It is never too young to promote literacy
When our baby was about two months old, she had a rough night of congestion where she would only sleep upright. As a new parent I was terrified that I would fall asleep with her in my arms and drop her, so I turned on the TV in the wee hours of the morning to find nothing but infomercials. To my surprise there was a man promoting a series of DVDs called "Your Baby Can Read." I thought to myself, 'those kids have been well trained for this commercial' where there is a nine month old reading words from a book - but I was curious. The following day I began researching literacy in babies and I discovered that what this man was promoting was a foundation for early reading.
Babies will start to get excited about language at as early as sixteen weeks and by six months babies will react to the inflection of your voice. It is equally important to speak to your baby (not the tv) as it is to read to your baby as language development begins with listening and babies listen when they have direct interaction.
Listening actually begins in the womb and that is why baby will know his or her Mom's voice and often show preference for it earlier than other voices. Baby can also distinguish between his native tongue and a foreign language. Although he or she does not understand language yet, a baby as early as four weeks old has the capacity to distinguish between subtle differences in sounds such as "ba" and "pa." Babies enjoy repetition and the more that they are spoken to or read to, the more familiar they become with the language.
As babies familiarize themselves with the language and their mouth movements develop they are able to begin vocalizing. From birth to two months of age any vocalizations are generally reflexive; crying, feeding, breathing and burping. Speech-like vocalization will start as early as two month of age in the form of grunts and squeaks followed by cooing and gooing. When a baby is on his or her back, the tongue is in the correct place in the mouth to make "k" and "g" sounds the way an adult would. Babies quickly will learn that they can control these sounds which leads to the development and articulation of other sounds.
Building a Foundation for Early Reading
Babies do not understand stories but they enjoy pictures, words, textures and repetition. The more hands-on baby can be with books the more interested he or she will be with reading. Start with the basics:
Have a few different books made of all kinds of materials;
Allow baby to handle, even mouth the books;
There is no need for complex stories, books with a picture and a word are just fine;
Point to the picture first and then words as you read them, eg. "This is a bunny." point to picture. "This says bunny." point to the word;
Repeat - repetition is important and will help with memorization and memorization is an important part of familiarization with language.
If you can spend a half hour per day reading and the rest of your day articulating what you are doing and even singing with baby it will set your baby ahead in his or her language development. Just like sign language, one day, baby will say the word or do an action when he or she sees it and that will be the beginning of true understanding - and so rewarding for Mom and Dad.