Several key associations must occur before reading or writing words begins. Pictures of animals and objects, with the corresponding word nearby, is a frequent start. When we show a child a picture of a horse with the word "horse" under the picture, we are capturing the child with the picture. Gradually, the child also notices that line of "squiggles" forming the word under the picture. Children draw on both repetition and experience.

A child will know and be able to identify the object called bear long before recognizing the word bear. It's somewhat of a stimulus-response activity: Show a picture of a cat, name it, and the child instantly recognizes and relates it to the actual next-door cat. This word-picture naming is an important early reading step. You can do the same thing with words and pictures of Mom, Dad, Grandma, or bottle. Add puppy and kitten to cat and dog. Keep expanding vocabulary and concepts.

The child has watched television, played on the computer, leafed through picture books, and/or been to the zoo, so he or she can name many animals, such as cows or kangaroos. This experience then makes it easy to identify an animal illustrated in a workbook or on a flash card.

The same holds true for inanimate objects. A car is a familiar object, and so is a fire engine or train. The child knows many objects by name, such as ant, box, ball, jam, or queen. We are getting ready to move the child from the object word "box" to the rhyming/sound-alike animal word "fox." Once he knows the alphabet, he knows that words have different beginning letters. Soon the child can read "The fox on the box."

We are following a step-by-step procedure in which we can eventually begin a story with a combination of words. An example is Up Went the Goat; once the child learns the words "goat" and up, we add a picture clue of the goat going up the mountain.

Animal and object names are nouns. Other words are more challenging for children to learn because they represent a concept--words like "the" and "went." These words cannot be illustrated and must be learned through context, rhyme and memorization. Constant practice places in a child's mind, the association between those line squiggles (words) and the objects and concepts they represent. A simple story such as the following can increase the child's vocabulary with other rhyming or rhyming family words:

Up went the goat.
The goat saw a coat.
The coat was too big for the goat.
The goat saw a boat.
The goat was too big for the boat.
Down went the boat.
Down went the goat.

Note the use of rhyming words and short sentences. With repetition, the child will learn up, down, went, and the. Combined with object words, this begins to form a foundation for reading.