Friday, 8 January 2010

Learning to read the Anthroposophical way

Dear me, I certainly managed to irritate a few people yesterday by raising questions about the objectivity of a well known Anthroposophist whose research on Steiner schools has recently been publicised. Anybody would think that some of those commenting actually wanted to believe that it was a good idea to delay the teaching of reading to young children!

Let me clear up a few points, rather than respond to each individual comment yesterday. I was shown a copy of this thesis at the end of last year. There were two reasons that it was thought that it might amuse me. One is that I used to write extensively for Prediction magazine a while ago and Steiner was a particular interest of mine. The other reason was that although it was not mentioned in the Daily Telegraph report, Sugatte has a lot to say about pushy parents who "force their children to start reading before they're ready". As a pushy parent, indeed I am sure that I could have pushed young children for England had it been an Olympic event, I was naturally intrigued by this. I was particularly interested because the real motive behind this work was carefully concealed. Let me explain.

Most of those who send their children to Steiner schools are not all that bothered about the underlying rationale behind the education on offer. Many are vaguely aware of the mythology and most I suppose are happy for their children not to be taught reading at school until they are seven. The reasons for this educational philosophy though, are fascinating. Rudolf Steiner received a series of insights during trances, in which it was revealed to him that when the spirit first enters a baby's body, it takes seven years to settle in as it were. During that time, one must not tax the spirit with academic work. At the age of fourteen, the astral body moves in as well, making things a little cramped for the spirit and soul. This, rather than hormones, is what precipitates puberty.

This is why Sugatte chose the magic age of seven for his research, because of a mystical insight received by the head of the German Theosophical Society a century ago. Some of us prefer to rely upon empirical observation. The accusation was levelled at me yesterday that I am a Christian. This is preposterous. Going to church on Sunday mornings is, like reading the Sunday Telegraph and going for a walk in Epping Forest after lunch, simply what one does on Sundays; it has no religious significance. I have to say that my objection to Anthroposophy is not that the followers believe mad things. After all, as somebody pointed out yesterday, it is pretty mad to believe in virgin births and acquiring the strength of a dead God by eating his body, no less mad than believing in Gnomes and reincarnation! My objection is that to encourage people to educate their children in a certain way based upon revelation during seances and trances is a bad move. If a Christian sect began delaying the teaching of reading until the age of eleven because the Holy Ghost had told their leader that this was best, I would be the first to complain.

I rather suspect, from the comments made yesterday, that many people don't realise the significance of the fact that the author of this controversial piece of work is an Anthroposophist. I am sure that it was properly conducted and that the supervision was rigorous, but that does not make the conclusion true. The best comparison which I can make is with Aristotelian logic. A syllogism may be perfectly valid without being true. I am afraid that not every thesis leading to a PhD draws true conclusions from the data.


  1. To be fair, I seem to remember Paiget thinking age 7 had quite a bit of significance in children's cognitive development too. Not planning to re-read all my Piaget now, but it's not such an odd idea that parents should wait for actual reading readiness, which might occur later in some children than in others. (Piaget was big on readiness.)

    To lay my cards on the table, both my kids were reading fluently at age 5, because I was keen to induct them into the wonderful world of reading, watched for signs of readiness and recognised the 'teachable moment'. (Ooops, a quote from Holt there, another of your Bete Noires.)

    They were also willing participants in the process and had no special needs which hindered the learning to read process (despite dd having ASD.)

    But it's not beyond my understanding that 7 might be a more appropriate age for many other children, just as 3 might be for some.

    Are you saying that you cannot understand why some children learn to read at widely varying ages or that parents/teachers shouldn't be sensitive to their child's individual development?

    Or are you just going off on one about Steiner? If so, fair do's. LOL!

    Mrs Anon

  2. Well yes Mrs. Anon, I'm certainly going off on one about Steiner, but there is slightly more to it than that. (Going off on one! You make it sound as though I am always raving on about some hobby-horse or other, like one of those mad people one sees muttering to themselves on buses occasionally.......) To base one's belief upon the best age to read from observing many children and making tentative theories as a result, is one thing. Even if one disagrees, the matter can be discussed. In this case the age of seven was chosen for mystical reasons which are to do with the spirit, soul and astral body. All this information about child development was acquired not by observation but by direct revelation. I really can't be doing with this sort of thing. I am quite happy to debate why I think that early reading is desirable and to explain my reasons for thinking so. If, on the other hand, I simply said; "God told me that that is the best way", that would rather close down the debate.
    I am not at all sure that many of those who read the report in the newspapers knew that this was the basis for Sugatte's advocacy of age seven as being the best for the beginning of reading.

  3. "This is why Sugatte chose the magic age of seven for his research, because of a mystical insight received by the head of the German Theosophical Society a century ago."

    Or because this was the only age older than the 'normal' school starting age where a large enough group of children could be found for a study in the country he lived in? What about the 400,000 children covered by the analysis of 55 countries?

    "To base one's belief upon the best age to read from observing many children and making tentative theories as a result, is one thing."

    Yes, it's a shame it wasn't done before the school starting age was set at 5 in the UK. Very little research has been done since either, and I've not found anything with significant numbers until Suggate's 400,000 analysis.

    "In this case the age of seven was chosen for mystical reasons which are to do with the spirit, soul and astral body."

    Sounds as good a reason, if not better, than because employers wanted them to start at 5. At least the needs of the child were considered primarily.

  4. Can you show me some up-to-date, large-scale research that proves that long-term outcomes are better for children who are taught to read early?

  5. Well, Simon, in your post yesterday you seemed to define "early" as under 7.

  6. Some of the best research on this has been undertaken at Yale University. In a big study, published in 2003, they reached the conclusion that dyslexia is caused by faulty wiring in the brain. This conclusion was reached by looking at MRI scans of poor readers. However, the most intriguing finding was that this was less a genetic problem than an evironmental one. The neurones simply had not connencted up in those who had not been exposed to the right stimulus when young. Those with the deficits in this area tended to come from families who did notapprove of early reading! It seems likely that early reading experiences have the effect of helping build those vital connections in the brain. You might also like to look at Dolores Durkin's studies, I know her books are available on amazon.

  7. Forgot to add that the reason that I asked what you meant by early reading is that my ideas are probably different from many people. Some would call four or five early reading, I would be thinking more of twelve to eighteen months. It wasn't a trick question; I genuinely didn't know what age you had in mind!

  8. The problem with Dolores Durkin is that her research is rather old (1965, was it, for the early reading study?) and very small-scale. Also, of course, it looked exclusively at children in school, a completely different kettle of fish from HE children.
    I've heard of the Yale study and I'd be interested to learn more if you could post a link; I'm inclined to think that reading difficulties, when they are environmental, are to do with far more than just not teaching children to read early: eg few books in the house, chldren not being read to or interacted with in other ways, parents who don't read, bad or inappropriate (for these children) teaching.

  9. Durkin wrote books called, "Teaching them to read", "Children who read early" and "Teaching young children to read"; all very worthwhile reading. Some of her research was in the sixties, it is true. In 1978, she did a huge study of children aged ten in thirteen school districts. She found that less than 1% of the time was spent on teaching children to comprehend what they were reading! You are right, most of her work was in schools. I also agree with you that having books around the house, being read to adn so on are almost certainly as important as formal instruction. It is all but impossible to find the difference between the effects of these things though. Obviously, when a child grows up in a house full of books, the chances are that she will see people reading for pleasure and also be read to herself. there did seem to be some link though between brain structure and early environment and exposure to books. This is not surprising. The conclusion was that dyslexia might not be an unexpected misfortune, but a result of environmental deprivation. In other words, early literacy might prevent dyslexia. I'm bound to say that not everybody agrees with this.

  10. Do you object to the time wasted in school on religion? What about the content of religious lessons and its influence on impressionable young minds?

  11. Well of course the absence of religious instruction can also have a baleful influence upon impressionable young minds. There is no such thing as an ethically and morally neutral upbringing; not taking a child to church will have just as many long term consequences as would taking her. The same applies to religious instruction in the classroom.

  12. I never hear anyone state what seems to me to be the obvious - every year you can't read is a year of missing out on the joy of reading. That's reason enough to learn early in my view.

    That said, I fail to see how any age at all can be the right age, because all children are different. Eighteen months might be a good age for one child, seven years for another. This extremely important fact is very inconvenient if you insist on gathering together children according to their year of birth and 'educating' them in batches of 30+ at a time on a production line. Especially if you need to meticulously monitor measure the output of your production line. I presume this is what is meant by an 'efficient' education.

    Where does all this 'forcing to learn to read' and fear of 'teaching to read' come from anyway? Children like learning, at least until schools get hold of them.

  13. Other countries seem to manage without religion in schools and I don't understand why an absence of religious instruction might have a baleful influence.

    Morality could be handled as part of philosophy. Religious morality is dubious, to put it kindly, not to mention somewhat fluid and ephemeral.

    Do you think that it is right to tell children that some sentient supernatural entity is observing and judging all that they do?

  14. The problem with your questions Anonymous, is that they are impossible to answer without agreeing with your viewpoint. Asking, "Do you object to the time wasted in school on religion?" means that either one must say "Yes I do agree with wasting time on religion" or "No I don't agre with wasting time on religion". In either case, your initial and dubious premise, that time spent learning about religion is time wasted, is accepted.
    Your question above is in the same sort of category.It presupposes that the Deity is supernatural and not a part of the natural order of things. This is in itself a debatable proposition. Answering this question either "Yes" or "No" would mean that I accepted your initial premise, which I do not. Similarly, there is a world of difference between God watching us and God judging us. You have really asked at least three separate questions here.

  15. I couldn't agree with you more CiaranG!

  16. Still no research to back up your claim that early reading is better than later reading.

  17. CiaranG wrote,
    "I never hear anyone state what seems to me to be the obvious - every year you can't read is a year of missing out on the joy of reading. That's reason enough to learn early in my view."

    Why? Doesn't sharing a book with a parent, friend or sibling hold even more joys? They can enjoy books with a higher reading age, have unknown words or concepts explained, enjoy a cuddle, etc. And what about all the other activities they can enjoy when they would otherwise be learning to read? My late reader spent far less time on learning to read than my early reader.

    "Where does all this 'forcing to learn to read' and fear of 'teaching to read' come from anyway? Children like learning, at least until schools get hold of them."

    True, but some children can be very obstinate about what they want to learn though! My late reader was just not interested despite attempts and suggestions. Of course, their reading readiness was being developed all the time through games and activities, but they were not interesting in wasting time on learning to read, they had better things to spend their time on.

  18. Thanks for mentioning Yale in connection with dyslexia, I've found some interesting reading. I assume though that this is a recent discovery on your part? Their conclusions seem to clash rather remarkably with your previous opinions on dyslexia. Nice to see that you can change you opinions on some topics.

    Quote from, Development and Psychopathology, 2008. Special issue: Imaging brain systems in normality and psychopathology
    "Scientists now speak of the neural signature of dyslexia, a singular achievement that for the first time has made what was previously a hidden disability, now visible. Paralleling this achievement in understanding the neurobiology of dyslexia, progress in the identification and treatment of dyslexia now offers the hope of identifying children at risk for dyslexia at a very young age and providing evidence-based, effective interventions. Despite these advances, for many dyslexic readers, becoming a skilled, automatic reader remains elusive, in great part because though children with dyslexia can be taught to decode words, teaching children to read fluently and automatically represents the next frontier in research on dyslexia."

    You said about dyslexia on the 19th December:
    "The remedy was always the same; more and better teaching. Gradually, it became quite the fashion to dignify this sort of illiteracy or semi-literacy as a medical condition. Interestingly though, the remedy for this supposed disability remained exactly the same; more and better teaching.

    This is the most fascinating aspect of the whole dyslexia racket. Whatever you call it and whether you think it is an illness or a result of poor teaching, it is treated in the very same way. Systematic instruction in phonics, combined with masses of practice at reading and spelling until the child begins to get the hang of the thing....
    Firstly, by pretending that there is something wrong with the child's brain, it lets teachers off the hook...
    As I say, it does not really signify, because even if there really was a disorder of the brain called dyslexia, the treatment will be pretty much the same as it is for the more common problem known as illiteracy. I am on principle opposed to the multiplication of syndromes in this needless way."

    From the Yale link it doesn't sound as though more and better teaching is the cure-all you seem to think it is.

  19. I have not changed my views at all Anonymous! This type of dyslexia is caused by lack of early reading and the cure lies in structured reading lessons. See what Sally Shaywitz, who was involved in this work, says on the topic. Of course you can stunt the brain's development by depriving it of the necessary stimulation. This was done with rats years ago and those whose who had enriched environments were found, post mortem I am afraid, to have better developed brains. The bottom line is to teach children young so that their brains develop well. If this is not done, then remedial work can be undertaken which can repair some, but not all, of the damage.

  20. It would help if you provided links or at least titles of studies when you refer to them. Don't really have the time to search through the millions of articles and thousands of sources.

  21. "The bottom line is to teach children young so that their brains develop well."

    Do they specify how they should be taught? From my reading on brain development it's the peripheral learning around reading that prepares the brain - development of language, access to books, being read to, conversations, drawing, painting, etc. rather than formal instruction which is the final 'layer'. Attempting to apply the final layer before the foundations are laid may well cause faulty wiring.

  22. Of course it's true that not every PhD thesis leads to "true" conclusions; usually we don't know what the truth is and may never know. Scientific results and conclusions often turn out to be useful but ultimately wrong (take Newton's laws of motion, for example), but in considering the research by Suggate we can ask:

    Was a question posed that could be formulated as a falsifiable null hypothesis with an alternative?

    Was the combination of the data available and the statistical tests used appropriate?

    All sorts of other questions might arise from his description of the method, discussion of results and conclusions etc.

    In your post I find none of this; instead, I find only allusion that the conclusions of the research are wrong because the author is an anthroposophist. That is simply not good enough as a criticism of the work.

    I'm prepared to believe that here may be flaws but you have not stated any reason to find anything wrong and this has been published in a peer-reviewed journal as well as being examined by relevant experts. Not everything in peer-reviewed journals is "truth" either, of course, but your approach is not valid.

  23. "Some of the best research on this has been undertaken at Yale University."

    Shaywitz & Shaywitz, multiple publications. A good introduction:

    Mr Webb, you wrote:

    "However, the most intriguing finding was that this was less a genetic problem than an environmental one. The neurones simply had not connencted up in those who had not been exposed to the right stimulus when young."

    That is not my understanding of the direction of the Shaywitzs' argument. Yes, some children with reading failure were not sufficiently exposed to the written word, but there is a large cohort of children without a family history of dyslexia (ie, not genetic in nature) who had adequate early exposure to print who still fail to learn to read.

    A grossly oversimplified view:

    The explanation may lie in those children's difficulty with the processing of the sound of language (phonemic awareness) coupled with difficulty in the rapid and accurate recall (rapid automatic naming).

    For a highly-readable exposition of the latest in reading research, I highly recommend Stanislas Dehaene's new book, "Reading in the Brain", published in the US in November 2009.

    He doesn't go into the optimal age to introduce reading, however. It may well vary by child.

    You may also be interested in the website, "Children of the Code"


    "Big Ideas in Beginning Reading"

    Lastly, as I alluded to you in my email -- some children may be ready to learn to read, but not at all ready to learn (or master) handwriting skills and therefore writing. In the US, at least, the two are tightly linked, which may discourage those children without the fine-motor control necessary for handwriting.

  24. Learning to read requires at least four factors to be in place;

    1. Accessible reading material
    2. Undamaged tissue in the areas of the brain involved in reading
    3. Sufficiently efficient physiological and biochemical functioning of the areas of the brain involved in reading
    4. Sufficiently efficient processing of visual and auditory sensual input

    If any of these factors are absent, a child will not learn to read effectively. The difficulty comes in deciding what is causing the problem in any given child. If a child is struggling to read because of problems with factors 2-4, they are quite likely to avoid reading, not respond to teaching that has been effective with other children, not rehearse the skill enough etc. So it is all too easy to argue that the problem is due to inadequate teaching.

    Although it has been well established that exercises to improve phonological awareness not only improve reading skills but also increase activation in the ‘reading areas’ of the brain, this is the outcome one would expect if the problem were caused by abnormalities in auditory or attentional processing and these were then addressed by intensive rehearsals of phonological skills. It’s important to identify the cause of the problem in order to identify the appropriate remedy. If a child had reading difficulties due to visual processing problems, or due to inadequate levels of neurotransmitters no amount of phonological training would help.

  25. The problem here Suzieg, is that by using expressions like "phonological training" and "inadequate levels of neurotransmitters", you make the whole business of the ordinary child learning to read sound very complicated. It is not. I think that we all agree that some children have branin damage and will have difficulty in speaking or reading. Obviously, they have special educational needs and are a case apart. For ordinary babies though, the thing is laughabley simple. The average baby of twelve to fifteen months is perfectly capapble of distinguishing between two very large numbers, say eight and two. The numbers must be large, because of the development of the eyes and brain. ( As you put it, the processing of visual and auditory sensual input.) If the numbers are about a foot high, the baby will have no problems. When done as a game, the baby will soon be able to cry out the name of the number when it is produced. The name may not be exact, the baby might say "A" instead of "eight" or "OO" for "two". Then. after a few weeks, she will be pointing at those numbers in the street and crying out the names. Essentially, she has learned to read. Simple wrods can follow within a month or so. I have seen this done time after time without difficulty. You are trying to sell the old idea of reading readiness, a trick often used by teachers to discourage parents from teaching their children to read.

  26. Anonymous who asked for links to the sources which I cite. Most of this comes from books, journals and photo-copies, many of which are probably not on the Internet. I shall try to mention specific books though, along with the year and publisher.

  27. "Most of this comes from books, journals and photo-copies, many of which are probably not on the Internet."

    I would thin that most, if not all respected journals are on-line these days and a fair number of books are available too, at least in part, via such sources as Google books.

  28. "You are trying to sell the old idea of reading readiness, a trick often used by teachers to discourage parents from teaching their children to read."

    But isn't this part of what Delores Durkin found in one her studies into early reading? The quotes below are taken from a presentation of her 1966 study so maybe they have oversimplified her results, I've been unable to locate a full copy of her research. But these conclusions sound very similar to 'reading readiness' and she also seems to suggest that particular types of children are more likely than others to be early readers, something many home educators would agree with. It has certainly been my experience that the same environment has resulted in vastly different ages for the start of reading with my youngest reader starting at 3 and my eldest in their teens.

    "1st and 2nd Study Interview
    Parent Read to the Their Children
    Child Characteristics – Persistent, Perfectionistic, High Strung,
    Good Disposition, Serious, & Neat
    Talked About Sounds of Letters
    Provided Access to Numerous and Varied Reading Materials
    Older Siblings Helped – Played School at Home
    Writing Surfaces (Blackboard) and Writing Supplies at Home

    Children Who Read Early
    1st and 2nd Study General Conclusions
    Pencil and Paper Kids – moved from writing and
    questions about writing to reading
    Blackboards were important as a writing surface in the
    homes of early readers.
    Talked about sounds of letters with the child and was
    directed toward writing/spelling rather than reading.

    Children Who Read Early
    1st and 2nd Study General Conclusions
    Children had “interest binges” in writing like copying
    names, addresses, calendars, etc.
    Reading Aloud to children from books and print in the
    Reading vocabularies were “gender” specific
    Early readers did maintain their advantage over non-
    early reading peers in reading achievement"

  29. Simon wrote,
    "The problem here Suzieg, is that by using expressions like "phonological training" and "inadequate levels of neurotransmitters", you make the whole business of the ordinary child learning to read sound very complicated."

    You also recommended reading work by Sally E. Shaywitz. These are quotes from one of her articles:

    "One of the earliest experiments, carried out by the late Isabelle Y. Liberman of Haskins Laboratories, showed that young children become aware between four and six years of age of the phonological structure of spoken words. In the experiment, children were asked how many sounds they heard in a series of words. None of the four-year-olds could correctly identify the number of phonemes, but 17 percent of the five-year-olds did, and by age six, 70 percent of the children demonstrated phonological awareness...The development of phonological awareness, then, parallels the acquisition of reading skills. This correspondence suggested that the two processes are related. These findings also converge with data from the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, a project my colleagues and I began in 1983 with 445 randomly selected kindergartners"

    You have suggested that environmental factors such as poor teaching causes dyslexia, yet in the same article it is suggest that it usually stems from an organic deficit rather than environmental factors.

    "Language impairment, Tallal believes, usually stems from an organic deficit rather than from environmental factors. Magnetic resonance scans and other imaging studies, she states, have turned up distinct neural differences between people with normal language skills and the language- impaired."

    Maybe you need to read more articles by the authors your recommend?

  30. You are drawing a false distinction between environmental factors and organic deficits. The organic deficits have been caused by environmental factors. When the brain of a young child is developing, some neurones need to be used in order for connections to be made. For instance that part of the brain which deals with language needs stimulation from the environment; people talking to the child. If this does not happen, then part of the brains

    will subsequently show up on fMRI images as having a deficit. It is called feedback and the brain itself develops or fails to develop according to envronmental factors. You cannnot consider one without looking at the other when talking of childhood.

  31. "You are drawing a false distinction between environmental factors and organic deficits. The organic deficits have been caused by environmental factors. When the brain of a young child is developing, some neurones need to be used in order for connections to be made."

    Yes, I had realised that this happens. Certainly it happens in the area of language which is obviously a vital pre-requisite for reading. However, I'm not sure that Shaywitz makes this claim for dyslexia.

    She says,
    "In developmental dyslexia, as a result of a constitutionally based functional disruption, the system never develops normally. The symptoms reflect the emanative effects of an early disruption to the phonologic system."

    'Constitutionally based' suggests to me that it is something present at birth rather than caused by the environment. I would be interested in a link to work by Shywitz or other neurobiological scientist who provide proof or suggests that it's an identifiable lack in the environment that directly causes dyslexia. I'd imagine they would need to MRI the brains of newborns and follow them into childhood to see who goes on to develop dyslexia and then compare their newborn MRI's to those of children without dyslexia. Otherwise, how would you know what a child was born with and what was caused by the environment?

  32. Just found some publications by Dolores Durkin (it helps if you spell names right in searches!) and am finding some interesting reading. She mentions that the early readers in her first study were also early walkers and talkers. I've always thought that walking couldn't be taught, so maybe early reading is also an innate ability rather than something that can be achieved with all children? I've no objection to children learning to read early - one of mine learnt at 3 - but having to learn at a particular age may cause problems and set a child up for unnecessary stress.

    Another article by Durkin describes the rush towards early reading in 1960's America:

    ""'Doing is sooner' attracted attention to quite different theories about development - for example, the theories found in Hunt's Intelligence and experience (19610, and in Bloom's Stability and Change in Human Characteristics (1964). Both books emphasized not only the importance of experiences for development, but also their unique importance during the pre-first-grade years.

    If publications like these had appeared at another time, only graduate students would have known of their existence. Their appearance in the 1960s, however, made them so widely attractive that nobody seem to notice or care that they offered only hypotheses to be tested, not facts to be implemented. And so the rush was on to teach every sooner - including reading."

    She says this about phonics in the same article - supporting the idea of readiness for phonics and that formal instruction can begin too early:

    "Current Kindergarten Practices
    It is unfortunate that educators who made decisions to start teaching reading in kindergarten rather than in first grade overlooked the details of Gates' research. As was mentioned, his studies showed that a child's success with beginning reading is largely determined by the quality of the instruction made available. However, because it has been the timing rather than the quality of beginning instruction that has won attention, it is now exceedingly common to find kindergarten reading programs being rooted in whole class drill on phonics.

    Why such an unfortunate practice is common can be explained by a number of factors, the most important of which is the kindergarten teacher's lack of preparation to teach reading.

    At the start, whole words of special interest can be featured. Later, opportunities for the children to learn to print should be available, because research indicates that some pre-first graders are more interested in printing than in reading and, in fact, become readers through their efforts with printing and spelling (Durkin, 1966).

    ...only if children demonstrate the ability to understand and remember letter-sound relationships should phonics instruction be pursued. To do otherwise is to foster negative attitudes towards reading, and perhaps towards school itself..."

  33. Well yes, I agree with all that Durkin said here. The early walking and talking, which went hand in hand with the early reading was probably a matter of intensive stimulation. You can speed up both walking and talking. For example, if you have a very small baby and sit her on your lap facing her, you can try the following. Keep your face completely neutral and don't smile at all. (Not easy when looking at a baby, I know.) Among the gurgles and slobbering, the child will make vocalising sounds, babbling. As soon as this takes place, big smiles and praise. As soon as she stops, back to the dead pan face. Regular sessions like this, where you provide reinforcement for voaclisation will speed up the child's rate of babbling and also bring forward the acquisition of expressive language. I borrowed an LED display from a Speech and Language Therapy unit, microphone attuned to childrens' speech frequency and used this as well. It worked a treat. Walking can be prompted by intensive work crawling and hanging from things.
    Apropos of what Durkin says of phonics, this is quite true; it can put a child off. Using whole words though means that the child treats words as shapes, rather than bits of language. These go through the right hemisphere instead. (Lucky the two halves of the brain are connected!). This is not stressful for the child, it is like doing an inset board or puzzle. The result will be that the child acquires a sight vocabulary of useful words. Plenty of time for phonics and "word attack" skills later.

  34. I really must take more care with what I write. You invariably ignore the bits I'm really interested in (hard evidence and research) and respond to the airy, fairy theoretical, observational bits that hold less interest. Just because something can be taught early to some children doesn't mean that it should or can be taught early to all children.