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Reading begins at home

Children respond to voices from the moment they are born and it is no surprise that they will respond to speech long before they can utter words themselves. Talk seems to follow as night follows day and by the time they reach three their incessant chatter makes one glad of nursery provision to bring quiet to the house. Life would be so much easier if only the ability to read would follow as easily as speech. The clue to success is in the variety as well as the number of words children can use. The greater the vocabulary the less difficulty a child will have in picking up reading skills. Ask any Primary School teacher.

We sing to children and say nursery rhymes, which they can soon repeat. Most people know only a dozen or so nursery rhymes and should buy a book of them. We read to them, no more than turning the pages of a picture book at the start - with running commentary - moving on to simple stories and fairy tales. All of which serves to extend vocabulary, but it really takes off when we provide our children with the words for the world around them and direct their senses to realising their properties. Toy manufacturers are aware of this and provide a variety of surfaces, textures, colours and even sounds to the things that go with early learning. It is up to the adult to provide the words.

A light-hearted running commentary on the little events of the day adds words. You talk through the simplest processes from bathing to changing nappies and the baby catches on: "Wash that baby's hand. Wash that baby's other hand," and you could be surprised how soon your words are anticipated and the other hand is held up. If we name things as we go about the house our children will pick up the names. Soon you might say "Put the teddy on the chair next to the door," and it happens, but only if the language is there. It is the same outdoors, noting colours, sounds and the textures of things. Even in the bleakest cities there are parks where one can realise the seasons in the changes to plant and animal life. The colours of flowers, a ladybird - how many spots does it have? - and the delicacy of a spider's web go unnoticed if attention is not drawn to them. Your delight in them is part of the process. When the same things appear in books it adds to the pleasure and more words and experiences are banked.

Helping children to be creative provides the greatest leap in language skills. A dressing-up box and the imaginative play it engenders are as important to a child as being read to. Crayoning and painting are pre-writing skills. When we put captions on artwork it encourages the desire to read. Loving books does the same.

One could almost say of the child's world that it is as big or as small as the number of words available to negotiate it. To sum up: the richer a child's vocabulary, the easier it will be to learn to read and write when the time comes.

Ron Morris