Ok so here's a deep dark secret. Literacy advocates and experts are going to hate me....
We didn't read to our children from birth.
There. Are you shocked?
And I still don't think it's all that important to read to your babies. I don't think it makes that much difference in the long run.
Of course I only have a very small sample size.... not like all the studies which must have thousands in order to be statistically significant... and I'm not an expert. Which is just as well, as you probably shouldn't listen to this.
When they couldn't move, in the dream-days before five or six months, I just didn't get the point. They couldn't understand what I was saying. If it was just the sound of my voice that they liked... well I talked to them and I sang to them. And we spent plenty of time together. I did read to them every now and then, but it wasn't the every night kind of thing that is recommended.
And then from six months until they were 18 months to two years old (depending on the child), it just wasn't worth reading to them because they weren't interested. They wanted to eat the book. Or turn the pages (backwards). Or stick their fingers up my nose. And they just wouldn't sit still.
And then from 18 months we had to employ stealth tactics to read with them. We'd have to have a pile of books ready, as any gap in proceedings and we'd've lost them off across the other side of the bed and under the mosquito net. We'd give them one book to hold while we read another. We kept a pile of touchy-feely or flap books for that purpose. And we had to turn the pages quickly, more than ten words on a page was out of the question.
So we didn't read to them from birth.
And do you know what? The first two can't keep their head out of books, now. It doesn't seem to have made any difference. And the third keeps a pile of his favourites under his pillow. Sometimes I'm surprised he can sleep as his neck is at such an angle.
I think (my humble opinion) that a far greater factor for literacy is whether or not they see their parents reading and enjoying books. Are their books in the house? Are they on the floor? Are they in the living area, or tucked away in an office so as not to be messy? Do they see you snuggled up on the couch, reading? Do they ever have to drag you kicking and screaming away from a book in order to cook them dinner? Or is reading just something the teachers make them do at school?
Do they see their Dad reading?
A second factor would be that they have access to stage-appropriate books: access to books for play, exploration, browsing, looking and then, eventually, reading. Are they in their room? Can they reach them? Or are they afraid to touch them for fear that they'll get in trouble for tearing a page? Is the local library a familiar (and friendly) place?
So now for the moral of this story. Do you read to your baby every night? Great! Don't stop. It is wonderful time together. Do you feel overwhelmed by all the things the early childhood nurse has laid at your feet? Don't panic. Your child won't be illiterate because you missed a few nights reading in the early months. But when your child does begin to show interest (in our experience from about 18 months), then it's time to read, read, read and not give up.