Heart Parenting
& Montessori

Educating the
heart and mind
of the child

International Parenting Association



Babies have genius potential. A child's
gift of genius is developed through
much nurturing in the home.

Early Learning Pathways


Watch a short video of 14-month-old
baby recognizing words

Teaching reading to babies can be easy and they can become very interested in learning to read. The magic formula is to show the baby phonograms and give one phoneme (phonogram sound) at a time, and accompany each phonogram with a simple word the baby can decode.

Are phonograms too hard?
Phonograms are comprised of the letters of the alphabet, singularly or in combination with one or more letters. Phonograms are representations, or symbols, of the sounds of speech. The sounds of speech are called phonemes.

Dr. Maria Montessori discovered that the child has an absorbent mind from birth through age six. Waiting until the child begins formal schooling and is beyond the absorbent mind stage have earned phonograms the reputation of being difficult to learn. Nevertheless, where it can be difficult for an older child to learn phonograms, babies have no problem because they absorb information like a sponge.

Two conflicting methods to teach reading
Experts do not agree on what is the best way to teach children to read. The two most commonly known methods for teaching reading are widely divergent. One method uses words only, and phonograms are never taught. The other uses phonograms first, and words come much, much later. There is something to be said for and against both methods. In my opinion, combining the two methods makes the most sense, and teaching reading the most effective.

Phonograms are keys to decoding words.
Reading is the process of decoding the alphabetic characters, called phonograms, which comprise words. A child that memorizes words without learning to read phonetically does not know how to decode words, and since the child does not know how to sound out the words he is looking at, his activity is not true reading.

Some proponents for words only say that if you show children enough words they will subconsciously figure out the phonetic code and will eventually be really reading –not just memorizing the placement of the letters, or what a word looks like. Nevertheless, Illiteracy has skyrocketed among school children because of this approach.

With babies this approach may succeed because they have an absorbent mind and will take in what they see, and perhaps they will eventually figure out the phonetic code, subconsciously –where many older children may not be willing or able to process the information since they are no longer in the absorbent mind stage of development and the work is tedious.

Children can read books at an early age when they are taught phonograms with accompanying words, and they will figure out new words on their own. Knowing phonograms empowers the child to read. For all of the above reasons, I am convinced that the words only approach is a longer, more difficult road to take in learning to read; and it is less interesting and not as satisfying.

One problem parents will encounter with the words only approach is that, in order to eventually figure out the phonetic code, babies will need to be shown many more word flashcards than if the parents were to show the baby phonograms with words, phonograms being relatively few in number. Parents don't usually have the time to make and show so many word flashcards, and those that they do provide should be the ones that will bring the most benefit.

Another problem is that if a baby is inundated with word flashcards, sessions may become stressful or boring. This would be creating resistance and the baby may not even look at cards. Above all, you would never want to force a child to look at the flashcards. Learning should be fun and take place in a happy environment, and with a positive mental attitude.

Do phonograms make sense?
Whole word advocates who claim that phonograms do not make sense to a baby should consider that babies do not speak whole words at first. First, they babble and learn to make all the sounds that the phonograms represent. Furthermore, when a word the baby is able to decode is given with the phonogram, phonograms make supreme sense.

Teaching phonograms without presenting words postpones understanding and delays reading.
There are 70 phonograms with one hundred and eleven sounds (phonemes) represented by the 70 phonograms. The phonemes do not mean anything, in and of themselves. When the giving of words is postponed until every phonogram has been learned, this, too, can be a long, difficult and boring road to travel before a child can gain some understanding of what he is undertaking and can have the enormous satisfaction of reading.

Learning the phonograms without words can be very difficult. The names of the phonograms are not the names of the letters that comprise the phonograms. Phonograms are named after the sounds they represent, which sounds are called phonemes. Many phonograms have more than one phoneme. For example, if you take a simple word like “cats” and show it to a child that has learned phonogram sounds without supporting words, the child will say that the word “cats” (phonograms c+a+t) sounds like: /k/ - /s/ - /a / (short vowel) - /a/ (long vowel) - /a/ (as in almond) /uh/ (as in about) - /t/ - /s/ - /z/, with all these sounds running together, one after the other. This is very complex and makes reading incomprehensible.
Giving words with each sound gets the idea across that the phonogram has only one sound in a given word, even though the name of the phonogram may contain multiple phonemes.

Phonograms have been made too difficult.
Not giving words as examples of how to use phonograms and running together the multiple phonemes of a phonogram when it is first being learned, instead of giving one phoneme at a time to the child, with a word the child can decode, have made learning and teaching phonograms very difficult.

After the whole gamut of phonograms are learned in the absence of words, the instructor is faced with the challenge of teaching, and the child has the challenge of learning that in order to read words –as in the word “cats”, for example, he must first choose between the /k/ and the /s/ phonemes, then choose between the short vowel /a/, the long vowel /a/, the /ah/ and /uh/ phonemes; the /t/ does not require a choice and, finally, he must choose between the phonemes /s/ and /z/. In order to help the child decide, the phonemes are given numerals and there are many rules to guide him. It's no wonder teachers and students, alike, have recoiled from phonograms.



Watch a short video of 14-month-old
baby recognizing words


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