By Dr. Bob Titzer
When a child’s natural speed for reading is fast, the child will have more time for other things in life. The benefits of reading at a very fast pace are enormous and potentially life-changing. Obviously, if your child reads at a faster pace, he will have more time to play or socialize while reading the same amount of material.
Your child’s speed of reading is very important and every decision related to this multi-sensory, interactive approach considered the child’s speed. The goal is for your child’s “natural” or default speed to be very fast. For example, the first baby to use Your Baby Can Read! (my daughter, Aleka) read all of the stories in her first grade literature book in under 20 minutes as I drove her home on the first day of school. When she was older, she could read many Harry Potter books in the same day. This allowed her to have extra time in her childhood that could be used for playing, relaxing, socializing, learning new hobbies, etc. because her natural speed is extremely fast. [Disclaimer: My daughters’ reading abilities are exceptional. This does not mean that your baby will end up reading at the same levels as them or other babies and toddlers in the videos/testimonials posted by parents on this website or any other website. The typical results of using Your Baby Can Read (YBCR) are that babies and toddlers who consistently use YBCR for at least 6 months learn to read some words and they learn vocabulary skills from using the program.]
I do not expect every baby to learn to read as quickly as my daughters. I would love to be able to be able to read at those speeds, but I can’t. Because I have been reading for so many decades it is probably more difficult for me to improve my reading speed at this point than it would be for a child who has just started reading books silently. It is still possible to improve your reading speed later in life, but it will likely require effort and focus over a long period of time.
My hypothesis is that it is easier to change a child’s speed of reading before she has been reading for several years at a slower “default” or “normal” speed. This means that parents need to be aware that there are positive and negative consequences when slowing down your child’s reading speed when she appears to skip over a word when reading aloud.
Reading quickly often leads to better reading comprehension while reading slowly is often linked to poor comprehension1. In addition, speed can increase with training in the early years2. It is possible to learn to read at fast speeds in the in the first several years of life according to a case study I did in the early 1990s3. While this is not evidence that reading quickly is likely when learning during infancy, at least we know that it is possible. Additional case studies indicate other children who learn to read during infancy also have been reported to read at fast speeds4.
I think it is important to know not only what is typical, but what is possible. The average adult reads at around 200-350 words per minute5,6,7,8 while reading silently. The speed depends in part on the difficulty of the text for the reader as well as how the text is presented (e.g., number of words or characters per line, number of lines per page, on a computer screen, whether the words are presented in way that requires faster reading, etc.). A speed of 300 words per minute would be a good estimate of the average adult’s speed while reading for pleasure. Some research indicates that there are people who read at 2000 words per minute with complete comprehension9. Of course there are reports of people reading much faster than that.
I mention these extremely fast speeds because I think many parents have a tendency to slow their children down too much without thinking about the future consequences this could have on speed. Your concern may be that your child skipped a word. While you don’t want your child to lose any comprehension while reading aloud, there are times when infants, toddlers, and preschoolers may read faster than they can talk and this can lead to occasionally skipping a word while reading aloud.
These activities helped my babies and many others develop natural, faster speeds while reading silently:
- Once your child is reading complete books silently, encourage your child to read a little faster.
- Get two copies of some books your child can read. Race your toddler to see who can read faster – you or your child. Explain that you are only going to look at the words (not the pictures) while playing this game. My daughters loved this game. Please make sure that it is always fun. The objective is to only look at the words and not the pictures. I would tell my babies that I was going to look at the words as fast as I could and that I would look at the pictures later. Find books that have about the right number of words per page for your child to enjoy this game.
- Some children enjoy getting timed while reading a favorite book. You can log the times and encourage your child to develop a very fast, natural speed. Encourage your child in a joyful manner to go a little faster.
- Continue playing the “fast words game” (included in the Deluxe Kit) with the word cards. The game is primarily for older babies, toddlers, and preschoolers who can read words, but it can also be used to teach new words. This is an important game to develop your child’s focus and speed of reading.
Show your child how to play by having one parent hold up word cards for the other parent (or any other experienced reader) to read. One parent should flip through about five cards (ten words because you will use the front and back) as quickly as possible while the other parent reads the words aloud. Once your child sees you in action, she or he will want to join in. Initially, only use words that you think your child is familiar with and remember to always have fun! Later, you can add more than five cards.
For added variety, you should go through the words forward and backward and flip some cards around to show the words on the back, so your child doesn’t memorize the order of the words. For example, if you use the double-sided cards in the YBCR Deluxe Kit you might use: hi/arms, clap/clapping, nose/mouth, wave/waving, dog/cats. Your order might be something such as:
hi, clap, nose, wave, dog, hi, clap, hi, clap, clapping, clap, clapping, nose, mouth, nose, wave, nose, wave, dog, cats, hi, cats, hi, arms, clapping, nose, wave, nose, mouth, nose, mouth, clapping, clap, mouth, nose, wave, waving, wave, waving, cats, etc.
Since you are going at an extremely fast pace, the above 40 words could take less than one minute. Have fun!
- Evidence shows that fast readers pick up more information per fixation on text5 than average or slower readers, so I believe this information should be incorporated into approaches that are concerned about a child’s speed while reading. We do this primarily in the songs and poems in Your Baby Can Read!. Your CHILD Can Read! provides many opportunities to get longer sequences of text in one fixation at a fast pace.
Another way of allowing your child to learn to pick up more information per fixation is to play a game similar to the “fast words game” (in #4 above) except instead of using individual words use phrases or sentences such as “clap your hands” or “The toy train is red and black.” Flip through the cards and only show them to the experienced reader for a second or so while your child is watching. Right after the card is turned face down where the readers can’t see them, then the experienced reader should say the sentences. Adjust the speed so that you are showing them just barely long enough for the experienced reader to have time to read them, then stay at least that speed for your child. If your child gets them correct, try to either go a little faster or write slightly longer phrases or sentences.
- I wrote a simple program that showed words for a fraction of a second as the words went across the screen from left-to-right and from top-to-bottom. We do this in Your CHILD Can Read!, especially in the last three DVDs.
- Each step while learning to read with this multi-sensory interactive approach has considered speed. For example, I don’t suggest teaching the names of the letters of the alphabet to babies and toddlers who don’t know how to read is in part to avoid slowing down the child reading words. If your child is taught the names of the letters before reading at an automatic or fast pace, he may think about the names of some of the letters in the words for a short time instead of instantly and automatically thinking about what the words say.
The same is true with focusing on the sounds of the letters – if your child is saying the individual sounds instead of saying the words instantly your child may also be developing a pattern of reading slowly that could influence your child’s later reading speed. There aren’t studies comparing reading speeds of babies who used the YBCR approach with other children, so this is my hypothesis that is based on the information in this article as well as in the Scientific Rationale for Using Your Baby Can Read.
- Read for enjoyment. Some evidence shows that reading extensively improves reading speed10. One factor to consider as it relates to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers is to find books where there are at least a few lines of print per page in order to gain important experiences that could transfer to reading books with only text. If the books only have one line of print per page they can be great for many other reasons, but they won’t give your child the experience of quickly going from left to right, then immediately going to the next line.
Please let us know if your child is reading at a fast, average, or slow pace after starting early in life. We love to hear from the parents who are teaching their young children and we especially love hearing from older children who learned to read during infancy.
Dr. Bob Titzer
1 Breznitz, Z. (1987). Increasing first graders’ reading accuracy and comprehension by accelerating their reading rates. Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(3), 236-242.
2 Levy, B. A., Abello, B. & Lysynchuk, L. (1997). Transfer from Word Training to Reading in Context: Gains in Reading Fluency and Comprehension, Learning Disability Quarterly, 20(3), 173-188.
3 Titzer, R. (1998, April). Case Study of an Infant Exposed to Written Language. Presented at the International Conference on Infant Studies. Atlanta, GA.
4 Cohen, R. & Söderbergh, R. (1999). Apprendre a lire avant de savoir parler, Albin Michel Éducation. Paris, France.
5 Rayner, K., Inhoff, A. W., Morrison, R. E., Slowiaczek, M. L., & Bertera, J. H. (1981). Masking of foveal and parafoveal vision during eye fixations in reading.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human perception and performance, 7(1), 167.
6 Rayner, K., & Bertera, J. H. (1979). Reading without a fovea. Science,206(4417), 468-469.
7 Pollatsek, A., Bolozky, S., Well, A. D., & Rayner, K. (1981). Asymmetries in the perceptual span for Israeli readers. Brain and language, 14(1), 174-180.
8 Just, M. A., & Carpenter, P. A. (1980). A theory of reading: From eye fixations to comprehension. Psychological review, 87, 329-354.
9 Jackson, M. D. & McClelland, J. L. (1975). Sensory and cognitive determinants of reading speed. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 14(6), 565–574.
10 Bell, T. (2001). Extensive Reading: Speed and Comprehension. Reading Matrix: An International Online Journal, 1(1), 1-13.