You’ve got to pick the kids up, cook dinner, get ready for tomorrow’s meeting, and try to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. With all of your responsibilities, it’s understandable if the bedtime story falls by the wayside from time to time. Stop worrying because there’s good news: setting your children up to be strong readers depends more on the words you share and not entirely on the books.

While it’s important to read to your children regularly and familiarize them with the joys of books, it’s much more crucial to talk with them. Study after study after study show that kids who enter school with large vocabularies have a huge advantage over kids who don’t. And that is something that you, as parents, have a lot of control over.

You don’t have to quiz them on new words or point out every unfamiliar phrase they hear on TV. All you need to do is talk with them. And don’t pull your punches, either. Kids are smart. They’ll hear those big words and ask about them, because kids are nothing if not curious. Share your language by singing, writing, reading, playing, and talking. No matter what you’re doing, make your kids part of it by explaining, asking, and encouraging.

So don’t feel bad if you’ve had a long day and you handed your kids an iPad instead of a book. It’s okay. But tomorrow when you get in the car, instead of turning up the radio, ask your kids to tell you a story about their day. You might find that your biggest problem won’t be getting them to start a conversation, but getting them to stop. It might feel like you’re just listening, but rest assured in the knowledge that you’re doing much more than that: you’re setting them up to succeed.