Raising Readers, Writers, and Spellers

An expert guide for parents

A Family Gives Thanks for 'Your Baby Can Read!'

The Redman family is thankful for David's early reading and math development.

Despite being born with a heart defect and severe hearing loss, David Redman could sight read words and do math at 12 months of age. This baby mathematician could read on his own by 24 months of age. In today’s post David’s mom, Michelle Redman, describes David’s incredible journey. See how two parents followed their gut to teach a baby to read even when skeptical experts said that he wouldn’t. Check out what 6-year-old David is doing today.

David’s Story and Why We Are Thankful

by Michelle N. Redman

Our son David was born with severe hearing loss and a heart defect requiring three surgeries to correct. In the face of such devastating circumstances, my husband and I were still encouraged to push forward and teach him about his world. As we taught, he absorbed concepts at an unbelievable rate, surprising doctors and teachers alike. We later discovered his IQ was well beyond normal levels for his age group. This was a miracle. I originally did not see the impact our early teachings had on him but I now realize he could only excel in what he was taught, regardless of how quickly his mind understood.

As an infant, David was too small for the official hearing tests so we brought our baby home unsure of his hearing ability. Initially we spoke very close to his head in case he could potentially hear us. We believed in a baby’s capacity to learn. He appeared responsive to our movements and sounds so my excitement of teaching began.

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Even though everyone thought it was too soon, I started showing David the ABC and 123 books as early as three months of age. He sat on my lap on the sofa as I said the letters and pointed. David sat and stared at each page as I turned. I did the same with numbers, and these activities became a regular routine for us. I wasn’t sure if he understood any of it but we had fun, and I figured it couldn’t hurt. All of his toys were educational; they engaged him in repeating the basic letters, numbers, shapes and colors. To him, it was always fun and he didn’t know anything different. We loved playing our games together. Every night before bed, we read a storybook to David. He was very focused on the pages, possibly because he could not hear us very clearly.

At six months old, David received his first hearing aid. Our voices would thankfully sound clearer to him. He also began receiving speech therapy to help his language development. This was the same time we realized he recognized all the letters in the alphabet. David also understood numbers up to 20 and began gravitating to numbers. With his new sound clarity and knack for learning, we figured we should keep going. Since he appeared to love numbers, we started teaching him numbers beyond 20 and well into the hundreds.

When he was a year old, David received his second hearing aid and could finally hear on both sides. We noticed his fascination with numbers was growing and he often counted his fingers at night before falling asleep. Before long, he was recognizing numbers everywhere. He associated everything with a number. Whether it was television channels, addresses, ages or even our license plates, he remembered. At one point, David began referring to us by the last two digits of our license plate. We would visit places once or twice and he referred to the place by the numbers in the address. It was amazing.

When David was one year old, I began showing him small words on flashcards to build on his letter recognition. We made a game of flashing very simple words such as: the, at, be, and on. I was trying to show the connection between the alphabet letters and sounds in mostly two-letter words. I would pull a card from the stack, say the word and point to it. Once we finished the stack, I tried to move on to something else but often he did not want to stop. He would go back to the cards and play with them by himself. He loved it. We played this game as frequently as he wanted. I kept the flashcards with his books so when I read to him we could relate the words on the cards with the same words in our books.

Our easy storybooks eventually evolved to longer Dr. Seuss books. The rhyming phrases kept his interest and he wanted to hear them all the time. I sometimes skipped words to move the stories along. Many months before turning three years old, he started pointing and saying the words I missed. That’s when I knew he could read.  We were proud to show family and friends who exclaimed, “Your baby can read!”

David slowly became more comfortable with reading. I watched his eyes follow the words on the page but I had to be sure. As he read, I pointed to different words and he said them. When he found a word he could not read, I showed him how to sound it out. We also used a phonics book and a reading website to keep it interesting. He soon started to recognize words everywhere. He read words on commercials, billboards, street signs and magazines over my shoulder as I read, recognizing words everywhere. I had to hide my personal books because he tried to read those too!

Once I wondered out loud, “Where did I park the car?” David looked up and asked if I had parked in the “north” or “south” parking lot. I wasn’t sure what he meant until I looked around and saw a north and a south parking sign. I just stared at him and wondered how he knew those new words. Our reading practice was really working!

At 2-and-a-half years old, we continued to explore David’s love of numbers with addition and subtraction. My husband recited simple single-digit equations and showed him what that meant with physical objects. He began to understand the meaning of these concepts and was adding and subtracting in his head faster than I could.

The most important thing I learned as David’s teacher was to follow my gut. People thought I was starting too early but it felt right. We moved on to the next concept only when he was ready. We let his interests be our guide and tried to build from what he was interested in each day.

David is six years old and now enjoys reading chapter books about mysteries and space. Currently he is reading an interactive book titled The Galaxy, as well as several books from the Jigsaw Jones series. His love of numbers and math continues as he pushes us to show him more and more. We are currently exploring the world of long division and word problems.

David also loves sports, particularly soccer. In between kicking the ball around, I sometimes ask him multiplication and division facts to make sure he remembers. He doesn’t hesitate to quickly recite them to me before concentrating on his footwork. We laugh when he starts repeating game stats and point differences from games of all sports. Last summer was David’s first chance to finally play on a soccer team—they went undefeated until the championship. Many times his coach had to carry him off the field to give him a much needed break. His love of soccer definitely keeps us all balanced.

On this Thanksgiving Day, the Redman family has lots to be thankful for. High on our list of blessings are the joys we experienced learning together as David became a baby reader and baby mathematician.

J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D., an expert on childhood literacy, reading, and spelling, is the author of Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write—Baby to Age 7. more...

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