Glenn Doman – Reading without being taught

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Reading without Being Taught

by Aruna Raghavan

“And please bring Nirupama with you.” That was an invitation to meet Shri C. Subramaniam when he was the Governor of Maharashtra.

  • Nirupama was our three and a half year old who was taught by us at home : to read and to do math. And through stories, play acting and experiments we also taught history, geography and sciences. Shri Subramaniam had heard of our ‘home school’ and was desirous of seeing the results. Giving us a few minutes to settle ourselves, he asked Nirupama if she would read for him. Sure. So he picked up The Times of India with headlines that ran ‘Queen agrees to pay tax.’ She read the headlines and the first para. He then asked her if she knew what tax meant?
  • “Tax means giving money to the government.”
  • “Do you know any one who pays tax ?”
  • “Gandhiji did not pay tax for salt, so he was put in prison. Then all the young leaders began to fight the British.”
  • “Do you know, I was one of the young leaders ?” Nirupama laughed,
  • ” Of course not ! you couldn’t be; all those great leaders are all dead !!”

Shri Subramaniam looked surprised,then laughed.

Nirupama is now 12; her favourite authors are Asimov, Bach and Wodehouse; she enjoys Harry Potter and fantasy books. She has read Kamala Subramaniam, Rajaji and Munshi’s epics; has done a three month course in Sanskrit and Vedanta at Swami Dayananda’s Arsha Vidyashram Gurukulam; she knows three languages fluently and has begun on two more.
Does that make Nirupama a bespectacled, boring child? Not really; she is quite naughty, apt to say things very strongly and with a very funny turn of phrase.
And we, her parents, are we glad we taught her at home? Most certainly! It is the most joyous aspect of our life. To teach one’s own child the way one believes teaching should take place is a rare privilege.Of course it called for a lot of preparation.
Like parents everywhere we wanted to find ateaching method that would go best with the philosophy that teaching should take off from learning. For it is a fact that children begin learning much before any teaching ever takes place. For children learn from the moment they are born. First to breathe, then to taste and differentiate the soft arms of its mother from all the other arms.

We read Dr Glenn Doman’s books from the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential. His rationale of learning comes from the theory that the mental growth of a child is directly related to the physical growth of the child. The physical growth is seen through creeping, crawling, sitting, standing and ultimately walking straight and without help. Each of these milestones is an external and explicit growth of a child implying the growth of the brain. Growth of brain in turn implies neurological growth. Good hearing, sight, touch, taste, smell and breathing, which are the hallmarks of a good learner, are slowly finessed in the first five to seven years of a child’s life. How does a child learn? By using her senses and having the brain translate it for him. To take an example: every two year old * knows how to read Pepsi. How? Because she has had 5 pleasures at one go. She heard her parents say Pepsi [hearing], she was given something cold [touch], that fizzed in her mouth [taste], that looked quite dark [sight], and that smelt of nothing in particular. Now, it is hardly a surprise that she can read the word anywhere. By stimulating all her senses at the same time, her parentshavesuccessfully helped her learn a word on her own.
Doman builds on this; he says the child has demonstrated amply that she is capable of learning to read on her own. If we couldstimulate at least two of the senses simultaneously surely she could learn to read well and early.

The two most important senses used for reading are the eyes and the ears. Yet these sense organs themselves are not the teachers, for the eyes see but do not understand, the brain does not see but understands. The ears hear but do not understand, the brain does not hear but understands. It is the brain that does the important work of putting together what the eye has seen andwhat the ear has heardand coming up with a single idea. Reading, therefore, becomes a combined skill of the eye, ear and the brain and reading is said to be perfect when the three work in sync.

To enable a child hone her skills at using her senses, Doman developed and systematized the use of flash cards. The cards have large wordsso that a babe can see clearly and they are flashed at the child. As the card is flashed, the mother calls out the word. Thus a two pronged stimulation of seeing and hearing enables a child read.
Having read an apparently enjoyable and simple method, we started with Nirupama when she was two. A year ofregular, informal and almost exclusive time with her brought the results. How regular ? every day, Sundays included, since she did not recognize that the Lord needs a day.
At what time any time was learning time. If she refused her pomegranate juice vehemently, it was the ideal time to talk about Satyagraha! If the mug popped out of a bucket of water it was a chance to talk about pressure, air and vacuum.Exclusive discovering the world and seeing it through her eyes made every thing fresh and wonderful. So,time spent with her was a rare privilege.

But with specific reference to reading :

  • How often was a card flashed? Three times a day for a week.
  • At what speed? A second at a time.
  • How many can one flash at one sitting?5 cards for starters.
  • Total time taken in a day : 5cards x 1 second per card x 3 times = 15 seconds.

There was no attempt to teach the letters in the words. The reason,the word is seen as a whole. When we see a painting, we are not at first aware of all the individual features but we can recognise the Night watch by Rembrandt anywhere. We see a whole. Then, we begin to see the components that have gone to making it a masterpiece. So also with a two year old who is being taught to read. For her the words are pictures, each with their individual characters. Each word looks different from the other.She begins to ‘read’. With Nirupama we began withher favourite words : mountain, valley [we were living in a village in the Western Ghats], river, sand, peak. Now, none ofthose words look alike. So, it was so easy to identify and read. We began with a very modest five new words a day; by the end of the year, we were on to 40 + new words a day.

Our excitement can well be imagined. We rounded up kids her age and tried the experiment. It worked! Then we began workshops for parents in Mumbai who tried it with their children. Those who ‘played’ with their child regularly did well. Soon, we tried with rural children who were first generation literates. We were successful. Every success has its own secret. Ours were : regularity, being totally relaxed whilst converting teaching lessons to learning;knowing that if a child does not know the word today she will tomorrow;never boring the child by showing the same cards over and over again.


Here is a beginning for those of you who would like to try with your child.
The most interesting words for any child are : mother, father, kiss, milk,your baby’s name,tata.

How to show the cards?

  1. Flash the cards and call out the card at the same time. If yours is an infant above 3 months, put her on her back onthe bed as you show the cards. The card should be at a distance ofone foot from your babe’s face. The first few times your babe may not respond because the exercise is new. But by day three, she will wait for the cards, smile or kick her legs or become still to show that she is enjoying this new game.
  2. For the six months up, sit your babe. She will even show greater response for some cards than for others. The one year old will show you in no uncertain terms that she knows her first set of cards. For the two and three year olds, you could have her sit opposite and close to you and put the cards on the floor. This way you could watch your child and see if she is enjoying the cards. Place the cardsone ontop of another so that two cards cannot be seen at the sametime .The two and three year olds will want more cards, so you could make a second set : banana, orange, grapes, apples, loves.

So, here’s an exciting, fun filled week.. Next week, we shall see exactly what happened to your child and why not to spell the words as you flash them.
In the meanwhile, do write and tell us how staggered you are by your child!

How to make cards:

Materials required :

  • White chart papers cut into 4″ by 24″ strips.
  • Red marker wide tip pens.
  • Centre the words to give space for your fingers as you show the cards.
  • Points to remember whilst making cards :
  • Letters have to be 3” high;
  • Use only lower cases except in cases of proper nouns;
  • The letters have to be thick and bold;
  • Use only print [ do not use cursive, stencils, shadow writing]
  • Use only one colour for all cards, preferably red.