By Dr. Bob Titzer
When babies learn to talk, they say their first individual words on average around 12 months of age. It generally takes another six months before the baby can say two or three words together. When young babies learn to read, expect a similar pattern: It’s likely they will take many months after reading their first words before they are reading many two- or three-word phrases.
Even when babies and toddlers can read many individual words, they are often overwhelmed when reading words in books that are generally close together. So it’s helpful to provide an interim step from reading individual words to reading long sentences such as reading two- and three-word phrases.
We have included two-word couplets in the first Your Baby Can Read! (YBCR) DVD so that your child can learn this concept while learning to read from left-to-right. We include “arms up” and “arms down” as well as the word “arm” separately. We also include “look up” and “look down.” This mirrors how spoken language is taught by isolating individual words, but also combining them with other words to form phrases.
Helping Your Child Read Two- and Three-Word Phrases
Write down some two- and three-word phrases as you are playing with your child. Start by combining words your child already knows how to read. Many babies and toddlers enjoy playing matching games with words and objects. For example, if you have cups that are red, blue, and yellow, you could write down: “red,” “blue,” “yellow,” and “cup” along with “red cup,” “blue cup,” and “yellow cup.”
First, review the individual words a few times by saying the words as you point to them. For the color words, have many objects that are those colors. Say “red” as you point under the word from left-to-right, then point out the red objects. Do the same for blue” and “yellow.”
Next, play matching games where you ask your baby to place the words “red cup,” “blue cup,” and “yellow cup” by the respective cups. Do this with many different words and the corresponding objects.
If your baby doesn’t know colors yet, you could start with other two-word couplets such as “toy keys.” You could have the words “key,” “keys,” “toy key,” and “toy keys” written out and ask your baby to match the word(s) with the appropriate object(s). Have one house or car key, one toy key, two or more actual keys, and two or more toy keys in separate areas, so your child can match the word with its meaning. Be precise with your language while playing these word games and you will help your baby learn better reading and logic skills. I want your baby to pay more attention to the words, so that is another reason to include words that are very similar to one another.
Babies who watch our DVDs will see the words “wave” and “hand” making “wave your hand” a good choice for a three-word phrase. You could also use “clap your hands,” “kick your feet,” “touch your nose,” “tap one foot,” “touch one arm,” “wave two hands,” and other combinations of mostly familiar words. Have fun and act out each phrase. Encourage your baby to do the same.
When you are reading books that have many words on the same page, it’s likely too many words for babies or toddlers who are new readers. With some books, you may be able to cover up most of the words with your hand or with plain white paper to make the book appropriate for teaching reading. Most books are not great for teaching babies and toddlers to read because the words are small and the child is likely looking at the pictures. So read those books for the love or joy of reading.
It is easier for your child to learn the first written words when they are isolated. Once your baby is reading around 20 words, find books that have only two or three words per page. Initially, point just below each individual word as you are reading them (more slowly than usual).
Once your child can read at least 50 words, slide your finger under the words as you say them. In other words, read the phrases more naturally while you are still pointing out the words. Next, teach your baby to point to the words while you are reading to your child. You can also take turns reading the words with your baby to help your child transition from reading individual words to short phrases.
Learning one area of language often helps children learn other areas of language. Because of this preschoolers will not likely take as long between reading their first words to reading short phrases since they can already talk in phrases. On the other hand, babies who are reading two- or three-word phrases may be able to say the words together earlier since they have written words to assist them.
Dr. Bob Titzer