Reading and Writing
One of the more fascinating things about children is their ability to grasp complex linguistic relations without much effort, simply by experiencing them. By the time most children are about 3 years old, for example, they have made a remarkable discovery: Abstract “pictures” can represent words and convey meaning. With this discovery, they have taken the first step toward reading, and it isn't long before they are able to match individual written words with the things these words designate. This is no small accomplishment, given the level of abstraction involved in making the connection between symbols and the world.
A dominant characteristic of children's first efforts with language is that they use it to identify specific objects in their surroundings: “Momma” and “Dadda, ” of course, but also balls, pets, toys, keys, and so forth. Thus, many of their first utterances are names of things. The special significance of names is related to children's efforts to understand and control their environment. Communication requires a background of shared knowledge, and sharing names for things is fundamental to establishing such a background. Infants in the pretoddler stage are very good at conveying their wants and needs through gestures, but once they reach the toddler stage parents expect them to begin communicating through speech, and gestures are no longer as readily accepted as communicative acts. Wants and needs also become more complex. Children will use the name of an object to designate the topic of the communicative act and then will use gestures to convey related information (Foster, 1985). For example, a child may utter the word ball and reach toward it, indicating that she wants the ball.