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Reading Programme for Under 2s

We accept babies as young as 18 months in one-to-one tuition sessions with the senior reading tutor. This is an extension of our successful method of teaching 3½ year olds. Lessons are structured, yet fun and quick-paced. By the end of the programme, your child should be reading almost any word, including uncommon or irregular words. Those who are close to 3½ years at the end of the one-to-one course may move on to join a group at our Saturday School. Joining a Saturday School helps to develop the young child's social interaction skills, which are essential if you were also preparing your child for 4+ entrance assessment.

We view the Leaders are Readers' role as that of facilitating parents in providing a stimulating home environment for their toddler. We believe our role is especially important for helping to raise achievement where families have traditionally not experienced going on to university, and the toddler is not attending a pre-school. We help parents to close the gap in inequality in school readiness. We do of course welcome children from all backgrounds on to this course.

Length of lessons

45 minutes, once or twice a week

Length of course

18 months, but can be extended to suit the pace of learning of the individual child


Must be kept short and fun, and done at the same time every day


Why teach a baby to read?

A baby learns all the time and absorbs all that she sees. She is always and naturally  working at understanding the world she finds herself in. As a baby is open to understanding all that she sees, introducing some phonemes for  things that she daily observes is good practice. If reading is introduced early to the baby, it becomes just another exciting thing in her world to understand and learn, and is therefore not a chore. Babies often astonish their parents with how well and quickly they learn.

Being able to read means that from as young as 18 months, a child can begin to relate to the written information she sees in her surroundings as a way of interacting with her world.

Why not let the school deal with it?

There is no doubt that parental influence has a huge impact on a child's academic achievement and that such influence begins and is very significant in the pre-school years. Children identified as 'gifted' or at least categorised as high-achievers have usually arrived at school with talents and dispositions developed in environments enriched by their parents. Parents can lay a strong foundation for their child's future academic achievement even before the child begins school.

Why start from as early as 18 months?

It is a parent's right to decide when and how to educate their children, and as long as teaching a toddler how to read is done in a manner free from panic and anxiety, it should provide enjoyment and a further bonding opportunity for the child and the parent. Teaching a child how to read so that he or she could independently decode and understand written communication should be made available to all UK children by age 3½ and certainly no later than at 5 years. This is because the educational system in the UK uses written communication and stresses independent reading as a medium for teaching and learning from the age of 4 (Reception class) in independent schools and 5 (Year 1) in state schools. In fact, by age 6 (Year 2), children in the UK are required to sit written assessments in reading, writing and spelling.

What about comprehension?

A person needs first to become a reader before being in a position to be questioned on what he has read. You could question a child on what has been read to him, but it will be impossible for him to respond accurately to questions about what he himself has read if he were not yet a fluent reader. If a child is taught to how to decode the written text accurately, whilst at the same time he is conversing daily with native English speakers thereby developing his language skills, there is no reason why comprehension should not follow.

Is this the same reading programme advertised on TV?

No. The reading programme advertised on television is an extreme whole-word approach. Infants are taught to look at and memorize whole words, which they can then recognize and name from memory. Our view is that this approach is not really reading but memorization and association. The main disadvantage is that there are only so many words a child can memorise. Another disadvantage in such an extreme whole -word approach, is that sensitivity to phonics and understanding of spelling can be hampered. The longer term result of the whole-word method can be negative.

It is much more sensible to wait until the child has developed the ability to produce some clear speech between 18 to 24 months, and teach the phonemes which make up all of the words of the English language - there only around 144 of them - than to teach the child to memorise hundreds of words. Having mastered those phonemes, the child can decode an unlimited number of words, and confidently spell most of them too.

Why have lessons for babies? Why not show them videos instead?

A research team led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis, both at the University of Washington, found that with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form.

"Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn," says Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "They don't get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development." Previous studies have shown, for example, that babies learn faster and better from a native speaker of a language when they are interacting with that speaker instead of watching the same speaker talk on a video screen. "Even watching a live person speak to you via television is not the same thing as having that person in front of you," says Christakis.

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