Sunday, February 28, 2010

Teach Your Baby to Read

Blake isn’t quite speaking yet, which is quite natural for babies growing up in a bilingual household. Additionally, we talk to him mostly in English which isn’t a mother tongue for either of us. When Miron was chatting about it to a friend in New Zealand she suggested the book How To Teach Your Baby To Read as a way to stimulate him and encourage development that will also help with talking.

My initial thought was “Whatever”. Some new age crap that belongs on the same bookshelf as “Cleanse Your Baby’s Aura” and “Teach Your Baby To Read Minds”. Babies reading? Pfft, give me a break.

Miron got Teach Your Baby To Read and Teach Your Baby Math and I started reading the reading book just out of curiosity.

I was hooked right away. The book was approaching things from a purely neurological point of view and was very convincing. Take that statement with a grain of salt as all my knowledge in the field comes from watching McDreamy perform brain surgeries on Grey’s Anatomy. Still, it's very well argued and explained very clearly.

I can’t quite summarize the book in one blog post, especially since I’ll butcher it all up and make it sound crap, but the gist of it is quite simple. Glenn Doman explains that the brain develops at its most rapid pace from the inception of the baby until the age six. In the year between five to six alone the brain will develop more than it will from six onwards for the rest of his life. With that logic, it’s best to start teaching babies to read as soon as possible when their brains are information sponges and they are utterly and totally committed to learn whatever they can. I can’t really disagree. I studied Japanese for four years and I bet I can’t keep up with the average four year old Japanese boy. My parents spoke Russian to me exclusively in the first few years of my life and while I can’t speak it very well, I still understand it fairly fluently.

The chapter about teaching your child to read isn’t that long. Most of the book includes lots of fascinating information about the brain development of children with many interesting anecdotes.  There is plenty of repetition of information and ideas, but in a good way, that makes sure anyone can understand it; even me, someone who needs an Idiot’s Guide to the Idiot’s Guides. It’s the most interesting baby-related book I have ever read (I read two including this one, but that’s not the point).

A quick Google search brought up a Wikipedia article in which Doman’s approach has been disputed by other experts. The book is updated, but it is still an aging program from over forty years ago. I also found out that Glenn Doman looks like the KFC Colonel Sanders (which made me like him more).

Still, since someone who used it on her own children personally recommended it to us (and her children, now adults, are high achievers),  I decided to give it a go.  I’m not really recommending the programme myself, at least not yet. To genuinely recommend this book I’ll need to work with Blake for months, or even years, before I can say for sure that it works, but then it might be a bit too late for your kids who’ll be older than they are now. Oh, and if your kids are over six already, my condolences. They might end up collecting shopping carts at a supermarket car park, but they’re still your kids and you should love them anyway.

I bought my copy from Amazon, but I also shopped for various materials at the official site in the US which delivers internationally.

You’re told to work with massive cards which you are meant to create at home, but for the life of Kara Dioguardi I didn’t even know where to start, not to mention that the materials were quite costly and I was meant to make hundreds of these cards. Thankfully you can buy ready made cards from the official website, which I did. It did cost a bundle to deliver to the UK from the US, but I don't regret it. I also got the DVD of the book which is mostly a filmed lecture by Glenn’s daughter, Janet, with lots of tips and visual guides on how to follow the programme.

The guidelines for the cards are a bit too much for me. You're supposed to have five set of five words each to be shown to the baby three times each (a total of fifteen, if you need help with the math). Additionally, each day a word from each set should be replaced by another word and the words should go through a complete cycle which is why it is recommended to write on the back with a pencil the date the last time this word was used. No thank you! A tad too complicated for me. I have five sets, I show them as many times as I can during the day (often less than 15) and I change one word here and there very randomly. I'm just not organized enough to do it properly. The good news? You can't really go wrong with the programme, Glenn Doman explains in the book, as long as you follow it closely enough, there should be results. Maybe with time I'll get a tiny bit more organized. Heh, as I was typing the previous sentence I actually believed it for a second.

I also got lots of materials and created a book with words and pictures taken directly from Blake’s world: himself, daddy, papa, our dogs, his toys and various objects in the house he’s obsessed with like the wireless telephone he likes stealing, chewing and using to call the police.  It took a while to find the right scrap book, printing setting and paper for good quality images and finding a way to make it all stick together (regular glue stick wasn't good enough, so I got the extra strength one).

After a couple of weeks I can’t tell if it’s working yet, but Blake certainly enjoys it and shows a lot of interest in the big red words. He utterly adores the book I made him, but I can’t let him play with it on his own or it will suffer the fate of his many other books – and that’s one book I can’t order again from Amazon! We’re having fun and that alone makes the whole thing worth it.

So get the book, read it and make up your own mind. If you already used it for a while or a long time ago, please let me know!


Saturday, February 27, 2010

That's Not My Book!

Often you'd buy a toy for a baby or young toddler and be disappointed to see that not only does he not play with it "the way he's supposed to", he'd often show no interest in it at all. Blake had books from the day he was born, but his early interest in them was to simply turn the pages as fast as possible. It made it an exercise in speed reading for me as I'd try to read the story fast enough, managing only the first 3-4 words.

And then during our trip to Israel in December Blake, seemingly out of nowhere, started bringing a book to us and placed it on our lap in the expectation that we would read it for him. He would turn the pages joyfully, waiting for us to read the entire phrase. Obviously at almost twenty months he couldn't read along yet, but he remembered the length and musical pace of each phrase. He would never turn the page too early and often stop to touch the different textures in the book: fuzzy, smooth, furry, scratchy etc.. That book was That's Not My Bear, a book we got him months before.

That book was used so much during these two weeks that near the end of our trip it completely fell apart. First thing we did when we came back to London was order another That's Not My Bear book together with That's Not My Monster and That's Not My Car. Then I saw in Tesco a boxset of That's Not My Teddy Bear, Puppy and Monkey for only £5 and I still regret not taking a couple more. They were all gone very quickly (usually these books cost £5 each, £3ish on Amazon). I also bought a Peppa Pig boxset which was thoroughly ignored like any other book that didn't belong to the series. B

lake was delighted with his expanded collection and would carry around one of these books with him at all times, often two at a time. After Blake decided to marinade the second Bear book in the dogs' water for three hours, a third one was ordered along with That's Not My Baby and another That's Not My Car as the original Car book is already almost obliterated. We also ordered three of those books as a present for Blake's brother in Canada.

I think on average these books are read to him about 10-20 times per day, almost exclusively on his request and initiative. Thankfully they are quite short. Then again Blake has figured out a trick to make them last longer: he would stop before the last page, knowing that it will conclude the story, and start flipping the pages back. 

I don't get the magic my son sees in these books. I don't know how Fiona Watts and Rachel Wells came with this concept and if they knew it'll be so successful. Buying so many of these books, I bet the royalties from us alone paid for their next vacation. 


But you know what? They earned it.