Reading has long-term effects on the brain, can reduce stress, improve memory, increase brain power and empathy and has even been linked to longer-life spans. Because the brain develops language and literacy in the first five years of a child’s life, exposing your child to words and stories from an early age can help build a strong language base and enhances cognitive development.

Pre-literacy skills

Research shows that reading books with young children can help boost their vocabulary and reading skills, getting them ready for kindergarten. It may help to begin before they’re even born. Studies have found that reading to unborn babies can help them absorb language and develop emotional awareness. But if you weren’t reading to your growing belly, don’t worry. Begin by carving out time in your daily routine to read together. Being read aloud to helps children develop strong pre-literacy skills, such as vocabulary and comprehension.

The book “Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Children” finds that being read aloud to is “the single most important activity for reading success.” The more children are read to, the larger their vocabularies tend to be.

Fundamental skills

Being exposed to books can also help children develop empathy for others and understand different points of view. That book also calls reading at grade-level proficiency “one of the best predictors of educational and life-skills competency.”

Reading Is Fundamental reports that 34 percent of children entering kindergarten “lack the basic skills needed to learn how to read.” A Scholastic report found that 79 percent of low-income children enter kindergarten without knowing the letters of the alphabet. These kids are at risk of falling behind before school has even begun. An Annie E. Casey Foundation report estimates that children not reading at proficient levels by the end of third grade are four times more likely than their peers to drop out of school.

Start reading aloud with your child and do it as often as possible. Those pre-literacy skills developed in their first few years will help them succeed in school and in life for years to come.