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By Jean Warren

One of the best things about reading to young children is the fact that it is a shared activity. Children learn more when adults take the time to interact with them. Stories can offer more than just entertainment and facts; stories offer children opportunities to practice problem solving, sequence and language skills. Stories introduce children to other people, other cultures and other environments. Stories encourage dramatic play situations, such as dress-up and projects such as building forts. Stories can also open the door to cooking projects and new foods.

It is important to choose stories for your child that are age appropriate. Preschoolers enjoy picture books. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that the story has no more characters than the age of your child. Stories should be meaningful to your child and not be too long. Preschoolers love stories that rhyme and ones that are predictable.

Reading to your child can help increase his vocabulary and his reasoning skills. Stop every once in a while and have him guess what will happen next. At the end of the story, discuss how he might have changed the story if he had been the author. Be sure to reread favorite stories over and over. Young children love practicing their memory skills by recalling what is going to happen.

Most parents read to children at bedtime. Their main consideration here is to calm them down, to disengage their minds so that they will fall asleep. Unfortunately, there is little learning taking place at this time. Reading at bedtime is fine, just don't make it the only time you read to your child. Learning takes place when children have active discussions about the story or when they try to anticipate what will happen next. Children need to be encouraged to extend their favorite stories into creative play situations.

Reading to your child is the best investment you can make in your child's future.