By Gail Innis Michigan State University Extension March is one month when the spotlight shines on reading and its importance as a life skill. Reading is more than fundamental. Literacy skills are recognized as one of the strongest predictors of academic success. Reading proficiently by the third grade is considered a \u201cmake-or-break benchmark in a child\u2019s educational development,\u201d according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Children are learning to read from the time they are born up until the time they complete third grade. Beginning with the fourth grade, children are reading to learn. When children don\u2019t learn to read by the end of the third grade, research shows their potential to earn a good living is decreased. All learning becomes substantially more difficult for children who are struggling with basic reading skills. Think about trying to learn how to solve a story problem in mathematics, or trying to interpret the instructions for a game or home appliance if you\u2019re a poor reader. Nearly 75 percent of children who are considered poor readers in the third grade will remain poor readers in high school. What can you do to help? According to Michigan State University Extension, reading aloud is one easy way for family members and friends to assist children in building and improving reading skills. When you read aloud to a child, they learn books can be fun and exciting. Using different voices for different characters in a book can bring the book to life. When children are read to by an adult who is animated and excited about a story, they learn that reading can be fun as well as informative. Children will learn about new places, people who differ from themselves and their family, new ways to problem-solve, and the many emotions and feelings that people might have. Reading aloud can give a child and an adult things to talk about. Those discussions can support the natural development of their reading and writing skills. Reading aloud begins at birth and can continue through the teen years. Older children in a family can read to younger children and then the younger child can read to the older sibling when they are ready. Reading is one bedtime ritual that can assist an active child in calming and preparing for a good night\u2019s sleep. Talk about what you are going to read. A position statement from the National Association for the Education of Young Children states that \u201cit is the talk that surrounds the storybooks reading that gives it power, helping children to bridge what is in the story and their own lives.\u201d When a book comes to life through reading aloud a child is free to imagine him or herself in a character\u2019s place. What would he or she do if this happened to them? Who would he or she go to for help? What could the character have done instead? Problem-solving becomes a game that can teach an important life skill that a child will use every day as he or she grows and develops. Research shows that children who are exposed to books and read to each day become better readers and are more successful in school than children who don\u2019t have the same advantage. Reading is a child-centered activity; it can provide warm and positive feelings between children and their adult caregivers and can easily create an environment that fosters a love for books and reading. Every story, game or conversation with your child helps them understand and love the world of sounds and language. Even babies enjoy the sound of the adult voice! Hearing the rhythm of language is important for every child. A child\u2019s potential for success in school begins long before he or she walks into a classroom. One easy, low-cost activity that can be done with all children to ensure better school performance is to read with them. This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http:\/\/www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http:\/\/bit.ly\/MSUENews. To contact an expert in your area, visit http:\/\/expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).