Why is it so Hard for My Child to Learn to Read?

Why is Reading So Hard?

Reading in English is very, very hard. It is difficult because, frankly, our language doesn’t make any sense. Case in point: the E in enjoy sounds like an I. The most common way to pronounce an E is not to pronounce it at all. Like in the word pronounce. Or in the word like.

Reading is easy for a child when the letters make the sounds they expect. Reading is hard when the letters draw on less common sounds. You may teach your child the O sounds of /oh/ like GO and /ah/ like OCTOPUS, but the O in ONCE makes a /wuh/ sound. And once is the first word in every fairytale. Ouch.

You caught that, right? O in OUCH is different too. As it is in TOO…. If you want to learn more about the challenge of Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondence, read more here and here.

Analyzing Reading Complexity

What we have done at TinyIvy is to use really amazing technology to decode every word in the English language using Building Blocks. Every letter-sound combination has a block. Based on how often these combinations are used (both in print and in the dictionary), we assigned these blocks to ten different Reading Levels. The first three levels are described in detail here.

Since every word is now assigned a Reading Level, we can precisely determine the difficulty of reading a particular book. We analyze every word on every page, determining what Level blocks are needed to successfully sound out the words. Books are then assigned to a Level. Each level requires 90% of the words in a book to be within that level.

A Visual Analysis

Before this system was developed, children’s book authors had no way of creating books that were truly easy for children to read. Now we can look at Goodnight Moon in a very structured way. In the graph below, each color represents a different Reading Level, with brighter reds being more difficult than lighter blues. This graph shows the reading complexity of Goodnight Moon. (No criticism here of this beautiful, beloved book … just insight into why we read it to our children instead of them being able to read it themselves.)

Goodnight Moon: Extremely Difficult to Read

Goodnight Moon fluctuates wildly on our Reading Level scale, frequently using rare letter-sound combinations that are extremely likely to confuse a young reader. The average word is Reading Level 4, but you would need almost every Building Block in the English language to successfully sound this book out on your own. 90% comprehension is only achieved at Reading Level 9.

Without technology, it is extremely difficult to write books to a particular Reading Level. Fortunately, we have built some pretty awesome tech. Let’s take a look at what this lets us do.

Athena’s Mission (III): Extremely Easy to Read

Athena’s Mission, one of the first stories introduced to our young readers, uses words almost entirely from Reading Levels 2 and 3.

Athena is on the sand. The sea is calm. She sees a crab and a fish. There are black steps that climb a hill. The steps lead high into the mist. She starts to sprint to the top. She can not pass. There is an immense lock. She has to find the stones to pass.

The most amazing part of our Reading Levels, is that by prioritizing the “uncommon” sounds that make up extremely common power words, we are able to create actual stories even at Level 3.

Keep Reading Easy to Keep Children Learning

Reading is hard because we don’t make it easy. Until now, there was no way we could. Without a systematic understanding of language, and the technology to analyze phonetic complexity in real time, there was no way to write a book that a child could be guaranteed to read. There is now. It’s a brave new world out there. A Reading World.

How Often Should I Teach My Child to Read?

How Often Should I Teach My Child to Read?

Let’s cut to the chase. For optimal learning, you should teach your child to read quite often: two times a day for 10-20 minutes per session, every day of the week. To learn why, read on.

Remember, it is easy and fun for a child to learn. It’s what they were born to do. They do it all the time. For an adult, it often will take 17 repetitions to build a solid memory. A child can retain information after one or two hearings (like a bad word Daddy yelled after stepping on yet another small, criminally sharp plastic dinosaur) if the word is presented in an important context.

The Science of Teaching Frequency

The optimal structure to teach your child to read can be found here. In order to determine the optimal frequency and duration for using our program, we looked at lots of scientific literature, specifically memorization using spaced repetition and long term retention. We ultimately concluded that, in terms of timing and use, our recommendation is that Little Angels play Reading World two times a day. Once either in the morning after breakfast or in the early afternoon, and once again at night as the beginning of their bedtime routine. By spreading out these sessions, we have a great opportunity to reinforce the previous sessions’ learning. The short duration and down time in between is critical for success. Your child will learn faster from two 20 minute sessions than from one 40 minute session.

Similarly, for best results, your child should play every day. Again, this is to allow us to better time the introduction of content appropriately to your child’s progress, and thus make learning easier and more fun. This consistency allows our Reading World app to do some real magic. If you can be consistent, then based on what we see with your specific child, the Reading World app will evolve to present content at different rates, identify places where there is confusion for your child, and reinforce learning optimally.

The Real World

Now, this is all ideal. The reality is that any sort of reading and phonics practice is better than none at all. We hope your child absolutely loves the game, so the conversation becomes more about limiting their time than pushing them to do it.

Reading World makes each letter introduced important, and then systematically re-teaches this content until a baseline understanding is achieved. By presenting this in an optimal frequency and duration, your child can learn to read extremely quickly with very little parental support required.

We know that you, dear mom and dad, are likely tired. It is hard work to be a great parent or caregiver. So if after 20 minutes, you look over and see your little three year old enraptured and hear them sounding out words and laughing as Dante leaps across the jungle, take a few minutes for yourself and enjoy being a great parent. Your child is learning to read all by themselves.

How to Teach a Toddler to Read

Teach Your Toddler to Read

It is absolutely possible to teach your toddler to read. First, you are going to need a heaping helping of three obvious ingredients:

  • Patience: It’s going to take some time.
  • Discipline: You need to be consistent.
  • Love: There are a lot of hugs in learning to read.

But on to the nuts and bolts! In this article, we explain how it is possible to teach a child to read by the age of 3. We know, it’s hard to find the time to have a cup of coffee. That’s why we are creating ReadingWorld, which will walk your child through the progression outlined below. That said, we wanted to explain our amazing system so that you, as a parent, can make an informed decision about how best to teach your toddler to read. We assume that if you are here, you have a child between 2 and 5, and would like to give them every opportunity to develop into the best little human they can be. A lot of what works at this age works at every age, so don’t worry about where your child is starting from, you can start here.

Teaching The Basics: Level 1

The very first letters used to teach your child to read follow a simple pneumonic device: IMPACT. Each letter is pronounced in IMPACT using the basic pronunciations. Which gives us enough content to build essential pre-reading knowledge: 1) letters have shapes and make sounds and 2) letters can be put together to make words. At this point, we already have a handful of nice words to play with: PAT, PIT, CAT, MAP, MAT, TIM, IT, CAP, and TAP, among others. Just remember that a Building Block is both the letter and how it is pronounced, so be careful to always use the letters in words where the pronunciation of each letter is exactly as it was taught.

Once the child is identifying IMPACT blocks correctly at a rate of 90% or more, and successfully sounding out Level 1 words, congratulations! Together you’ve made it to Level 2! Note if you start a child very young (say 1 or 2), Level 1 could take a long time! That’s ok!

Reading Hard Vowels: Level 2

Once your child is 90% proficient at Level 1, we then introduce Level 2 Building Blocks: Ā, Ē, Ō, Ī, O, B, R, L, N, and S. In this set, we have included Reading Tips (marks on the basic letter) for the Ā, Ē, Ō, and Ī which all are pronounced like their letter names, the “hard” sound of “A” like APE, the “E” like NEED, the “I” sound in TIME and the “O” like OPEN. It is important here to teach the child that the same letters can make different sounds, but when you see a Reading Tip, you know exactly what to say. With these Level 2 additions of letter pronunciations we now have a working vocabulary for your child that includes over 1000 words. To graduate from Level 2, all Building Blocks must be identified correctly 90% of the time. This means distinguishing between the Ā and the A, which may take a little practice.

Teaching Real Words: Level 3

At Level 3, we introduce another 10 Building Blocks: SH, Ś, E, Õ, À, D, Ÿ, TH, H, and F. Now we can really start to make some words! This Level gives us the blends for THIS and THAT, the Ś in HIŚ or IŚ, the Õ in TÕ, the Ÿ in MŸ. These are the Power Blocks, which are found rarely in the dictionary, but are essential to reading meaningful stories. They form the words which hold our language together. We also use Level 3 to introduce the concept of Silent Blocks. A Silent Block is used when a letter doesn’t make a sound, like the “E” in TIME or the “A” in NEAR.

Like magic, after learning the 26 Building Blocks outlined above, and the Silent Block concept, your child can read over 15,000 words. By themselves. Without error. Every word they see in our System reinforces earlier learning. After mastering Level 3 content, children can read meaningful books, with real plots, characters, and messages.

Learning to Read: Level 4 through 10

As the child continues to progress through the system, additional Blocks are added at each level. In Level 4-6 we prioritize the Blocks needed to cover the remaining core vocabulary of early language texts. By Level 7, important but rare exceptions are being introduced, along with the vocabulary that uses these exceptions.

At level 10, after learning just 90 Blocks, the child can now read 125,000 words, including virtually all words printed in children’s literature.

The End Goal

Reading is a lifelong pursuit. Our goal is to make it easier, in fact, so easy a child can do it. TIPS™, our TinyIvy Phonics System, removes the barriers to sounding out words that exist in normal English, but that is only the first step. Eventually this needs to translate to “real” reading, using the “real” alphabet, with no Reading Tips. This process is very natural. A “sight picture” of the word is developed after it is read, which ultimately is drawn on during the reading process. As this happens, sounding out a word is no longer needed, and we graduate. Because the Reading Tips are small, the “sight picture” of the word remains largely the same, and so children transition easily to reading without tips and live happily ever after.

The End.

There and Back Again

Hi there.

My name is Zach and I’m an entrepreneur.

Over the last eight years, I had the most extraordinary experience building an amazing company. When we started, it was a horror show. I couldn’t believe that so small a group could hate each other so much and still come to work shoulder to shoulder in a tiny office in the armpit of Manhattan. But we did. 

Eventually, a few people got off the bus and a few more hopped on. That was key. Then we started winning deals, converting customers from pilots to paid, expanding to system wide accounts, six figure contracts, then seven figure contracts. We smoked competitors ten times our size, assembled a ridiculously talented team, became true partners with our clients, saved hundreds of thousands of lives, saved billions of dollars in unnecessary medical expenses, and delivered incredible returns to our investors.

It wasn’t viral at all. It was super hard work. Late nights, early mornings, countless hours in planes, trains and automobiles. It was eerily similar to most of what you saw on Silicon Valley, but it wasn’t a caricature, it was real. There really was a foosball table and we played all the time. We actually divided ourselves into Harry Potter houses and (at least at the time of this writing) have a really awkward Sorting Ceremony, with music and slides, for every new hire. It was incredibly rewarding and immeasurably fun. We did great work and we changed a lot of lives, not the least of which was our own.

So why did you leave?

Great question. It started about 3 years ago, when my son Conrad was born. I suppose every product-minded human worth their salt goes through the same process and frustration I did. We try basically everything, eventually pruning down to some set of solutions that we think gives our little beings a fighting chance at getting a job in some dark AI dystopian future. The best out there do some amazing things and move the ball forward for everyone: like Melissa and Doug or the amazing LovEvery team. Those guys rock. 

For me, being a nerd, I focused on literacy. I believe that reading is true magic. There are these peculiar little runes on dead tree pulp that can make you cry or laugh, enlighten you and rile your enemies. If you are a writer, start calling yourself a wizard. It’s not far off.

Not having a background in early childhood education, I read nearly everything I could get my hands on. This study was a key starting point. I chased down many of the supporting studies, like this one. This book. That book. This NPR podcast. Then I started hacking. Literally. Chopping up paper to make hundreds of flash cards and labelling everything in our house down to the sconces. And then, perhaps a little woozy from the laminator smell, the lightbulb went off.

The alphabet isn’t perfect. What if we fix it? 

Some schools teach the ‘ā’ for Āpe vs. the ‘a’ in Cat. But what about the ‘a’ in About? That’s a “u” sound. Or Wand, where it’s really an “o”. In Care it’s more like an “e”. English is filled with this garbage! (The second “a” in Garbage is more like an “i” is it not?).

This sort of language game can be amusing as a literate adult, but the difficulties it presents to a child or ESL students are enormous. Without an attentive teacher, parent, or caregiver, you can’t learn to read on your own. There are more exceptions than rules. Exceptions exist everywhere, in the simplest words, crippling early readers.

This really annoyed me. So I got serious. I started hacking for real. I dusted off my keyboard. I read this book and took this course and some of this course and a little of this course, and began building a system that would create the foundation of a new way to teach kids to read, the TinyIvy Phonics System: TIPS™.

TIPS uses specific marks to denote exactly how to say every single letter so that it can be sounded out, from left to right, without exceptions. We introduce letters in a standardized progression, so that we can be confident that every single word the child is asked to read will be a word they are capable of reading. By using a more refined system, our ability to use data and machine learning to drive improvements in children’s outcomes is unprecedented. We’ve now coded over 125,000 words into our system.

In the weeks to come, I invite you to listen. It’s not a simple thing to wage war on the Alphabet. I will need help. Your help, probably. So I hope that as you hear more about what I’m working on that it all becomes clear. I hope you see what I see. For those of you with kids, I really you have the courage to try something new on the most important person to you in the whole world.

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