Somebody asked a few days ago how I would have coped had my daughter showed any reluctance in learning to read. I honestly had trouble answering this question, because I could not imagine such a situation arising. I thought it worth giving a brief account of the process in order to show what I mean and to demonstrate the great advantages of getting reading under way as early as possible. The lower of the two pictures above, shows my daughter's bedroom wall when she was fifteen months old. By the time that this photograph was taken, my daughter was already able to read out loud the first nine cardinal numbers and point to them when requested.
As can be seen, the wall display is very simple and uncluttered. I used to hold my daughter up to each shape in turn, naming it and then asking her, "Again?" It was a favourite game of hers. I used to swing her up dramatically and shout, "Triangle" or "Green circle". She tried to copy what I was saying. I would also move her to one of the numbers and name it. This was all part of the normal playing about that we did, she certainly did not know that she was being taught! Babies love the attention of adults like this. When she was in her cot, I would point at the numbers randomly, naming them and then asking her to repeat the name. It only took a month or two for her to pick up the idea and from then on, she would point at numbers in the street and shout out their names. In effect, the main part of reading was thus acquired painlessly well before she was eighteen months old.
Reading words took a little longer. However, she was reading individual words by seventeen months and by two years and three months she was reading children's books fluently. The great thing about this was that once it was done, it was done. Because she learned to read as she learned to speak, reading is as completely natural to her as speaking. If there is a disadvantage to this system, I have not seen it. Of course, scanning rapidly from left to right was not possible until twenty months or so. This is simply a neurological limitation and had to be accepted. Reading words individually is quite a different matter. They are grasped as a whole thing, what the Germans call a gestalte. The individual letters are seldom scanned laboriously from left to right as is the case with reading sentences. Of course numbers are easier still, because they are one squiggle, rather than several. This of course led quite naturally to the reading of Chinese.
The top picture shows a couple of displays in my daughters bedroom, one when she was two and the other a few months later. We experimented with various numbers, for example the Bengali numbers may be seen, as well as Roman Numerals. This was to get her used to the idea of different squiggles meaning different things. The Chinese ideograms were brilliant, an entire word in one squiggle, with no sequencing. I dare say some will be aware that dyslexia is primarily a problem with alphabetic systems and that it is all but unheard of in China? This is because you can read one word at a glance, without trying to decode it and then synthesise it. By two and a half, Simone had a fair sight vocabulary in Chinese, but this ultimately seemed a sterile experiment and so i discontinued it.
I have to say that for my daughter, it was tremendous fun to be able to make sense of the world in this way. I took her into a chip shop in her buggy when she was two and she became excited at seeing a Chinese poster on the wall. It gave her great satisfaction to read some of the words. I cannot imagine why I would not have done all this. It was great fun for me, and great fun for her. It also enabled her to start making sense of the world around her at a much earlier age than is common. I have a suspicion that problems set in if this is all left until a child is old enough to realise what is going on.