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Spaced repetition for teaching two-year olds how to read (chipmonk.substack.com)
86 points by rrift 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 100 comments



My boy is 11 now. We've used Anki with him every day since he was about 5.

Examples of things he's memorized, for fun:

* every country, recognized by unlabeled shape on the map

* spelling

* many body parts, names of bones and organs, from illustration

* chemical elements, by symbol (Na, Fe, Zn, etc)

* unix filesystem commands

* numeracy references (km from here to Japan, earth to sun, meters from home to school)

* recognizing/naming photos of places we've been since he was born

* recognizing musical instruments or musical pieces by listening

* notes on a piano

* religious facts (when Judaism began & who started it, when Muslims pray & towards what, where Jesus was born & died, etc)

* names of characters in books he's read

* wise aphorisms

He enjoys it, and dances around while answering, proud of himself. Sometimes when learning something new on YouTube, on his own, he'll say, "Dad can we add this to Anki? I want to remember this."


I recognized that name! https://sive.rs/srs


I don’t know why when I read through your list and see “Unix filesystem commands”, I find it oddly out off place and feels like this should not have been in the list, as if it is harmful like screen time.


> recognizing musical instruments or musical pieces by listening

I've been wanting to create such a deck for myself. Do you have a reference to what source material you used / a shared deck?


Super cool!

How did you get your son to do Anki? Has been doing it daily? Are you using some Anki app for kids?


We do it together. It's just a few minutes a day. Like brushing teeth, something you just have to do, but he usually enjoys it.

Regular Anki for iPad, Linux, MacOS, synced. Whatever device is handy.

I do the card entry. He just answers.


Could you point me to the printed card deck you used, I assume it’s not the app?


We use the app on whatever device is around: iPad, Mac, Linux, etc. They're synced through https://ankiweb.net/


Next Jeopardy finalist!


Incredibly cool. Any chance you’ll share your Anki stack?


Is Anki just an app or does it mean something else?


It’s an app for spaced repetition, but it also means “memorization” in Japanese.


The issue with this, that I see, is that these are anecdotes involving highly intelligent people teaching their own kids. And they are reporting it because they are very excited about the success.

I suspect that we are unlikely to hear from those who may have attempted the same, but didn't achieve much success. And I suspect that teaching a random person's child may not yield as much results as teaching the child of a genius like Larry Sanger.

So the only question is whether Larry Sanger's child would've been worse off without this particular type of instruction, and that is a counterfactual that we cannot answer.

I think it could also be the case that the adult intelligence level will not be greatly affected by any kind of learning technique or pace during childhood. But being ahead of your peers in school can help you get better grades and thus potentially more financial success in life.


Usually the problem isn't the kids but the parents. Educating a child that young is a lot of 1:1 work that takes up a lot of time (like many hours a day spaced with breaks in between) & unless you extract joy and satisfaction from seeing a child master basic skills for the first time, you're probably not going to be good at it. There's also logistical difficulties accomplishing that when you have two people working full time.


I tried to teach my kids reading when they were 3, after hearing about early readers on HN. I gave up after a few attempts because they didn't seem to grasp the difference between the letters I started with. I felt like they just weren't ready.


Daughter is highly intelligent (everyone says their kids is super, marvelous, gifted until they met her, then they never use these words with me...), I don't remember when she actually started reading but within 2 weeks she could decipher any text (phonic base learning, less than 20min a day), I think she was 3 and a half.

Until that point, she was interested by "reading", "writings" etc but clearly not ready : I was showing the first phonic in the book ( sssss sound ), and she would just say something else, yet I was sure she could recognize words.

So don't blame yourself, a kid is ready when he wants, just expose him to books, read for him etc.


> I tried to teach my kids reading when they were 3, after hearing about early readers on HN. I gave up after a few attempts because they didn't seem to grasp the difference between the letters I started with. I felt like they just weren't ready.

More likely that they were ready, and you weren't :-)

It's important to establish the routine and to never deviate from it. It's also important to ensure that the child never interrupts the lesson with something distracting (I always say "We're still in the lesson, we will look at that in a few minutes"). This is important, I found, as once you reach a specific tempo/cadence during a lesson, you don't want to disrupt that tempo.


Unless you absolutely force them, their interest is a huge factor in what they’ll learn. I started to read when I was 2 (presumably late 2), and my parents did nothing special but read to me. I just wanted to read, I was really into it, and I was able to associate the letters with the sounds.


> Unless you absolutely force them, their interest is a huge factor in what they’ll learn.

Whether you like it or not, at some point you are going to absolutely force them to learn something. Whether that is by sending them to a school, or teaching them yourself.

Most children would rather not spend time on a lesson if they could spend that time playing.


Kind of true, but also, what is a game and what is a lesson/chore is a very fuzzy line. My 2yo spent a long time picking up tree clippings and putting them into the bin, because it was fun and he could wear oversized gloves. Was it work/learning, yes. Was it play, also yes. The trend of gamification is trying to maximise that effect in many scenarios.


We try to make everything a game ("Let's see who can remain quietest the longest"), but even the slowest child sooner or later tires of a particular game. This is why I say make it a routine, not a game, because then it's a given, not a negotiation.

So, sure, you can make it a game to brush teeth each night, but then you have problems the night that the kid want's to play a different game with the toothbrush.

Making it a routine avoids that problem altogether.


True. I just question doing it (too much) at such an early age, if only because every time they play when they're 2 years old they're also probably learning as well. Just last night my daughter was putting Hotwheels down a ramp in different ways, trying to do 2 at once, etc.


Sure, but I'm not advocating for "too much".

My toddler has a routine - everyday we have a lesson at a particular point in time. No exceptions.

But ... I use my discretion. The minute he gets bored, or fidgety, or stops paying attention during the lesson (assuming that he wasn't so before the lesson), I end the lesson. I also change up the lesson plan if he seems (prior to even starting the lesson) irritable or in the wrong mood - "Today we are going to draw a picture of a car/toy/garden/etc".

This means that some days our lesson is 5m, some days it goes on for 40m (reare, but it happens), some days we learn to read something, some days we simply stroll in the garden examining bugs and the different colors they come in, some days we learn to write new words.

It's not a game[1] to him, it's a lesson, and it's not the lesson that's important, it's the routine. My intention is not primarily to teach him, it's to normalise the concept of homework before he reaches the point that he gets given any.

And, yeah, the routine is initially forced. Just like brushing teeth. Or bedtime. Or eating vegetables. After a week or too, there's no longer any actual bribing, cajoling, pleading or threatening going on to make him come to the lesson room.

Now, it just happens. Without the initial enforcement, things like lessons, brushing of teeth, baths, etc just wouldn't happen, so even the most progressive minded parent is still going to have to enforce stuff on the kid, whether they like to think of themselves as a non-forceful parent or not.

[1] Games are negotiable, games are optional, games are always fun, games are played at any time. Don't make the mistake of letting the child think of the lessons as a game; it makes it difficult to enforce the routine later. Instead, make the lesson fun, while making sure that the child does not confuse it with "game".

And yes, this is my second child. Calling lessons/learning a game really was an eye-opener for me with the first child.


Incorrect, it depends of the value you pass down to your kids.


> Incorrect, it depends of the value you pass down to your kids.

At some point, they will be unwilling to listen to you, so you have to enforce something or else you won't be passing down any values to them.

Kids don't magically know what is best for them. What we do is we force a routine until it becomes routine and then you don't have to force it anymore.

Brushing teeth? Some nights/mornings the kid will simply say no. Wearing clothes? Sometimes your toddler will simply say no. Eating veggies? Sometimes your kid will simply say no.

Whatever you do to get them to change their mind (cajoling, threatening, bribing) is, exactly, forcing your will on the child.

There is no such thing as raising a child without having to enforce some rules.


I had the same thought when I learned the kid was learning Hebrew. Kind of a tell.

I mean I don't want to discredit the possibility this helps a lot, let's just be real about the likely baseline.


In general, Hebrew with vowels (as it is usually taught to beginners) has well specified pronunciation. The emphasis is usually not written, which does occasionally leave a degree of freedom, but it’s much easier than English with its thousands of special cases (e.g. lower vs power, colonel in American English).

Everyday use does not use the vowels, and you are just supposed to know it or decide it from context - which is harder than in English, even though English has its share of difficulty here (e.g. the two ‘tear’s in “i shed a tear when I saw him tear the contract”)

And in case the missing vowels sound confusing - Hebrew and Arabic put vowels above and below the letters, not inline signaling like English.


That's not my point, it's that if they are Ashkenazi they are on average starting at 1-2 SD above baseline.


> much easier than English with its thousands of special cases

Relevant comic: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/pronounce


Frankly kids are language sponges. Just pop a kid in proximity to somebody speaking another language for a couple hours every few days, and they'll start being able to speak it at a basic level after less than a year.

Teaching a kid a language using flashcards is obviously different, but I don't think it indicates some kind of savant status by any stretch.


That's a huge generalization. There are many kids with speech delays, for example.


Yes. It is a huge generalisation. About the general case. Which is that kids don't have delays. That's why they're called delays. And that is why not having a delay does not indicate savant status.


Yeah I was just responding to the first of your statement, I agree with the second.

(There are a significant amount of kids with some developmental delay, and it can be disheartening to be the parent of a kid and think you're doing something wrong because "everyone knows" that "all kids pick up languages like sponges", that' the only reason I want to call it out as not being representative of everyone.)


I guess it's true that talking about these things as universal can have rhat effect. On the other hand, and not necessarily disagreeing with you, but playing devil's advocate a little here; sometimes it's important to make clear what normal development does look like so that a parent of a child with delays understands confidently that what they're seeing isn't normal development.

An acquaintance of mine has a son who's clearly delayed, probably autistic, but she's so steeped in "every child is different" rhetoric that she refuses to see the obvious, and it's going to be to his serious detriment unfortunately.

I guess the trick is to describe clearly what is normal while also cultivating a culture in which there's no shame attached to these kinds of delays.


I agree with the gist of your post, I think I'd just say that, when making observations, it's careful to qualify them.

Instead of "kids are like sponges with languages" you can say "most kids are like sponges with languages".

(I'm nitpicking, my comments aren't trying to say you did something wrong - I just wanted to point out that what you said only applies to most kids, not all.)


> I think it could also be the case that the adult intelligence level will not be greatly affected by any kind of learning technique or pace during childhood

Judit Polgár’s parents decided to basically test this assumption on their own children - they incorporated chess in their lives from a very early age, and it absolutely shown on their results. Sure, everything has a “nature” element, but the potential from that point can be utilized or wasted, depending on nurture.


That doesn't contradict his statement. Just that starting Chess specifically from an early age with a lot of instruction will make you very good at Chess. That doesn't mean anything about their intelligence level.

E.g. almost every famous athlete has been practicing their craft from a young ago, some of them pushed to practice much more than their peers. Some of them are then successful. I wouldn't call any of it proof of their adult intelligence, just skilled at gymnastics/tennis/swimming/whatever.


Did they not incorporate it with some of their children? Or what was the control?


Every other children? Sure, it’s not a report in Science, hence the apostrophes around test.


The part which is usually not mentioned Laszlo Polgar was himself a chess expert (publishing many books on chess) and a renowned psychologist, so very far from being just average parent.

The only result we get is that training a child from early age often gives them a significant edge in some specific field over children getting trained later. But that's a result known from many other sports as well.


I mean, the zero hypothesis for pretty much any trait should be that it has both a nurture and a nature component. We do know that results can be improved with nurture, and we also know that results can be significantly diminished as well with it (e.g. children not learning to speak by something like 5-6 years will never be able to). We only have indirect ways to measure intelligence (for example the former case of non-speaking children couldn’t complete an IQ test), so I think it is safe to assume that intelligence can be somewhat influenced by nurture as well.

(Also, I believe it is more common than not for a successful person to not have their children similarly successful, even though they usually go to top, elite schools and has good genetic traits. Of course there are plenty other factors, but I do believe that it points towards to my point)


> I think it is safe to assume that intelligence can be somewhat influenced by nurture as well.

Sure, but how does this experiment prove that? Polgar proved he can severely improve "chess IQ" if child is trained early, but how do you go from there to general intelligence?


What is general intelligence? IQ tests also can’t measure that, but chess is definitely at least a good indicator.


I think there is a positive correlation between chess ability and intelligence, but being a world-class chess player doesn't indicate having "world-class intelligence".

The problem is that the null hypothesis was that Polgar sisters will be highly intelligent, because their parents were highly intelligent. But we don't have indications that they would excel in any other intellectual field apart from chess.


> being a world-class chess player doesn't indicate having "world-class intelligence".

I agree, but if chess ability does have a positive correlation with intelligence, isn’t that enough “proof”, as intelligence itself allows for “excelling in other intellectual fields”?


> And I suspect that teaching a random person's child may not yield as much results as teaching the child of a genius like Larry Sanger.

Why do you believe that? Are there any studies proving the nature vs nurture debate? It seems like the techniques followed can be equally applied to all children, e.g. imagine this being officially taught in nursery schools.

> I think it could also be the case that the adult intelligence level will not be greatly affected by any kind of learning technique or pace during childhood

Again, where is this coming from? The child will start earlier and will have more time to learn more advanced subjects than their peers, which could definitely lead to higher intelligence at any given age


> Are there any studies proving the nature vs nurture debate

Yes, current research has IQ around 80% genetic in middle-class western society (where you don't have to worry about nutritional deficiency as a factor).


80% is generally the upper limit that studies have reported, and for teens / adults.

Heritability of IQ presents at a far lower rate for children: around 20%.


This is from my experience as a parent.

It's kind of common sense that spaced repetition is simple enough to be mastered by pretty much anyone. I mean dude, even orange cats can learn by rote repetition.

My son has memorized letters and numbers at least since 1y3mo, and at 2yo now, can sight read many words and verbalize arithmetic that I'm sure many children are doing intuitively in their heads at this age anyway but just cannot express to adults. There's no Anki involved.

We have a grandma caretaker who has the energy for half a day with him and teaches him all this stuff. His afternoon babysitters are very sharp. Like they're expensive, and I've gone through at least 10 babysitters. They all deeply teach the children they've taken care of, and I teach him, and his mom teaches him...

Are you getting it? This is a cultural issue.

Out of the 10 middle class or rich families I know in my community, by comparison, 9 send their kids to daycare; or the family has, shall I say, a kind of nanny that does not value education at all. These are equally educated and distinguished people as my wife and I. The one exception like us, while the parents are very gifted and the child is obviously thriving, the reason they chose not to use the typical, let's say California nanny or daycare situation, is for an ultimately very rare and fringe reason.

People here are going to litigate these specific methods. Dude, go watch what daycare is like for a 1y6m-3y11m. Do you comprehend what an utter shitbox of a time wasting experience it is, and how 1-2 parents per child isn't at all comparable to 4 children per daycarist? I think you agree with me, but Larry Sanger could have definitely nonetheless set back his precocious children through some very common, mindnumbingly stupid experiences adults subject their kids to for the first 2-3 years of their life.


I don’t think my daughter socializing with other children is a “shitbox of a time wasting experience.”

She enjoys it and learns a lot just being around older children. Probably more importantly, so far it seems she’s on the path to being an extrovert when my wife and I are both introverts that aren’t great at social situations. I think that will probably put her further ahead in life than learning to read or do math a year early.

Also, she only gets to be 2 once.


Piotr Wozniak, inventor and author of spaced repetition algorithms (invented the SM-2 algorithm used by Anki around 1986), states quite clearly in his research that these algorithms are not designed for children under about 7 (of course super high IQ children's brains are different).

He reviewed a vast amount of performance data to conclude that, and hypothesized that children's brain before that age is not designed for remembering vast amounts of data, but instead learn through exploration and other natural, non-academic means.


There is a false assumption here though, which is that spaced repetition/flashcards = learning vast amounts of data. It may simply be the case that learning to read via a small number of efficient flashcards is more effective than other learning methods.


Regardless of that hypothesis, this experiment was a huge success.


Also there's a lot of advantages of play-based open-ended learning especially at that age. That's what we've focused on instead of trying to put our kid through a curriculum or stuffing facts in their brain. (That said... he does seem to have the ability to memorize a lot of random dinosaur, insect, and LEGO facts anyway)


In the latest version, Anki has started experimenting with a new algorithm to replace SM-2, called FSRS. More info in the manual https://docs.ankiweb.net/deck-options.html#fsrs


Yes! I've read the research for FSRS. Been meaning to try it out, but put it off because the github instructions seemed complicated. But it's the logical evolution SR software.

IMO SuperMemo has no future unless it goes the open-source route. It's already partially broken due to its dependence on IE. Sad because I have so much data in SM.


I've been surprised that in Chinese education (notorious for memorization) there is no concept of flashcards

I wonder if any Chinese user can tell me what are the standard memorization techniques used

(tangentially, bc of the necessity of learning thousands of characters from what I gather reading levels in children are way behind. Getting to the point where you can read a news paper is a huge effort. Ie. Good memorization is essential to being literate and a functional member of society )


Not Chinese, but I have experience adapting traditional Chinese learning methods so that I could learn Literary Chinese (think of it as to East Asia as Latin [and Greek] has been to Europe), as well as academic knowledge of some of this from China studies and Linguistics at a graduate level.

Memorisation is largely just wrote. They repeat something until it sticks. Charactera are learned largely stroke by stroke by writing them out a ton, and many things are similar. A lot of literature is memorised verbatim.

Surprisingly, up to a point, this is actually really effwctive. And especially for young children, who can not only accept a lot of repitition, but often get a lot of joy out of it, it's very effective.

I myself even as an adult have managed to memorise dozens of poems in Literary Chinese, and even some prose. Once you get started it becomes quite addictive.

One way they make this easier though is similar to what things like Sesame Street and Play School do here. Put thjbgs to song.

Chinese language YouTube is full of videos with cute little animations, with ancient poetry set to music. Kids learn to sing along and do a little dance while they memorise 3,000 years of canon poetry and short prose. I've found these resources massively helpful.

At a certain point, once you've memorised enough of the stuff, you start being able to understand more and more novel material.

Edit: To reiterate, this works up to a point. Chinese education tends to use this hammer even when a screwdriver would be more appropriate, and for specific things there are more effective strategies. But especially for young children, a level of wrote memorisation with aids to make it more stimulating and fun is extremely effective for almost anything.


Song and rhymes! That makes a lot of sense :))


They learn the characters by writing a line of each character repeatedly. It's a super inefficient method.

1. Once you have written it once, repeating the motion doesn't help you memorize it because it's in your short term memory. Memory research has shown that it's more efficient to review information when some time has passed.

2. There's no system that builds on the graphical similarities of the characters, or based on the frequency of said characters. You will get thematic grouping of 冷 (extremely common word meaning cold) and 霜 (a more rare word meaning frost)

In Chinese classes in China for foreigners they similarly just tell you to write the new character. There's no explanation of radicals or whatever, just some stroke order considerations (which is the least important info) and sometimes the character composition when it's not obvious.

The way that people who research the topic learn characters is far better - use an app that tells you to write in the correct character in a time-based repetition manner split by most common characters. Even better would be to build up characters by common shapes (not necessarily radicals since a lot of common shapes are not radicals)


> Once you have written it once, repeating the motion doesn't help you memorize it because it's in your short term memory. Memory research has shown that it's more efficient to review information when some time has passed.

Memory research has shown that if you have a fixed number of repetitions and want to maximize recall in the long term, spacing practice out over time is better than massed practice once at the beginning but that same research also shows that if you have a fixed time interval, more repetitions are better than fewer. (The recall curve for massed practice starts higher but drops faster than spaced repetition.)

Making children write the same character ten times is about making sure they'll still remember next lesson, not so much about making them remember for years. The long-term part is handled by implicit spaced repetition due to occasional exposure in assigned texts and their own reading for entertainment.

For learning a foreign language, explicit spaced repetition is more necessary, because learners are rarely exposed to enough content to benefit from the implicit spaced repetition effect.


Well, it doesn't even work for the next lesson because repeating something in your short term memory doesn't do anything. I've tried it. You can write it a hundred times and still forget it in two days (been there, done that). Or you could do a flash card and first try to remember the character without seeing it. Then when you review it tomorrow (in the same way, first get the defition/pronunciation and try to REMEMBER), you will remember it somewhat without seeing it first and will be able to get started on writing it, maybe even remember the rest of it.


It seems like your criticism is that writing a character repeatedly doesn't help you recall which characters to use for a given word, with which I'll heartily agree – practice doesn't tend to make you better at things you aren't practicing.

But that's not what writing drills are about in the first place. Keep in mind native speakers are already advanced users of the spoken language by the time they're beginning to read and write, and the mechanical task of writing (just putting down the right strokes in the right order) requires relatively more effort. That's what the writing drills are supposed to help practice, and I think they work just fine for that purpose.

If you create flashcards that just show you a character and your task is to recreate it on paper, you may find that writing it repeatedly instead of just once helps you do better tomorrow. (Just at this task, which you may not care about much.)

Similarly, if you review your definition/pronunciation → character flashcards multiple times on the same day (e.g. in Anki by choosing "again" or "hard" for new cards, or by using the "cram" feature) you should be more likely to remember tomorrow. (This might also not be something you care about, unless you have an important test tomorrow – which is probably what Anki supports "cramming" for.)


I lived in Taiwan for years and there were plenty of students using flashcards for various subjects - maybe it's different for the mainland?


This may sound contrarian - I think memorisation work with young children is great but reading is more than memorising it involves decoding and mapping sounds and meanings in a very complex process that restructures the brain. There seem to be a few children who just make the leap to reading very young but most western education pushes very early reading when I believe many children are not developmentally ready and it is a type of mental torture that leads them to hate reading. Parents who read to children often transfer a great deal of knowledge of language, culture and whatever areas you read about. It also typically transfers an interest in reading. I’m not in any way advocating for withholding reading instruction from children who are interested but to not be caught in the drive for early “literacy” that seems to lead to so much pain and so little good in those very early years. I am not a professional educator - I had a very different path to literacy and have walked through that with my children and seen this in others.


I think people fetishize learning and discount the role of memorization. The two go hand in hand - memorization means you can quickly recall something. Quickly recalling relevant things / making it more autonomic means it's easier to learn things built on that.

That being said, the problem is actually usually the parents and not the kids. The reason is that you need to be an excellent child educator:

* Super patient. Kids have naturally short attention spans, can get overwhelmed & frustrated. Detecting that & knowing how to navigate that (i.e. do they need a rest & try again later or do they need to practice working through it).

* Meeting kids where they are. Kids normally are super curious naturally, but they have to be put in a position to succeed. You have to distinguish "this is hard" from "I don't really have any interest in this". The former requires carefully helping them through the problem. The latter is can be "ok - then you don't have to do it", but that's only once they have enough independence. When they're super young, there's a certain amount of external "no you have to do this" you have to teach them. When they're stubborn, you still have to be patient & find ways of working through it.

* Kids that young have to be engaged with daily for many hours. That can be challenging when you have two parents working full time.

Basically, the kids in the article have a huge advantage not only because the technique outlined is super effective, but also because the parents are super effective child educators: https://youtu.be/8U-Lza__Kko. Things to note in that video: the child goes off on tangents regularly & the mom lets it go because the kid is excited / happy & gently redirects attention back once some time has passed.


You can't map sounds when you can't remember the difference between b, d, p, q


Anki and spaced repetition are the single most impactful “technology” that for some reason, has almost been entirely ignored by professional educators. It’s really a shame, as flashcards (with color, images, etc. to make them appealing to kids) are really perfect for teaching repetitive skills like reading. Especially because of the short “reward loop” that comes from successfully remembering a card.


I have similar questions as a comment on the post:

- Does anyone know the exact protocol/methods used? Is it published anywhere? How atomic is "atomic" for fundamental cards like letters/numbers?

- How does progression work? When to incorporate numbers, words, capitals, etc?


While this sounds intriguing, I still don't feel great about shoving a screen in front of my two year old--especially when she already seems to be starting to learn to read from books with us. It makes me feel a bit like a Luddite, but I know she'll be hooked on digital devices soon enough.


I fully respect this guy's method but I'm with you on the screen avoidance. Something always feels off about that.

My son was reading / doing arithmetic by the time he turned three and we did it screenless. All I ever did was point to everything I was reading while I was reading it.

And for whatever it's worth as a parent of a kid way above his grade level doing math and reading I highly suspect that it's not that important ultimately. I just feel like teaching them stuff is more fun for me personally than listening to them watch paw patrol.


A screen is just a tool. It’s up to the parent how they will use this tool - for education, or just for keeping the kid busy. A child does not know that you can watch cartoons on your mobile until you show it to them. Until this point a mobile screen can be whatever you want it to be.


Well there's the screen part of it, but for me it's the idea of having a 2 year old drill and memorize facts every day. I'm sure many kids will enjoy the attention they receive from their parents for doing it. But this age is all about imaginative and pretend play, exploration, and learning by interacting with the world and others.


Why is it all about imaginative and pretend play? That was only a phenomenon for maybe fifty years of human history. Prior to that it was about learning survival skills or work skills.


What makes you think that young children haven't been pretend playing since the dawn of humanity? It's part of how children develop theory of mind and empathy, by walking through different roles and imagining how that person might behave. It's also how they process and internalize previous events. They'll reenact an event over and over.

Rough and tumble play is also thought to have some importance in child development, and it isn't limited to humans.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/imhj.21676 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S01497...


The trade off, I think, is that using a device allows for audio and video, which may be more compelling to kids than books.

Personally I think I would start with paper cards and then switch to a screen (Anki) after a couple years.


There are good screens and bad screens.


Maybe someone can advise me here but what are you supposed to do with kids that start reading and doing math early?

My three year old is reading and doing all the math I can throw at him and I was a dumb kid growing up so I have no idea what I'm supposed to do (ie private school, tutoring, testing, music lessons, educational psychologists, just chilling out and hiking with him etc)

Anyway loved reading about this guys method but was hoping for more guidance. If anyone has any thoughts or advice Im super curious / feeling lost.


Our kid show(s/ed) an aptitude for letters and numbers with a strong memory when she was around that age and we just ignored it. I just want my kid to have a "normal" upbringing. You are likely to get several differing opinions but here is a vote for "do nothing" and see what comes.


Check out Mentava [1] (backed by Garry Tan, IIRC). Their goal is to have kids reading and doing basic math much younger, so that they are ready for high school level coursework by the time they are in late elementary school. I heard about it after my kids were too old for the program, but it sounds interesting.

1: https://www.mentava.com/program


I'm a firm believer that formal education is obsolete, school is counterproductive and the whole institution and paradigm behind it is nothing more than hazing. I believe that everything academic that we want to teach young people, that is, everything other than what can only be learned through experience, can be taught in less than half the time we set aside in their lives for them to learn it. So when I see tools like Anki, and people using it to teach their 2 year olds to read, it validates my ideas.

I intend to teach my children reading, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, the civic structure of their society, financial competence, household management, basic physics enough to understand the world around them, and good vocabulary by the age of 10. I intend to use a process that instils a sense of curiosity enough that they'll then go on to learn about topics they're interested in at their leisure. I think the Internet's most powerful impact has been universal access to unbelievable amounts of knowledge, and I'd like to leverage that once unfathomable access that I've enjoyed as an adult to help them learn at a young age, I think one day it will be joked about that in our time a 12 year old doesn't know what a quark is, that people paid institutions significant sums just to learn about a topic, that knowledge credentials were the limiting factor in what work you could do. It really is an amazing time to be alive.


I learned to read at early 3. Can’t tell you if context or not because I don’t remember, what I know is that I don’t have any memories where I don’t know how to read well. I would sit on my dads lap and read the paper with him on Sundays after/during the F1 race or local races. One day my mom saw me just reading to myself out loud. Perhaps Sundays were the repetition and the 7 days the space.

I can’t say this has given me any advantages in adult life. I had a gf that had terrible vision her whole youth and was basically blind until 9, so she learned to read at 9. I’d say we weren’t that far apart in “smarts”.


Kind of curious how this works. Just doing letters is not going to teach anyone how to read.


For some languages (like Polish) it is nearly sufficient. I imagine for others it will basically suffice (perhapes e.g. Malay and Indonesian). Good luck with Chinese and other tonal languages, as well as Japanese (no word borders), Korean (dual and triple phonemes on a single grapheme and the order of phonemes on them), and Hebrew without nikud (little friendly smirk).

As of English, we come to funny question here, as in it the mapping from graphemes to phonemes is extremely irregular.


> As of English, we come to funny question here, as in it the mapping from graphemes to phonemes is extremely irregular.

IME, it's mostly regular; there are patterns (pronunciation of "ou" in the middle of a word, "tion" at the end of a word, adding "ing" to a word), but there are also exceptions (plural of mouse vs plural of spouse).

Just by pattern recognition alone you'd likely cover 90% of common English words. Of course, that involves recognising the pattern: "lon" in "alone" and "along" is not the pattern, while "lo" is the pattern ("*[aeiou][^aeiou]e" is a pattern)

They way I've explained it to my toddler is by giving the middle vowel a different pronunciation when a word ends in a consonant followed by 'e' (lace, eke, fine, alone, mule) than when the 'e' is missing (can, ten, tin, don, pun).

I've also switched a little to teaching syllables: 'tr' and 'am' can be pieced together. So can 'tr' and 'ai' and 'n'.

Still using the distar alphabet though.


> IME, it's mostly regular; there are patterns (pronunciation of "ou" in the middle of a word, "tion" at the end of a word, adding "ing" to a word), but there are also exceptions (plural of mouse vs plural of spouse).

I’d like to give you a _tour_ of my _doubts_ _about_ this, but the _courier_ has just arrived with _four_ _doughnuts_ (and their _colour_ is popular in Britain)

Not to mention the _lower_ _tower_ I see across the street.

We get used to these things at an early age, but compared to many other languages, English is highly irregular.


I have the happy experience of seeing my son learning Japanese and English at the same time, and it’s bizarre how different it is. Learning the kana might be a bit harder, but now that he’s there he can read any word out loud correctly.

In English? Hoo boy. Knowing how you spell a word doesn’t help you at all with how it’s said. Then on top of that the names of the letters are completely different from how you sound them. It’s no surprise that phonics is something ‘important’ in the English language when the whole concept doesn’t exist elsewhere.


> I’d like to give you a _tour_ of my _doubts_ _about_ this, but the _courier_ has just arrived with _four_ _doughnuts_ (and their _colour_ is popular in Britain)

Right, those are the exceptions I mentioned. There's more, but even in that list, those are not singular exceptions, they're different patterns.

They only stop being patterns when, as you did, match the shortest subsequence and not the longest subsequence.

Even in the exception list, you have patterns: about and doubt rhyme. If you're Canadian, they also rhyme with dough. four and the 'cour' in courier rhyme. colour and honour rhyme.

If we're using regexes, for example, we match the longest subsequence, not the shortest, so "ough" is the pattern in "dough", not "ou". Then it rhymes with though, furlough.

The examples I gave, like `tion` as a suffix, should have been clear that I meant the matching the longest pattern (otherwise it would be matched as 'ti' and 'on').

> We get used to these things at an early age, but compared to many other languages, English is highly irregular.

Sure, but I didn't dispute that, I contended that 90%+ of common usage is pattern recognition, like doubling of consonants, words ending in `e`, or starting with `in`, etc.

An english reader encountering `shibboleth` for the first time will pronounce it correctly, and I claim that that is true for 90% of words in common english usage, because even the simplest words have differing patterns and so readers are forced to learn pattern recognition as a very basic and foundational part of english.

It is not as dire as phrase "English is highly irregular" would suggest. To my mind, a highly irregular language would have at least half the words following no pattern, for example rhyming "moot" with "dad". Examples of non-patterns like that are, to my knowledge, not in english.

I mean, you could claim that "caught" and "court" are pronounced exactly the same, and I'd point out that both are parts of larger patterns - 'taught', 'aught' and 'caught' are a pattern, while 'court', 'pour', 'rigour' are a different pattern, hence they are both examples of patterns, they just not in the same group of patterns.

Look at your final example - lower and tower: lower, grower, mower are all part of one pattern. tower, bower and shower are all also part of a pattern, but it's a different pattern to the previous pattern.

You will not, in english, easily spell a word that is not part of some pattern[1].

[1] Although, if you're up to the challenge, I welcome examples of spelling that is not part of any pattern ... :-)


Your “at least half the words” requirement is an strong English bias. I suspect no language is highly irregular by that requirement.

In many languages though, the irregulars are at single digit percentage - sometimes even zero.

And there are easily some that are not part of a pattern: “colonel” (pronounced “kernel”). American “herbal” (pronounced “erbal”), autophagy (with the emphasis on “to”, unlike any other word that starts with “auto”).

And there are ambiguous ones which in fact fit multiple patterns - e.g. “route”, british more like “flute”, American like “house”. Not to mention to-mate-o to-ma-to and either. And injured vs insured.

I don’t think anyone whose first language is regular (like German, or Japanese) would agree with your claim that English is not highly irregular.

If you need an order of magnitude more patterns to properly pronounce words (and you do) it’s a difference in quality, not just quantity.


TLDR: I agree with everything you said - on the spectrum of regularity, english is at the extreme end of irregular. The exceptions are words from other languages that are part of english. Pointing out that UK english differs from US english is not an example of irregularity. Someone who learned one of them, learned one of them.

============================

But, that being said, it still has mostly patterns. After all, we started this conversation with you throwing out examples of what you thought were non-regular words, which all turned out to be pattern-based anyway.

You had make multiple attempts to find a non-pattern word.

IOW, you are still learning patterns, mostly - you found 1 exception in colonel below; I offer 2 more with the words 'soldier' and 'lieutenant' (mostly to demonstrate that, yes, I agree with you that english has some non-regular words).

> And there are easily some that are not part of a pattern: “colonel” (pronounced “kernel”).

This is a good example of an actual non-regular word. All the other english words that are borrowed from other languages probably are each an example of a non-regular word (for example, rendezvous).

There's nothing you can do about this sort of thing. The only alternatives I can think of are:

1. Keep the language pure and not borrow any words from other languages,

2. Make up new words.

In this regard, borrowing seems to be the better option, with the result that non-regularity is introduced.

> American “herbal” (pronounced “erbal”),

Still a pattern: honor, homage, heir, all with silent 'h' for US english and and non-silent in UK english.

Even for something with a larger pronunciation difference, such as 'solder' ('sodder' vs 'solder'), 'sodder' still fits some pattern - a silent 'l' (yolk, salmon, walk, talk).

> autophagy (with the emphasis on “to”, unlike any other word that starts with “auto”).

Autonomy/Autonomous, Automaton. There may be more, but that's certainly a pattern.

> If you need an order of magnitude more patterns to properly pronounce words (and you do) it’s a difference in quality, not just quantity.

Speaking as someone who is bilingual, I don't think it's even the number of patterns that matter (for someone speaking a language, the difference between knowing 10 patterns and 100 patterns is negligible - ask any native english speaker if they have problems with communication with other english speakers).

For example, in Kanji, for common usage, you still need to memorise around 3000 patterns. Native english speakers get by on maybe 300 patterns.

The problem isn't the number, I think, it's the ambiguity: which pattern to use for a specific word. It's still only a few patterns compared to a highly regular language like Kanji, but the ambiguity means that a little native language knowledge is necessary to determine the specific pattern.

Anyway, I think we've both said enough on this topic, so Cheers :-)


I think my main issue is with your choice of the word "pattern", as something you can match against .... Because the patterns are sometimes the entire word (lower vs. tower, cough vs dough). That's not the meaning I usually associate with pattern (in the context of pattern matching).

If you had used "classes", I probably wouldn't have bothered responding in the first place... "cough" falls in the same class "rough", and "dough" does not. And those classes each match a terser pattern ("ough"). But having matches the terser pattern, you are not better off knowing how to pronounce it than knowing the entire word.

Thanks for an interesting discussion, and cheers !


Yeah, I honestly can't think of any language where spelling is as difficult as English. Japanese: the 2 phonetic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) are extremely easy to learn IMO, nearly all letters are either vowels or a consonant-vowel pair. Russian: very phonetic, there are some exceptions to how things are pronounced but the rules are very regular. Even French, which has tons of silent letters and heck, silent syllables, is very regular, and I nearly always know how to pronounce something if I read it.


For Japanese, the choose to talk only about the phonetic system is doing a lot of work, as it is (mostly) just used for grammatical purposes, with most content words being mostly or entirely composed of the non-phonetic Kanji. A typical Japanese student is still learning to write until high school. Presumably, Chinese is similarly difficult for the same reason, but I'm not familiar with that.

Hebrew's writing system has vowels, but they are typically omitted.


Are phonemes relevant when reading?


Was extremely important for someone who learned as a native to read Polish around age of three. First part was learning a mapping grapheme to phoneme for single symbol. Then came a second part - for a day or three picking out that symbol from raw text of newspapers, trying to pronounce its sound every time it was found. Then as more and more symbols were learned, looking up one symbol for a while, then another for some time, then when nearing learning a whole alphabet mixing the patterns to lookup wildly. After memorizing some 20/26 symbols, learning the connecting the sounds, and you could read simple words by then. But again polish is extremely regular language in that sense but a very few of irregular short symbol sequences.


Ok, what I really meant was "are phonemes required for reading?" given that was what was implied by the above thread.

Deaf people learn how to read (in every language), so clearly they are not required.


Yes. Subvocalisation is a fundamental part of reading. Even in scripts that (ostensibly) have no ruleset for phonemic mapping (e.g. Chinese), written language has a "voice" for accomplished readers.


Yeah, I know all the letters in English and it's a 50/50 if I read a word I haven't seen before correctly.

I guess Hebrew is more phonetic, especially if written with nikud, so if you knew the letters you could probably read correctly.

No idea about Spanish.


Spanish spelling is so regular that my mom, a first and second year middle and high school Spanish teacher, promised on the first day that you’d be able to read out just about anything within two weeks. Your accent would be atrocious, and of course you wouldn’t actually understand what you were saying, but an attentive native speaker would understand what you read out.


It's absolutely a prerequisite for literacy.




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