Emily Oster

3 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

Should I Use the Doman Method to Teach Reading?

Q&A on learning to read

Emily Oster

3 min Read

What do you think of the Doman method for early reading?

—Anonymous

Before answering this directly, let me step back on the question of learning to read, which I write about in both Cribsheet and The Family Firm. In Cribsheet, I review evidence on various programs that claim they can teach your infant to read. The evidence does not support these programs! Your baby cannot learn to read. In rare cases, toddlers will pick up reading, though it is uncommon and usually does not result from active teaching. One could begin to teach a kid reading around the age of 3 or 4, although most will not learn until they’re older.

The Family Firm, which deals with school-age kids, looks at data on how kids learn to read. When I dug into that data there — and even more in this interview with the amazing Emily Solari — it’s very clear that the best way to teach kids to read is to focus extensively on phonics. That is: letter sounds, letter combinations, sounding things out. This is as opposed to an approach that emphasizes “whole language”: learning by recognition of words.

This brings me to your question about the Doman method for babies, which is described in, e.g., this post. In case you do not want to link through, here’s a key takeaway:

First of all, Glenn Doman believes that kids are too smart to bore them with individual letters, phonics and other methods. Over the years of working with children, he discovered that you can teach your child to read in just 90 seconds a day. How? By showing them large whole words a few times a day.

The method effectively encourages the use of flash cards with children as young as, well, birth.

For all the reasons in the preceding paragraphs, this will not work. Babies cannot read, and phonics is incredibly important. It’s not that you couldn’t get your kid to recognize flash cards! You could (not a baby, but a toddler perhaps). If you show them “CAT” on a card enough times, they’ll recognize the pattern the same way they’d recognize a picture of a cat. But that’s not reading. Reading is if they learn to read CAT and then can read PAT. But pattern recognition doesn’t give you that. Phonics does.

This isn’t to say, though, that you shouldn’t read with your baby. Reading with your baby is great! It helps them with language and learning to read later, and also it’s something fun to do with a baby if you have nothing else you can think of. Some of my favorite pictures of me with Penelope as an infant are when I’m reading her Moo, Baa, La La La!. Because I am not great with babies, but I do know how to read.

Bottom line: Read to them because it’s fun. Don’t do flash cards.

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