Book Review: My First Word Board Book

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

DK publishes the popular “My First Word Books” series, made up of word lists illustrated with brightly colored photographs.  They are intended as a tool to help children develop vocabulary.  Although many preverbal children do enjoy looking at the books, my linguistics training leads me to believe they are of limited value for building vocabulary.

Most children speak their first word at about age one, and by the age of six they have a vocabulary of about 14,000 words.  This means they naturally learn about eight new words per day (see this linguistics lecture or Language Files, chapter 9.3 for a discussion of this process).  But, unlike adults learning a foreign language, young children learn language as they learn about the world.  When Raul gets hurt, he might hear an adult exclaim, “Raul bonked his head on the counter!”  By this he learns that the topmost part of himself is called “head” and the object he collided with is called “counter.”  When Melinda finishes eating spaghetti with her fingers and an adult says “Let me wash your hands and face,” she learns what those parts of herself are called, as well as the meaning of the verb “wash.”

This process is quite different from the way adults study a second language, where rote memorization is the norm.  The limitation of word-list books is that while objects are grouped thematically (multiple articles of clothing on a double-page spread, for example), they are experienced apart from their natural context.  The pictures are also uniformly sized on the page, so a soccer ball may look the same size as a television.

For developing vocabulary in specific areas, the I Spy books may be a better fit.  Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever also presents many different objects and activities in a natural context.  But the best way to build a child’s vocabulary is to read them stories and rhymes about a wide variety of activities and contexts.  Preverbal babies and young toddlers respond very well to picture books with images of human faces.  They also love to listen to rhythmic, repetitive books, which usually have genuine story quality that baby can grow into.

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Publication Information: DK Publishing. My First Word Board Book. My First Word Books; DK Preschool. 1997. ISBN: 0789415143.
Categories: 2 Stars, Age 00-04
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Posted on August 5, 2009

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