One of the best methods of teaching children language and communication skills is by using books. Looking at picture books, having a story read from a book and having words and pictures pointed out will all help a child to associate objects and language, and eventually lead to the desire to read and write for himself.
Even a small baby will enjoy sitting on his mother’s or father’s knee while his parent turns the pages of a book, pointing at the pictures and saying simple words. At first the baby is just enjoying the closeness of his parent, the cuddling and the voice, but quite quickly he begins to enjoy looking at the colourful, simple outlines and will start to imitate the word sounds.
First books should be bright and colourful, have simple pictures of familiar objects with uncluttered background, and be made of thick board or be rag books, so that the baby can clutch them or chew them. Examples are the first set of Ladybird books, which show simple everyday objects. It is very easy to make such a book from stiff card and thick coloured pens. The pages can even be given a clear plastic finish and then joined together concertina fashion. If you cannot draw very well, pictures can be cut from catalogues.
The next stage may be alphabet and number books, again with clear pictures and letters. From just looking at pictures and identifying them, it is easy to start telling stories about people and things. From about 18 months, the baby will love looking at pictures of nursery rhymes, having them said or sung to him and joining in the activities. Babies like the physical and verbal activity which accompanies such rhymes as ‘One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive’ or ‘Sing a song of sixpence’. Traditional stories such as The Gingerbread Man’ or Three Little Pigs are full of action, and the child will quickly learn how and when to join in.
By the time a child is two he will be willing to sit still for longer periods and listen to quite a long story. The books still need to have pictures to focus his attention, but the subject matter can be very varied. All children enjoy stories about animals, and like fantasy stories about people and things that could never exist, such as giants, gnomes, fairies and space men. They also enjoy tales about everyday life, and they can get reassurance from books that deal with normal problems such as going into hospital, going to the dentist, or having a new baby in the family. Some books deal with specific teaching topics, such as road safety, care of teeth, and telling the time.
The three- to five-year-old will sit for a long time looking at a book and being read to. He will be able to choose books for himself and will know a lot of the stories off by heart. Even when a child starts reading, he should still be read to by adults to provide close companionship and encourage an interest in books.
The preschool child may have quite a collection of books and he should be taught to take care of them. Many books are inexpensive, but some are beautifully illustrated and produced and made to be treasures, and are therefore more expensive. Books may be made at home, bought cheaply from jumble sales or book sales, or exchanged with other children. It is a good idea for parents to take their child to the public library when he is quite young. Most libraries have sections for very small children with special chairs and tables and activities. Often they hold special story-telling sessions, and give advice to parents on the choice of children’s books.