading all kinds of peculiar words that I clearly never “trained” him on and he was so excited that he could barely get the words out!
I began this early education journey because I wanted to give my child a boost, just like the “smart kid from the playgroup.”
But in the end, my children didn’t learn how to read early BECAUSE they were smart. They are smart BECAUSE they learned to read early!
I am “just a mom”…not a trained teacher in any capacity. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just winging it. Even so, I was able to give my children the gift of early literacy because I cared enough to try, as crazy as it sounded at the time, and you can, too!
Click HERE to download a free trial of the Little Reader with no credit card or future billing required. Simply select the green SHOP tab and click the red TRIAL tab to get started today!