Reading aloud to children is the single most effective thing parents can do to help prepare their children for success.

In an address to the Joint Session of Congress last February, President Barack Obama made this statement:

"In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child."

Reading aloud to young children is the single most effective thing parents can do to help prepare their children to succeed in the future. Unfortunately, fewer than half of U.S. children ages 5 and under are read to every day.

Books contain many more words that children are unlikely to encounter frequently in spoken language. In fact, children's books actually contain 50 percent more rare words than primetime television or even a college student's conversation.

During these cold winter days and nights, curling up with a book is a good activity for a child or adult of any age. However, there are other activities that you and your child can do together to keep away the winter doldrums, as well as help give your child a boost with reading.

1. Tell a story to each other. To make it more interactive, start a story with one person, and have other people add a sentence or word to the story until it is finished, or disintegrates into total nonsense. For instance, the first person may start the story by saying, "Once upon a time in Candyland," and the second person could add, "A gumdrop girl lost her red shoe." Finish the story.

2. Use long words or everyday phrases to create a word-making game. Ask your child to see how many words he can make from the letters of his favorite book title. Just a few of the words you can make from Curious George Feeds the Animals are read, eat, snail, teach and forge. To make it more difficult, pick a theme to follow for the words i.e. since this book is about animals, see how many animal words can be found: lion, dog, emu, gator.

3. Create a word scramble game for your child. Think of words, then scramble the letters and let your child decipher the word. For example, "wlopli" is pillow!

4. For younger children who may be learning about opposites, test them! Create two columns on a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side, write 10-15 words, like happy, cold and awake; and on the other side, write the opposites in a different order, such as asleep, sad and warm. When you are finished, ask your child to match them. If she cannot read the words, read the word to her and then read the possible answers. Have her tell you to stop when you get to the proper word.

5. For older children, bake or cook together. Find a recipe and have your child read it to you, and help you with the measurements. If that seems too easy, tell your child you want to double the recipe.

6. Go on a treasure hunt. Use some of the magazines or catalogs you have recently received and make a list of items for your child to find in them. Have them find pictures, advertisements or articles in magazines.

Research shows that the more words parents use when speaking to an 8-month-old infant, the greater the size of their child's vocabulary at age 3. The landmark Hart-Risley study on language development documented that children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers before the age of 4.

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