I think Jim Trelease addresses the questions about when to start reading very well in his book, "The Reading Handbook." To answer, Trelease asks a question in return. "When did you start talking to your baby?" Of course, the answer to this second question is simple -- immediately!
All parents of newborns start talking to their babies in the moments following birth. We don't have to think about this. We just do it. And there is no thought about whether the baby will understand. Talking to a newborn is just something that is natural.
When to start reading together parallels this same example. Many parents are under the misconception that their babies have to get "older" or be able to "understand" what is being read to them before they actually start reading together. However, much of reading to a very young child (birth to 6 months of age) is about conditioning the baby to being read to. Remember, a baby hasn't done this before and doesn't know what to do. We, as the parents, must show and teach our babies what reading is all about.
Of course, early reading time is also about conveying information as well. There are all sorts of ways that a baby can understand without knowing what the words actually mean. A baby can see images and pictures, can hear your tone of voice, can hear your inflection, can see the expressions on your face, and can understand your body "language." And just as important is the fact that babies simply love to hear the voices of the two most important people in their lives -- Mom & Dad.
Think about the chicken and the egg conundrum. What came first . . . the chicken or the egg? You can't have a chicken without an egg, but you can't have an egg without a chicken. The same is true for reading and understanding. You can't have true reading without understanding, but understanding comes from children learning to read. So although there isn't a "magic age" for when to start reading together, if you are interested in your children learning to read as soon as possible, the rule of thumb is the younger the better.
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