One of the skills that distinguishes us from all other animals is our ability to communicate.

There's no doubt that catching small children when they are already fired up to learn new ways of communicating improves dramatically their chances of reaching their potential at school.

That is why the second Early Learning Goal, which forms a key element of the early years foundation stage for children up to six years old, is communication in its broadest sense. Most parents know about and applaud the literacy hour in the schools, but maybe you are not aware of all the preparatory work that takes place in the nursery, playgroup or pre-school.

And why should you be? It appears to be random, with the under-fives simply flitting from one activity to another.

But there is an underlying structure, as the more-or-less readable Early Years Ofsted reports (ask for a copy at your child's nursery)confirm. To register in the morning, your child might have to select the right Velcro-backed name plate to fix on the board. And being invited to guess the ending of a story helps children to articulate their views.

All of this is discreetly monitored by the keyworker at your setting, who is responsible for the development and care of your child. But how can you ensure that the good work done there is followed through at home? Obviously, reading to a child is a major part of this. But there are other ways in which you can prepare your child for reading and other skills, while keeping the fun quotient high.

Many parents, for example, find a visit to the supermarket with children nightmarish. But it is easy to make it fun, while encouraging pre-reading skills. For example, before your next big shop, help your child to cut out key pictures, like the cockerel on the corn flakes packet, from the boxes of goods you want to buy. Once there, get the child to match the cut-outs against what's on the shelves. Asking and answering all the questions that emerge will further hone their communication skills.