How To Teach Your Two-Year-Old To Read

Sherwood Ross

Children as young as two years of age can be taught to read by providing them with a CD player, and CDs of their favorite music.

Years ago, I taught my son to read at age two by giving him a phonograph and records. When I mentioned this to a friend he said his son had taught himself to read off record labels just as mine had. So it can be done.

This is not being written to boast about my child. This is written to suggest how parents can bring the joy of reading into their children’s lives at an early age. It is also written to suggest a different approach to the teaching of reading in schools where children may be not reading up to their grade level.

The idea is simple: to capitalize on the music and poetry a child already knows, rather than to present the child with a primer containing what adults want to teach. Save that for first grade.

Two-year-olds often memorize the words to popular songs. Just adapt your presentation to the kind of music your child knows and enjoys. Your “curriculum” might be soul, salsa; country, rock, or classical, etc.

Here's what I did. Many years ago when employed as a newsman at WOL radio, then an AM rhythm-and-blues outlet in Washington, D.C., disk jockeys showered me with records to take home to my son, Sean, aged two.

Sean loved the music and had his own small phonograph. He also had a collection of several hundred “single” 45 rpm records. The names of the songs and the recording artists were printed on the record labels.

If Sean wanted to hear "Baby Love" by the Supremes he had to pick out the record whose label had the letters on it that spelled "Baby Love".  To listen to "Respect" by Otis Redding, he had to look for the words “Respect” and “Otis Redding.” Only the right words got the right songs played. It wasn’t long before he could identify hundreds of titles and artists' names.

Initially, I helped him by showing him how to sound out the names on the labels, such as "O-tis Red-ding,” pointing to the letters as I did. He quickly knew what sound the letter "O" made and what sound the letter "R" made.

Yes, his Mother and I also read the usual alphabet and story books to him after dinner but he really learned to read by himself off the record labels. Reading the labels rewarded him with the songs he enjoyed.

If it would have helped him, I could have written out the words to "Baby Love" on a sheet of paper and pointed to them as they were sung by the Supremes. But he really didn't need it.

By his third birthday, Sean could pick up the Washington Post and read the articles with the fluency of a radio newsman. By his fourth birthday, WOL deejays would put Sean on their laps and let him spin three or four records, chuckling at his background commentaries about the songs and the artists.

Once, when a surprised house guest noticed that Sean, then three, was reading the newspaper, I explained how I had taught him to read. Sean corrected me immediately: “I taught myself!” he told the guest, which was fine with me. He was entitled to a sense of accomplishment.

Today, when I hear children in some schools are behind in reading, I wonder if efforts ever are made to teach them using the music they know and enjoy? If I ran a school, each child would have a CD player and CDs. The hard copy primers would be filled with stories about the recording artists, and their pictures. And time would be set aside for children of different cultural backgrounds to exchange their favorite songs.

As for Sean, it turned out his early interest in music led to his vocation, as an authority on popular music. During college, he worked weekends as a deejay, and after graduation he went on to work as a reporter for “Radio & Record,” then as an editor at “Billboard.” Today, he writes a weekly column on the music business titled "Ross on Radio," available on the Internet.

Nobody who knows him is surprised. After all, he got an early start at age two when he taught himself to read -- off record labels.

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