Babies Can Read: How and Why!

by admin on November 24, 2009

Babies Can Read: How and Why!

Babies Can Read: How and Why!
By Eliane Leao

Yes, babies can read. Here we present how and why.

Our challenge lies in understanding how and why babies learn to read. Is it a difficult task? Maybe it isn’t — once we take into consideration the amount of works written on childhood development regarding other age groups. Teaching the baby to read and explaining what happens inside and out of the baby is a post-Piaget or Vygostsky issue. It doesn’t imply questionings like appropriate linguistic training nor does it make the pre-op child overcome difficulties his/her thought process might find only in the operatory plane. The reading done by babies results from a mechanism which precedes these problems, and it is developed despite the theoretical disputes of the how it is processed (Piaget) or the how it is expressed (Vygostky).

However, it finds in both all of its fundaments. In Piaget, unseen by him at the time he developed his research, a time in which he explained how the process was possibly occurring in a structural construction level and that of inner structuring maintenance, there remains the truth that it is the child who constructs his/her own knowledge of the world. In Vygotsky, there remains the truth that we must value the role of the intermediator in the learning process. In other words, the mother who plays with the baby provides him/her with the opportunity of contact with knowledge in such a way that it would be impossible were the baby alone.

Based on what’s been stated, we can affirm that it is not us who teach; it is the baby who learns. When Piaget says that language is no self-sufficient condition, nor is it necessary to the acquisition of concrete operations, we agree — and can verify such truths. However, when it comes to babies, some special considerations must be made. The baby who has the words already read and not yet spoken, which, to him/her, are whatever objects with concrete and significant meaning of that which he knows in his/her mental life (because s/he has reference points in real life, the medium) presents a more rapid development than expected. Then, the appearance of precocious verbal expression is made possible, the baby demonstrating no later problem with orthography, mathematical reasoning, and other external manifestations dependant upon the expression of the intellect. This more rapid development leads to a more advanced mental adaptation.

As the function of intelligence is to structure the universe, so the organism structures the immediate medium, and the baby, when s/he reads, s/he accelerates his/her development. In the mastering of the read word, s/he performs a more advanced mental adaptation than that of the baby who is not reading; and this internal action of constructing schemes referring to the words read, the progressive increase in the distance traveled in time and space by the baby in the direction of objects (words) to which s/he ends up adapting defines the degree of intelligence necessary to accomplish the act. And the baby constructs his/her intelligence and learns to be more intelligent the more s/he knows. It becomes more and more difficult to deny what’s been said above because at the basis of all functioning of intelligence is action: external action, in practice or sensory-motor; internal action and/or operation, in reflexive and/or verbal intelligence.

Babies reading practice shows that, at all times, there’s evidence of the appearance of intelligence. When the baby is in the mother’s lap playing the game of reading, s/he demonstrates mental combinations of the operation to be realized: s/he thrusts the body forward to be closer to the written word as if s/he wanted to show that wants to “play” to read. This mental combination of throwing oneself to be able to do what is already known how it will be done, no matter how simple it may seem, is a demonstration of intelligence which distinguishes presentation from representation. Piaget explains this. His view is fundamentally structural: everything the thought process constructs today is due to the coordination of all that was already built. Each and every new scheme includes the one preceding it, integrates and surpasses it in a progressive structuring of increasingly balanced forms, in a gradual evening out increasingly flexible structures. To throw him/herself in the direction of the flashcard containing the word to be read is an act that succeeds the one constructed previously. It can be said that in all phases of development, the baby is the agent, whether it is by his/her initial practical action or by the posterior symbolic and mental action.

Piaget could not foresee that the baby could read before manifesting the mastering of language; but he already knew that even though language can increase the power of thought, it was not its cause. Herein resides an important element: It is through the symbolic game and not language that the baby expresses his/her subjectivity still untranslatable into collective signs.

If for Piaget the logic of coordination of actions is more profound than the logic attributed to language, and well precedent, there is no way to not believe that babies can read before they can speak and write. And all this, they already are doing!

**For more info on babies and reading, visit our website at for articles, and a free ebook! **

Dr. Eliane Leao is a native of Brazil, South America. She has a
background in Education from Purdue University (Masters) and a PhD in the
Department of Educational Psychology from the State University of Campinas
(UNICAMP)/Purdue University (Ph.D.). Dr. Leao has also three Bachelor’s
degrees, one in Piano, another in Musical Education, and a third in Voice. Dr.
Leao is currently a professor of Music Education and Music Therapy
conducting research on the influence of Music in Early Childhood Learning.

Her ‘babies’ have grown to become productive members of their
communities. Dr. Leao hopes that the trials and successes of her family may
inspire and convince other parents to stimulate their children during early
childhood so that they may enjoy a rich, stimulating, integrated, and happy
life always.

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