Very few people buy a book for the purpose of disagreeing with it.
The fact that you’ve bought this book means that, no matter how improbable the title sounds, you’ve got a healthy suspicion that it is possible to teach your baby how to do math, and in that suspicion you are entirely correct.
Indeed you can, and with a degree of success that even you as parents could not have dreamed to be possible.
It will help you to understand how simply this can be done as well as how incredibly far you can take your baby in math, and the great joy that you and your baby will know in doing it, if you understand the way in which it all came about.
The staff of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential have had a glorious love affair going with mothers for the last thirty-ﬁ ve years. As the director of The Institutes, I must say it has been a great affair, altogether rewarding and fulﬁlling.
The affair began poorly and was actually forced upon both the parents and us as a sort of blind date. Mutual trust was low and suspicion was high. It would never have happened in the ﬁ rst place if it hadn’t been for the hurt kids and their staggering needs. It was their need that forced parents and us into each other’s arms.
In the 1940s the parents of severely brain-injured children had no reason to be grateful to professional people and little reason to trust them. In those days the professional people believed that merely to talk of making a brain-injured child well was not only the worst kind of foolishness but that to do so, even as an objective, was somehow deeply immoral. Many professional people still so believe.
We, as professional people who were daily con- fronted with children who were paralyzed, speech- less, blind, deaf, incontinent, and who were universally considered to be hopelessly “mentally retarded,” harbored deep suspicion of parents. Even our own early group that was to become the staff of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential began with the unspoken but common professional belief that “all mothers are idiots and that they have no truth in them.” This myth, which is still prevalent, has the tragic result that nobody talks to mothers, and the good Lord knows that nobody listens to them.
Beginning with that belief, as we did, it took us several years to learn that mothers, closely followed by fathers, know more about their own children than anybody else alive.
Myths die hard and the process of unlearning is a great deal harder than the process of learning, and for some people, unlearning is simply impossible. It is frightening for me to admit that if the staggering needs of the brain-injured children hadn’t forced us into daily nose-to-nose contact with their parents, we would never have learned the truly extraordinary love that parents have for their children, the profound depth of appreciation they have for their children’s potential abilities, and the seemingly miraculous accomplishments they can make possible for their children when they understand the very practical way in which the human brain works.
Suspicion dies slowly and true love must be earned. Often, necessity is not only the mother of invention but also the basis for the beginning of love and understanding if neither party can afford the luxury of running away.
Since the brain-injured children needed help desperately, we and the parents were forced into each other’s arms in a marriage not merely of convenience but of necessity.
If the hurt children were to have any sort of life worth living it quickly became apparent that both we and their parents were going to have to devote every moment of our lives to bringing this about.
And so we did.
Beginning a project in clinical research is like getting on a train about which we know little. It’s a venture full of mystery and excitement, for you do not know whether you’ll have a compartment to yourself or be going second class, whether the train has a dining car or not, what the trip will cost or whether you will end up where you had hoped to go or in a foreign place you never dreamed of visiting.
When our team members got on this train at the various stations, we were hoping that our destination was better treatment for severely brain-injured children. None of us dreamed that if we achieved this goal we would stay on the train till we reached a place where brain-injured children might even be made superior to unhurt children.
The trip has thus far taken thirty-ﬁ ve years, the accommodation was second class, and the dining car served mostly sandwiches, night after night, often at three in the morning. The tickets cost all we had, some of us did not live long enough to ﬁ nish the trip—and none of us would have missed it for anything else the world has to offer. It’s been a fascinating trip.
The original passenger list included a brain surgeon, a physiatrist (an M.D. who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation), a physical therapist, a speech therapist, a psychologist, an educator and a nurse. Now there are more than a hundred of us all told, with many additional kinds of specialists.
The little team was formed originally because each of us was individually charged with some phase of the treatment of severely brain-injured children—and each of us individually was failing.
If you are going to choose a creative ﬁeld in which to work, it is difﬁcult to pick one with more room for improvement than one in which failure has been 100 percent and success is nonexistent.
When we began our work together thirty-ﬁve years ago we had never seen or heard of a single brain-injured child who had ever gotten well.
The group that formed after our individual failures would today be called a rehabilitation team. In those days so long ago neither of those words was fashionable and we looked upon ourselves as nothing as grand as all that. Perhaps we saw ourselves more pathetically and more clearly as a group who had banded together, much as a convoy does, hoping that we would be stronger together than we had proved to be separately.
We discovered that it mattered very little (except from a research point of view) whether a child had incurred his injury prenatally, at the instant of birth or post natally. This was rather like being concerned about whether a child had been hit by an automobile before noon, at noon or after noon. What really mattered was which part of his brain had been hurt, how much it had been hurt, and what might be done about it.
We discovered further that it mattered very little whether a child’s good brain had been hurt because his parents had incompatible Rh factors, because his mother had an infectious disease such as German measles during the ﬁrst three months of pregnancy, because there had been an insufﬁciency of oxygen reaching his brain during the prenatal period, or because he had been born prematurely. The brain can also be hurt as a result of protracted labor, of a fall on the head which causes blood clots on the brain, of a high temperature with encephalitis, of being struck by an automobile, or of a hundred other factors.
Again, while this was signiﬁcant from the research point of view, it was rather like worrying about whether a particular child had been hit by a car or a hammer. The important thing here was which part of the child’s brain was hurt, how much it was hurt, and what we were going to do about it.
In those early days, the world that dealt with brain-injured children held the view that the problems of these children might be solved by treating the symptoms that existed in the ears, eyes, nose, mouth, chest, shoulders, elbows, wrists, ﬁngers, hips, knees, ankles and toes. A large portion of the world still believes this today.
Such an approach did not work then and could not possibly ever work.
Because of this total lack of success, we concluded that if we were to solve the multiple symptoms of the brain-injured child we would have to attack the source of the problem and approach the human brain itself.
While at ﬁrst this seemed an impossible or at least monumental task, in the years that followed, we and others found both surgical and nonsurgical methods of treating the brain.
First we tackled the problem from a nonsurgical standpoint. In the years that followed, we became persuaded that if we could not hope to succeed with the dead brain cells, we would have to ﬁnd ways to reproduce in some manner the neurological growth-patterns of a normal child. This meant understanding how a normal child’s brain begins, grows and matures. We studied intently many hundreds of normal newborn babies, infants and children.
As we learned what normal brain growth is and means, we began to ﬁnd that the simple and long- known basic activities of normal children, such as crawling and creeping, are of the greatest possible importance to the brain. We learned that if such activities are denied to normal children, because of cultural, environmental or social factors, the potential of these children is severely limited. The potential of brain-injured children is even more affected.
As we learned more about ways to reproduce this normal physical pattern of growing up we began to see brain-injured children improve—very, very slightly.
It was about this time, after working for several years with the parents, that our mutual suspicions disappeared. Love and trust were dawning. So thoroughly had we begun to trust our parents’ love and innate good sense that we stopped treating the children ourselves and taught the parents all we had learned about the brain, laid out programs for the children, and sent the parents home to carry them out. Results got better, rather than declining. Our respect for parents rose considerably.
It was also at about this time that the neuro-surgical components of our team began to prove conclusively that the answer lay in the brain itself, by developing successful surgical approaches to it.
A single startling method will serve as an example of the many types of successful brain surgery which are in use today to solve the problems of the brain-injured child.
There are actually two brains, a right brain and a left brain. These two brains are divided right down the middle of the head from front to rear. In well human beings the right brain (or, if you like, the right half of the brain) is responsible for controlling the left side of the body, while the left half of the brain is responsible for running the right side.
If one half of the brain is hurt to any large degree, the results are catastrophic. The opposite side of the body will be paralyzed, and the child will be severely restricted in all functions. Many such children have constant and severe convulsive seizures that do not respond to any known medication.
It need hardly be said that such children also die. The ancient cry of those who stood for doing nothing had been chanted over and over for decades. That cry was that when a brain cell was dead it was dead and nothing could be done for children with dead brain cells, so don’t try. But by 1955 the neurosurgical members of our group were performing an almost unbelievable kind of surgery on such children; it is called hemispherectomy.
Hemispherectomy is precisely what that name implies—the surgical removal of half the human brain.
Now we saw children with half a brain in the head and with the other half, billions of brain cells, in a jar at the hospital—dead and gone. But the children were not dead.
Instead we saw children with only half a brain who walked, talked and went to school like other children. Several such children were above average, and at least one of them had an l.Q. in the genius area.
It was now obvious that if one half of a child’s brain was seriously hurt, it mattered little how good the other half was as long as the hurt half remained. If, for example, such a child was suffering convulsions caused by the injured left brain, he would be unable to demonstrate his intelligence until that half was removed in order to let the intact right brain take over the entire function without interference.
We had long held that, contrary to popular belief, a child might have ten dead brain cells and we would not even know it. Perhaps, we said, he might have a hundred dead brain cells and we would not be aware of it. Perhaps, we said, even a thousand.
Not in our wildest dreams had we dared to believe that a child might have billions of dead brain cells and yet perform almost as well as and sometimes even better than an average child.
Now the reader must join us in a speculation. How long could we look at Johnny, who had half his brain removed, and see him perform as well as Billy, who had an intact brain, without asking the question, What is wrong with Billy? Why did not Billy, who had twice as much brain as Johnny, perform twice as well or at least better?
Having seen this happen over and over again, we began to look with new and questioning eyes at average children.
Were average children doing as well as they might?
Here was an important question we had never dreamed of asking.
In the meantime, the nonsurgical elements of the team had acquired a great deal more knowledge of how such children grow and how their brains develop. As our knowledge of normality increased, our simple methods for reproducing that normality in brain-injured children kept pace. By now we were beginning to see a small number of brain-injured children reach normality by the use of the simple nonsurgical methods of treatment which were steadily evolving and improving.
It is not the purpose of this book to detail either the concepts or the methods used to solve the multiple problems of brain-injured children. Other books, already published or at present in manuscript form, deal with the treatment of the brain-injured child. However, that such problems are being solved daily is of signiﬁcance in understanding the pathway that led to the knowledge that normal children can perform inﬁ nitely better than they are doing at present. It is sufﬁcient to say that extremely simple techniques were devised to reproduce in brain-injured children the patterns of normal development.
As an example, when a brain-injured child is unable to move correctly he is simply taken in an orderly progression through the stages of growth which occur in normal children. First he is helped to move his arms and legs, then to crawl, then to creep, then ﬁnally to walk. He is physically aided in doing these things in a patterned sequence. He progresses through these ever higher stages in the same manner as a child does in the grades at school and is given unlimited opportunity to utilize these activities.
A program of this kind having been initiated, we soon began to see severely brain-injured children whose performance rivaled that of children who had not suffered a brain injury. And as the techniques improved even more, we began to see brain-injured children emerge who could not only perform as well as average children but, indeed, who could not be distinguished from them.
As our understanding of neurological growth and normality began to assume a really clear pattern, and as our nonsurgical methods for the recapitulation of normality multiplied, we even began to see some brain-injured children who performed at above-average, or even superior, levels, without surgery.
It was exciting beyond measure. It was even a little bit frightening. It seemed clear that we had, at the very least, underestimated every child’s potential.
This raised a fascinating question. Suppose we looked at three equally performing seven-year-olds: Albert, half of whose brain was in a jar; Billy, who had a perfectly normal brain; and Charley, who had been treated nonsurgically and who now performed in a totally normal way although there were still millions of dead cells in his brain.
What was wrong with nice, average, unhurt Billy?
What was wrong with well children?
Although we were by now working seven-day weeks and eighteen-hour days, each day and hour charged with excitement, we were not doing so alone. So also were the parents, whose own excitement came from the unbelievable things that their hurt children were doing. The love affair had, by the early sixties, produced many hurt children who were totally well in every way and several who were superior. They had become so at home. The love affair worked both ways and had now reached a peak from which it would never fall. What indeed was wrong with well children?
For years our work had been charged with the vibrancy that one feels prior to important events and great discoveries. Through the years the all-enveloping fog of mystery which surrounded our brain-injured children had gradually been dissipated. We had also begun to see other facts for which we had not bargained. These were facts about well children. A logical connection had emerged between the brain-injured (and therefore neurologically dysorganized) child and the well (and therefore neurologically organized) child, where earlier there were only disconnected and disassociated facts about well children. This logical sequence, as it emerged, had pointed insistently to a path by which we might markedly change man himself—and for the better. Was the neurological organization displayed by an average child necessarily the end of the path? Now, with brain-injured children performing as well as, or better than, average children, the possibility that the path extended further could be fully seen.
It had always been assumed that neurological growth and its end product, ability, were a static and irrevocable fact: this child was capable and that child was not.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact is that neurological growth, which we had always considered a static and irrevocable fact, is a dynamic and ever-changing process.
In the severely brain-injured child we see the process of neurological growth totally halted.
In the “retarded” child we see this process considerably slowed. In the average child it takes place at an average rate, and in the superior child, at above-average speed. We had now come to realize that the brain-injured child, the average child and the superior child are not three different kinds of children but rather represent a continuum ranging from the extreme neurological dysorganization that severe brain injury creates, through the more moderate neurological dysorganization caused by mild or moderate brain injury, through the average amount of neurological organization that the average child demonstrates, to the high degree of neurological organization that a superior child invariably demonstrates.
In the severely brain-injured child we had succeeded in restarting this process, which had come to a halt, and in the retarded child we had accelerated it. It had become clear that the process of neurological growth could be speeded as well as delayed.
Having repeatedly brought brain-injured children from neurological dysorganization to neurological organization of an average or even superior level by employing the simple nonsurgical techniques that had been developed, there was every reason to believe that these same techniques could be used to increase the amount of neurological organization demonstrated by average children. One of these techniques is the teaching of very small brain-injured children to read.
Nowhere is the ability to raise neurological organization more clearly demonstrated than when you teach a well baby to read.
By 1963 there were hundreds of severely brain-injured children who could read and read well, with total understanding at two years of age. They had been taught to do so by their parents at home. Some of the parents had also taught their own well tiny children to do so.
We were ready and had all the information we needed to talk to mothers of well children, and so we did.
In May 1963 we wrote an article called “You Can Teach Your Baby to Read” for the Ladies’ Home Journal. Letters poured in by the hundreds from mothers who had taught their babies to read successfully and who had found great joy in the doing.
In May of 1964 we published a book called How to Teach Your Baby to Read; it was subtitled “The Gentle Revolution.” It was published in the United States by Random House and in Britain by Jonathan Cape.
Today that book is in ﬁfteen languages. The letters from mothers have continued to come in—by the thousands—and they still do.
Those letters report three things over and over again:
1. That it is much easier to teach a one-or two-year-old child to read than it is to teach a four-year-old; and easier to teach a four-year-old than to teach a seven-year-old.
2. That teaching a tiny child to read brings great happiness to both mother and baby.
3. That when a tiny child learns to read, not only does his knowledge grow by leaps and bounds, but so also does his curiosity and alertness—in short, that he clearly becomes more intelligent.
The mothers also posed exciting new questions for us to answer, and high among these questions was, Now that I’ve taught my two-year-old to read, shouldn’t it be even easier to teach him math, and if so, how do I go about doing it?
It took us ten long years to answer this question. At long last we’ve answered it and taught hundreds of tiny well kids and hurt kids to do math easily and with a degree of success that initially left us in open-mouthed astonishment. Now it is clearly our job to make that information available to every mother alive so that each can decide whether or not she wishes to take the opportunity to teach her own baby to do math. This book is our way of informing mothers that it can be done and how to do it.
And so you see, however improbable it sounds, your suspicion that you can teach babies to do math has a very ﬁ rm foundation in fact. High on the list of things that we ourselves have learned is that mothers are, by a long shot, the most superb teachers of children this old world has ever seen.
Have a lovely, loving, and exciting time.
P.S. There are no chauvinists at The Institutes, either male or female. We love and respect both mothers and fathers, baby boys and baby girls. To solve the maddening problem of referring to all human beings as “persons” or “tiny persons” we have decided in this manuscript to refer to all parents as mothers and all children as boys. Seems fair.
It will be helpful to the reader in understanding that tiny children are learning math if he understands, at least in a sketchy way, how The Institutes operate.
The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential are a group of seven Institutes which exist on the same campus in suburban Philadelphia. Three of these Institutes actually deal with children, while the remaining four are all scientiﬁc support Institutes or teaching Institutes for professionals or parents.
Of the three dealing with children, the Institute for the Achievement of Physiological Excellence is the oldest, and deals entirely with brain-injured children, designing programs and teaching their parents how to carry these out at home. The Institute for Human Development is for young adults with severe learning problems. The third, The Evan Thomas Institute, is for teaching new mothers how to teach their babies to read, do math and do a great many other things, and actually developed as a result of what had been done over past years in the other Institutes.
All three of these Institutes have as their objectives raising these infants, children and young adults to physical, intellectual and social ex