Frequently Asked
about Native Reading
If most children actually have the ability to read before the age of three, why
do only very, very few children read that early now?

The reason most children do not learn to read at the optimal age of one to three years is
very simple: very few children — even those in loving and educated homes — are raised in
an environment that truly supports reading. It is a question of a child’s environment, not of a
child’s ability.
      The typical early environment of a child does not adequately introduce the symbols of
written language, and it does not do this in the engagingly interactive way that is appropriate
for this age. Also, the natural correlation of written and spoken language is not made clearly
and consistently apparent to children. So, at present, a child’s natural and effortless ability
to learn spoken language before three is only rarely extended into the written word.
      I believe this represents a wasted opportunity — not only a wasted opportunity to read
earlier, but, at least for some children, a wasted opportunity to read more easily and fluently,
and with better comprehension, throughout their life.

Don't you have to be a genius to read before the age of three?

The truth is, you have to be a genius to learn to talk before the age of three. But,
fortunately, nearly every child is just such a genius! Many parents have been amazed by the
way their child can go from speaking only a few words at the age of one, and then, only a
year or two later, this same child has somehow transformed into a seemingly non-stop and
fully-fluent talker, prattling on about his or her fascinations of the moment. The reason
native reading works is that it takes advantage of this natural genius for learning spoken
language. By creating an environment sufficiently rich in consistent correlations between
spoken language and written language, native reading simply extends a child’s natural
language ability into the realm of the written word.
      So you do have to be a genius to read so young, but I don’t believe you have to be an
unusual genius. To be a native reader, you just need to be the sort of creative and curious
genius that a two-year-old child already is.
      I do, however, believe that this notion — that only geniuses can read very early — may
be inspired by a valid, but misinterpreted observation. Specifically, I believe that the
converse statement may be true. That is, while you don’t need to be an unusual genius to
read before three, I believe that being a native reader will make you more likely to
become a
genius. Because native readers gain language fluency earlier, more deeply, and in its
written form — and because literacy is a fundamental tool for further intellectual growth —
native reading will help a child
use the skill of reading to learn many important and
interesting things. And, like language itself, native readers will tend to learn these things,
which reading makes accessible, earlier and more deeply, too.
      You see, learning to read is
not a glorified parlor trick: encouraging native reading is
not at all like teaching your child to memorize all the state capitals, for example, which is a
specialized and largely useless set of information which has little connection to more general
and more important knowledge. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would want to clutter up a
child’s brain with such trivia. But reading, in contrast, is very different: reading is a
fundamental skill that gives your child fluent access to nearly all the information of human
culture. Reading is
not an end in itself; it helps a child to develop his or her unique talents,
intelligence, and interests. By reading earlier and more effortlessly, the process of further
intellectual development can start earlier, and learning will be more rewarding and less
frustrating for a native-reading child.
      Therefore, I am not at all surprised by cases of famous and accomplished writers,
moguls, mathematicians, and other “geniuses” who were, in fact, early readers. I think this
observation is often the root of the misconception that you have to be a genius to read so
young. In fact, when they first saw my young children read precociously, many people
brought up the tale of Mozart reading and writing music at a very young age. I believe it is
important to realize that while Mozart’s genius might have, in part, led to his early musical
literacy, it may also have been his early fluency reading and writing music that helped to
develop his genius.

Isn't it wrong to push children to read when they are so young?

If you taught babies and toddlers to read the way older children are typically taught in
school, I would have this objection myself. But that’s not how the method of native reading
works. In fact, in a very real way you cannot teach native reading at all at this age, you can
promote it. But properly promoted, very young children can pick up reading on their
own initiative, at their own pace, and when they are each individually ready for it. There are
no worksheets or drills or exams in native reading. It is not a grind. Instead, native reading
works by setting up obvious
correlations between spoken and written language; it is then
your child’s natural genius for language that picks up on these correlations. Done with
consistency and patience, this leads
naturally to reading. You cannot, and you should not,
push children or somehow force them in any way. In fact, I believe that any attempt to force
this process will generally only distract a young child, and will greatly slow down progress
towards reading.
      My children, for example, both learned to read essentially independently. They learned
in much the same way that they learned to crawl and walk and, particularly, in the same way
that they, like nearly all other children, learned to talk. By independently I don’t mean that
they learned to read
alone — in fact, native reading is a very social method — what I mean
is that they learned at their own pace and through play that they very much enjoyed. But as
a result of this play, my children learned to read at ages most people found amazing — at
the age of two-and-a-half years for my daughter, and at just one-and-a-half for my son —
and they learned effortlessly and with a great deal of enjoyment in the process.
      The native-reading techniques are designed to help you create a rich, interesting, and
fun environment in which your child is encouraged to
spontaneously discover reading, and
to find joy in doing so. Your child will learn to read by observation, by interaction and,
essentially, by
      Teaching native reading means simply extending your child’s spontaneous genius for
language into the written word. Nobody worries about pushing a child into talking too early.
Taught natively, you cannot read too early either. The techniques of native reading help you
create a home where children learn to read using the same language aptitude that naturally
leads them to speak — an aptitude that is burgeoning in children between the ages of one
and three.

Are children really supposed to read before they are three?

Viewed from a certain perspective, reading is an unnatural act: reading is a cultural
innovation that has only become widespread in the last few generations. So, from that
perspective, this misconception is not a misconception at all. But, remember, from this same
perspective, reading is
still an unnatural act for a child in kindergarten or in the first grade.
Even adults aren’t
supposed to read. Until the last few hundred years, only a tiny minority of
people on this planet could fluently read and write. (Of course, many other aspects of
modern life are unnatural in the same sense that reading is unnatural: for example, typing
on a keyboard, driving a car, riding a bicycle, finding square roots, buying insurance, etc.)
      But, in an important way, the belief that children aren’t supposed to read before the age
of three is a damaging misconception. Learning to read early makes sense because it
natural to learn to talk early in childhood. Talking is generally mastered between the ages of
one and three (although the neural foundations of learning speech do start from the first
months of life). The benefit of native reading is that it harnesses this natural developmental
window, and uses it to learn the deeply-related skill of reading right along with talking. By
doing this early, deep neural connections will be made between the naturally-acquired oral
language and the deeply-related, but unnaturally abstract, act of reading. Doing this makes
reading a less abstract and more natural skill. Reading becomes
natively known, just as the
ability to talk and to understand speech is known natively. A native reader has a “mother
tongue” not only in the spoken language, but also, deeply, in the written language.

Can native reading work for older children, too?

By far the most common question I'm asked about native reading is along the lines of, "My
daughter is already 4 years old, is it too late for her to become a native reader?"
      It is a reasonable and important question. Many parents are not thinking about reading
until their children are 4 or 5, and only then do they find out about native reading. They
naturally worry that they have somehow "missed the boat." The short answer, fortunately, is
that it is
not too late for older children to learn. Native reading methods are designed to start
from an early age and, in general, I believe that the earlier children are introduced to
reading, the better. However, nearly all the methods are appropriate and easily adaptable
for older children, too.
      In fact, since publishing the book, many parents of older children have contacted me,
telling me that the social and interactive methods of native reading were working wonderfully
for their 4, 5, and even 6 year olds. The
only effective way to teach children under 3 to read
is to engage them with playful and socially-engaging activities like those of native reading.
But many older children are also far more engaged by the
intelligent play of native reading
than they are by rote phonics exercises, or pedantic and non-interactive videos. Native
reading does not consist of an inflexible program that must be blindly followed. Instead the
reasons behind the methods, and examples and variations are discussed throughout the
book. Every child is unique, and the optimal method to teach a child will also be unique. The
book aims to empower parents to adapt the native reading methods to their own child's
unique personality and interests, whatever his or her age.
      If you have taken the time to regularly read books to your child from an early age,
native reading is particularly likely to take hold. Simply reading to a child is seldom enough
to spark independent reading on its own. But frequent reading does establish a solid
foundation, and the native reading methods can then quickly consolidate an older child's
interest and understanding, leading to rapid progress in reading.

(There is more detailed discussion in the book Native Reading: How to Teach Your Child to
Read, Easily and Naturally, Before the Age of Three
, by Timothy D. Kailing, from which some
of this content has been adapted.)
Many people have questions when they
first encounter native reading.  

Here are answers to some of the most
common questions.  
Copyright © 2008 by Timothy D. Kailing. All rights reserved.