Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Open the door to
reading for toddlers

Professor develops
video that facilitates
reading at early age

By Nancy Arcayna
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Parents anxious to give their progeny a head start in life often invest in flashcards and other learning aids, drilling their young children in the hope that the extra stimulation will spark intellectual growth. When to get started?

Robert Titzer, a professor of kinesiology and health studies at Southeastern Louisiana University, started teaching his first daughter, Aleka, to read when she was only 3 months old. Titzer presents workshops at the New Baby Expo this weekend. Topics include how to get started in preparing toddlers for reading, second languages, categorizing, math, using shapes and patterns, music and more.

The concept was established when he began working with Aleka. At first, Titzer was skeptical about the notion of an infant reading, which some child-care experts say puts too much pressure on the child. But Titzer used an approach that made learning words seem like a game.

"I was just playing around at first," he said. "I wanted to engage in stimulating activities with my daughter. Reading opens up the door for all other learning. Babies learn all other aspects of language, so it makes sense to teach them to read."

"My wife and I made a video for our daughter to watch at the baby sitter's. We would show a word and present the object or demonstrate the action," explained Titzer.

Months later, he realized Aleka was developing word recognition skills. Titzer's homemade video shows Aleka responding to the words. When shown the word "mommy," she responded by saying "mama." The word "no" led her to shake her head. She pointed to body parts when she saw words like hand or head, all at the age of 9 months.

At 18 months she was reading words like bathtub, swing, throwing, screwdriver and step. At age 4, she tested at an 11th-grade reading level. Now, at age 10, she is reading at college level.

Titzer's second daughter, Keelin, used cards and animal figures to play a matching game at 25 months of age. She recognized words like gorilla, zebra, turtle and giraffe. Both of Titzer's children have skipped grades in school.

In Titzer's learning video, children see the words, hear the words, see images representing the meaning of the words and often perform some physical activity related to the words. And they can learn in a fun and interactive way.

"During infancy, children learn language skills faster and easier than at any other time in their lives. I developed this new multisensory reading approach to take advantage of this window of opportunity.

"It's easier to get them to watch the video before they learn to crawl or walk, because they are easily distracted," said Titzer.

"Forty percent of 8-year-olds can't read independently. ... It's a national crisis. Many kids are reading at low levels, and it is frightening," said Titzer.

"We normally start teaching children to read in the first grade because this is when they go to school. A national panel of reading specialists claimed that most reading problems would be eliminated if kids started to learn to read at an earlier age," said Titzer.

Children who can't read at grade level by the end of first grade may never catch up. And fewer than one in eight of them will ever attain the ability to read at grade level, he added.

Titzer's approach teaches little ones to recognize words using several senses at the same time, and is based on the theory that a multisensory reading approach may help new synapses form among the visual, auditory and somatosensory areas of the brain.

Titzer's goal is to help build a solid foundation for the future learning of children.

Baby learns to read

What: Early Learning Workshop for New Parents, at the New Baby Expo 2001
When: 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall
Cost: The workshop is free, but admission to the Baby Expo is $3.50; children 5 and under, free.

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