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Book Review – Native Reading

June 6, 2012

I’ve been curious about this book for a long time, and finally decided to order it for a friend (heh heh heh). And of course, read it first (heh heh heh). Seriously, though, it’s an intriguing concept, and one that’s even a bit controversial, as the Amazon.com reviews indicate. Kailing presents a solid theory for introducing kids to the written word fluidly and consistently, to mimic and parallel the natural acquisition of spoken language. Unlike Glenn Doman‘s “Your Baby Can Read” series, which has even been studied (and debunked), Kailing presents a method that basically just uses the tools you have on hand (books and letter toys) and his own small case studies: both his kids learned to read fluently by age three, although the difference between his son (an enthusiastic reader showing readiness and early reading almost perfectly parallel with his talking development) and his daughter (a far less interested reader, who nonetheless grasped reading on her own shortly before age three) is striking, and bears note for how effective his methods might be for toddlers with vastly different personalities and interests.

To me, probably the most controversial aspect is honestly the control aspect, even as that seems the silliest: “forcing” my child to read early. I can’t imagine that if following Kailing’s methods didn’t work, I would continue pressing my kids too hard into reading until/unless school made it an issue. After all, my half-sister was dyslexic, and had terrible experiences with school pretty much until she graduated high school and devoted her life to a career with animals. I really want to make sure I listen to my child if they’re struggling with anything, and never “force” anything on them (with the exception of holding my hand when we walk into a busy intersection – safety isn’t open to debate). Kailing actually believes that effective use of his methods to promote early reading might prevent dyslexia in some children, if children are actually receptive to reading earlier than school sage – if so, it’s definitely worthy of more discussion and research; I’ve seen myself how disabling dyslexia can be. Kailing’s idea is to make the methods for learning reading part of the fun: learning the letters as if they were individual personalities as well as interconnected sounds having the potential to form phonemes. Consistently pointing to the written word as one reads a book to make sure that a child recognizes it. His idea is that integration and connection between the written and spoken word should be subtle and logical, not forced, like the idea of a baby recognizing whole words written on a flashcard (e.g. Dorman’s methods). The only drawback I can really see, however, if Kailing’s methods did work for my child would be an increased likely need for glasses at an early age, although the research linking myopia and heavy reading is less certain than previously thought. (XY and I are both myopics, he since late elementary school, I since early high school, so any genetic causality already seems pretty likely. FOUR EYED BABY.)

So, what about those subtle and fun methods? Well, the book isn’t very long, and emphasizes using the tools you have on hand. Kailing outlines twelve steps in his fourth chapter that helped his kids become early readers. It’s funny to me how many of the methods mention going just a bit beyond what most parents and caretakers already do for kids. For babies and toddlers, there is a lot of emphasis on letter recognition play strongly paralleling learning the phonetics of each letter. Reading to your kids is a given; pointing to each word as you say it is something Kailing wants parents to do (and something I’ve never seen a parent do, but it makes total sense). Kailing does think there is some drawback to the fact that his methods are best served if there is at least one stay-at-home parent in the mix. I’m not so sure he’s right, since he doesn’t really give a timeline of how much time needs to be spent on reading and word-play in order for kids to become “fluent” readers. If parents are still the ones giving baths and playing with the kids and their foam letters, or reading the bedtime stories while constantly pointing, why would it matter if the kid was in nine hours of daycare that day just stacking blocks or socializing with other babies and adults? Understandably, a daycare will probably not do letter play or book reading particularly well, since Kailing’s theories are hardly well known. But parents are welcome to share their ideas about their kids and their preferred parenting methods, at their daycares, and daycares are often receptive to these ideas, particularly at smaller daycares and individual babysitters. I have no idea what kind of childcare setup XY and I will go for when we do, but we need someone who will work with us and our ideas if, for example, we’d like a cloth-diaper friendly daycare. We need a flexible childcare solution (and a good listener) anyway. So I’m not so certain that daycare is the huge drawback that Kailing presents it as, though I understand his reservations.

All in all, an interesting book, worthy of baby-laboratory explorations. Now, to convince XY…

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