Nothing is more important to success than learning to read. Those who can’t read have fewer advantages than those that can. Reading is just as important for babies as it is for adults. Early exposure to reading increases the chances of success in school, and children who share books with their caregivers at an early age have less difficulty mastering reading once they enter school.

Sharing books with children at an early age helps them to develop their vocabulary, communication skills and imagination. The U.S. Department of Education suggests that you begin reading to your baby at 6 weeks of age because babies pick up the rhythm of the language spoken around them. Though 6-week-old babies may not know the difference between reading and talking, as they grow they will begin to focus on the reader’s expressions and later on the books themselves.

Sharing books can be a special time that you and your child spend together. Designate a certain time of day, perhaps nap time or bedtime to read together. Choose a comfortable, well-lit spot to read, away from distractions, such as television. Cuddle or sit close to your child. Reading is a wonderful way to bond with your baby, who will soon begin to associate reading with being close to you.

Make sure that both you and your child can see the book, point at pictures and words and read with expression. Babies typically like books with bright colors and pictures of faces, while toddlers enjoy looking at books about activities that they are familiar with, such as learning to dress themselves and going to bed.

Allow your baby to “explore” the book that you are reading. Let your child turn pages or even take the book out of your hands. “Board” books are good for babies because they will more than likely try to chew on the book or throw it. Your child may also flip quickly through the book and just play with the pages at first, but he or she will eventually understand what reading is.

Make reading a positive experience. Adjust the time that you spend reading to your child’s attention span, and keep in mind that this may not be the same everyday. If your child crawls off your lap to go do something else, don’t force him or her to come back. Also, don’t worry about teaching letters, sounds or syllables to your infant. This is something that will come with time. Instead, focus on the enjoyment of reading.

Most importantly, let your child see you reading. Just as they imitate other everyday activities that parents do, children will also mimic reading. Toddlers that have been exposed to reading at an early age pick up books and “read.” By watching you, your child will learn to value reading. One of the greatest satisfactions we can have is to see a child mimic our good actions. Even if you do not read well, your child will learn to read better by reading with you.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.