Is whole word reading bad for your child?

Hi, my name is Elizabeth and I’m new to this site. I would like to share some scientific findings and shed some light onto the “phonics versus whole word” debate. Hopefully this will help parents in making an informed decision about how they want to approach reading instruction with their child. If whole word reading is going to damage their brain, then certainly we should run away from it as fast as possible.

Let me start off by saying that I was taught to read on strict phonics. After all, phonics is the more LOGICAL way: words are made up of letters, and each letter represents a certain sound, and reading is about decoding symbols and discovering what those words say, right? Wrong. Let me show you what I mean:

Acdicorng to a rcesearh at Cbmraigde Uinsiertvy, it deson’t mtaetr waht odrer the lteetrs in a wrod are in, the olny ipmroatnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat lteter be in the rgiht plcae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can slitl raed it wtiuot a porlbem. Tihs is bceasue the mnid deos not raed erevy lteter by isteslf, but the wrod as a wohle, and the barin fgiuers it out aynawy. Cool!

If you can read the paragraph above, that means that you’re a decent reader. The letters are all mixed up, but you can read it anyway because the first and last letter are in the right place. That’s because our brains read whole words and even whole sentences at once, not letter by letter. That is why there are many words that you can read just fine but you cannot spell: reading is not about “reading” and decoding letters, but about the brain taking in whole words and interpreting the written symbol:

“Very young children can and do learn to read words, sentences, and paragraphs in exactly the same way they learn to understand spoken words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Again the facts are simple – beautiful but simple. We have already stated that the eye sees but does not understand what is seen and that the ear hears but does not understand what is heard. Only the brain understands.
When the ear apprehends, or picks up, a spoken word or message, this auditory message is broken down into a series of electrochemical impulses and flashed to the unhearing brain, which then reassembles and comprehends in terms of the meaning the word was intended to convey.
In precisely the same manner it happens that when the eye apprehends a printed word or message, this visual message is broken down into a series of electrochemical impulses and flashed to the unseeing brain to be reassembled and comprehended as reading.
It is a magical instrument, the brain.
Both the visual pathway and the auditory pathway travel through the brain and where both messages are interpreted by the same brain process.
Visual acuity and auditory acuity actually have very little to do with it, unless they are very poor indeed.
There are many animals that see or hear better than any human being. Nonetheless, no chimpanzee, no matter how acute his vision or hearing, has yet to read the word “freedom” through his eye or understood it through his ear. He hasn’t the brain for it.” -Glenn Doman, How to Teach Your Baby to Read

Reading is a brain function that humans are born with. You do not have to have a knowledge of phonics or even know the alphabet in order to read, just as you do not have to have knowledge of grammar or spelling in order to speak.

Although some children start off “reading” by slowing [and painfully] decoding letters to figure out what word is trying to be portrayed (by the phonics method) all children who are successful readers eventually learn to read entire words and even entire sentences at once. (I.e., an adult who still “sounds out” every word and is unable to quickly and easily READ the page is considered functionally illiterate)


Another important fact parents should take into consideration when making an informed decision about how their child should learn to read is the fact that THE ONLY REASON THAT BABIES AND TODDLERS HAVE NOT ALREADY LEARNED HOW TO READ IS BECAUSE WE HAVE MADE THE PRINT TOO SMALL. Indeed, we speak LOUD and CLEAR so that the baby can hear what we say and learn to speak. If we were to make printed words LARGE and CLEAR then babies would read what we write and learn to read.

Indeed, there are many cases where small preschool children HAVE taught themselves to read perfectly fine. The television has made this more common (think of the words “GULF” flashing on the screen as the broadcaster loudly and clearly says, GULF! GULF!). No one ever thought these children were going to damage their brains when they picked up a book and started reading it by themselves: they thought the children were geniuses. Indeed, they are, as all little children are.


I have heard phonics proponents say that whole word reading causes dyslexia. And when I first heard about teaching babies to read, I highly feared that I might possibly cause my child harm. No one wants to harm their child, and if reading is going harm them, then we should avoid it at all costs.

But is this the case? Looking at the proof about WHAT READING REALLY IS, that

1. It is a brain function that humans are born with
2. We read whole words and even whole sentences at onces
3. All babies would learn how to read all by themselves, just as they learn how to talk by themselves, if we had not made the print so small

I understand that these claims [about whole-word reading causing dyslexia] are impossible. How can something that babies have a natural aptitude for harm them? Certainly, if we spoke in whispers and babies never learned to talk, when we found a baby who could talk we would find it strange and think the parent was harming him. This has been the same way with reading: although babies have a natural aptitude for it and their brains are PROGRAMMED to read words, since babies we know do not read, we find it strange and think that the parent is harming the child.

So, parents must consider all the facts and understand what reading really is when they make the choices about teaching their child. The age of your child makes a big difference in their ability to read, as the results in teaching a six-year-old will be much different than teaching a six-month-old. If we waited until a child was six before teaching him to speak, we could expect to have some difficultly. So it is therefore reasonable to understand where some of these studies about reading problems associated with whole-word reading have come from. Indeed, these studies are based out of public school instruction which begins at six or seven years of age, and teaching a six- or seven-year-old how to read is going to have a lot more problems, since his brain is virtually done growing and his ability to absorb information quickly and easily has diminished significantly. You cannot read into these studies and think the results will be the same for a young child being taught at home.

I hope that this information has helped you. Please feel free to leave your comments, remarks, and responses.