Did you know that every night, when you snuggle up with your preschooler and they select that favorite book (you know the one I’m talking about… you’ve read it 300 times), you’re actually preparing them for academic success and test taking?

You might either be intrigued or infuriated, but hear me out. Something really magical is going on that is vital to their future school success.

Re-reading books builds vocabulary comprehension

When you talk to and read to your child every night, you are exposing them to rich vocabulary. How do children learn new words? Through experience and meaningful context. Children’s literature uses language in new and playful ways, and your preschooler is like a sponge, sucking it all up.

When children are learning to read in Kindergarten they are learning skills that help them decode and sound out words. However, the words have to make sense. They have to understand the words they are reading in order to comprehend the story, and that is where vocabulary is a very important and often overlooked component to building readers.

But how is this related to test taking? You have years until you have to worry about that, right?

Although you have plenty of time to push off explaining multiple choice and test-taking strategies, end of testing success relies on reading comprehension. So if children have a strong comprehension of vocabulary, then they will have a greater ability to comprehend new text. Laying the foundation they need to be successful.

So next time you preschooler hands you Llama, Llama for the millionth time, don’t despair.

Related: 15 books from 2021 that are instant classics

Here are a few additional strategies to help take your nighttime book routine up a notch

Ask questions

I love to ask open-ended questions. They give me insight into how my children think and reason. The other night, I was reading to my daughter and the main character mentioned a “best friend.”

I asked her, “How is a best friend different than a regular friend?”

She thought about it and said, “They let me be the boss.” While that was not the answer I was expecting, it did give me a chance to clarify and offer more details. I said, “Well, my best friends are funny and nice. And we like to do the same things.”

Point out new vocabulary or words that are not frequently used in your home

The other day, I was visiting a teacher, and she was reading a book that mentioned the word “bypass.” She then stopped and explained what a bypass was to the children. I jumped for vocabulary joy!

We live in a rural area where there are no bypasses. Children in this classroom very rarely hear that word in their day to day conversations with their families. Her ability to recognize the importance of explaining this new word was so important to helping the children comprehend the book that she was reading and she didn’t take that for granted.

Ask about details in the illustrations

Pausing at different moments and admiring the art in the illustration is especially important when you are on your 200th read of your child’s favorite story. By now, they have memorized the book and know the words by heart.

Instead of reading through, exasperated by the monotony of the book, pause and really look at the details in the illustrations. Ask your child questions about the pictures and get them to use some of that new vocabulary that they have been listening to you read repetitively.

Reading to your child every night is not only a wonderful way to build their brain, but it builds the heart, too. My favorite moments in the hustle and bustle of everyday life are snuggled up in bed with my daughters, reading a story that makes us giggle.

If you're still searching for your child's next favorite book, here are a few of our top picks

reading to kids: errol's garden

Errol's Garden by Gillian Hibbs

Errol loves gardening, but there isn’t enough room in his flat to grow everything he dreams of. When he discovers a hidden and neglected space on the rooftop, he devises a plan–but he can’t do it alone. Would his neighbors help? Would they care?

reading aloud: luna's yum yum dim sum

Luna's Yum Yum Dim Sum by Natasha Yim

On Luna’s birthday, the whole family goes out for dim sum–but Luna and her brothers can’t agree on how to share their pork buns fairly. How can three people divide up five buns? Should some siblings get more than others? Or should they cut the buns into smaller and smaller pieces so everyone gets the same amount? A playful exploration of division and fractions, featuring Chinese American characters and a cultural note.

reading aloud: rainforest by julia groves

Rainforest by Julia Groves

Travel deep into the forest – what elusive and fascinating creatures will you find there? Delicate, colorful and distinctive, Julia Groves’ illustrations introduce children to the animals that live in this precious and endangered habitat.

reading the same books to your child: a stone sat still

A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

The brilliant follow-up to the Caldecott Honor-winning and New York Times bestselling picture book They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel, A Stone Sat Still tells the story of a seemingly ordinary rock–but to the animals that use it, it is a resting place, a kitchen, a safe haven…even an entire world. This is a gorgeous exploration of perspective, perception, and the passage of time, with an underlying environmental message that is timely and poignant.

stick and stone book

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld

When Stick helps Stone out of a thorny situation, a friendship is born. This bestselling picture book is a funny and heartwarming tale about making friends and helping friends.

merci suarez book

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci is starting sixth grade and things are not going at all like how she thought they would be. It seems like everything around her is changing, from her school life to her home life. This Newberry Medal winning book is a coming-of-age story highlighting

A version of this post was published April 27, 2018. It has been updated.