Parents once considered reading their children a bedtime story and attending free storytime at the local library sufficient for developing early literacy skills.
But there is a burgeoning industry charging for reading classes for preschoolers, tapping into parents' desire to give their child a head start in life.
Berkelouw Books opened the doors to its purpose-built The Reading Studio above its Leichhardt store last week. Developed in consultation with the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University, the one-hour weekly classes are run by a university-qualified early childhood teacher and cost $25 a session.
The ABC has been running its online Reading Eggs program for more than three years, charging $79.95 for an annual subscription and promising to educate children to a year one standard of reading. One million children have registered.
''Reading is the most common area parents are willing to spend money in before their children start school, because they want them to be school-ready,'' Blake eLearning educational publisher Katy Pike, responsible for ABC Reading Eggs, said.
Why would parents pay someone else to be their child's storyteller, when the bedtime story is such a childhood ritual?
The Reading Studio co-founder David Berkelouw said he had observed how children who had attended storytime at his bookstores in the past 15 years grew up to become independent readers.
''I thought there has to be more in this than what we're doing,'' he said.
As schoolchildren prepare to sit the NAPLAN tests, an associate professor at the Macquarie Institute, Jane Torr, said children learnt ''an enormous amount'' by reading and talking about books from a very young age.
''Studies show children's pre-school vocabularies relate to their literacy achievement [later in life],'' Professor Torr said. She advised on the development of The Reading Studio program.
But why would parents pay someone else to be their child's storyteller, when the bedtime story is such a childhood ritual? Professor Torr said working parents were often too tired or busy at the end of the day to provide an enriching bedtime story experience.
''They [parents] often don't have the time and the focus to sit down and say 'let's really talk about this book', especially if you've got more than one child.''
Noella Mackenzie, a lecturer in literacy studies at Charles Sturt University, argues that parents who outsource reading mistakenly believe pre-schoolers need formal instruction and discount their own abilities as teachers.
''They're undervaluing their own role,'' she said.
''Parents are amazing instinctive teachers of their own children: they teach their children how to speak, how to eat, how to do their buttons up, they do all of these instinctively.''
She argues parents should not be concerned with having children reading before they reach school. Rather they should lay the foundations for formal literacy education by exposing children to the patterns of speech and narrative.
''They need to learn what stories are all about, beginnings middles and ends the process of narrative; they learn that just from exposure,'' she says.
''[Having] an ear for the sounds within words, that comes from being read to, being sung to, having games like rhyming games, nursery rhymes, poems - that hones their development of memory.''
Another neglected aspect of preschool literacy, Dr Mackenzie says, is writing.
''[Reading and writing] go hand in hand and quite a lot of what children learn from print text they learn from exploring their own writing and scribbling.''
The manager of Leichhardt Library, Marilyn Taylor, said anywhere and any time a child is read to was a great thing.
''[Of the] libraries right across NSW just about every single one of them offer storytelling of one kind or another,'' she says. ''We've been doing it for decades.''
At Leichhardt there is a comprehensive preschool reading program, offering 45-minute sessions for different age groups.
Children aged two and below learnt with their parents, Ms Taylor said. For the three to five-year-olds, stories were combined with films and craft.
Each class at The Reading Studio is built around one book and includes a song, speaking and listening exercises, acting out scenarios and pre-writing. ''You hook them in with the story and the teacher knows how to weave in an intentional teaching experience,'' Mr Berkelouw, himself a father of preschoolers, said.
''Research shows having a passive experience with the child listening and the adult reading is good, but it's better if the child is an active participant during the narrative.''
Professor Torr hopes classes will elevate the value of reading in parents' minds to that of playing sports.
Liz Ayres put her three-year-old daughter Lucy in the first session at The Reading Studio to engender in her a love of reading.
''We read to our children every day as well. We just really value books,'' she said.
''I learnt a lot myself about the different things I could do with Lucy and [two-year-old brother] Oliver at home in terms of sparking their imagination and feeling really passionate and interested in learning more about books and reading.''