I well remember the time when my four year old daughter spent her day asking “Why?” Why don’t fish have fur? Why is candy bad for us? Why did God make dangerous animals? (I wonder about mosquitoes myself).

Being a teacher, and thrilled that my kids wanted to learn things, I often dutifully tried to answer their questions as honestly and completely as I could. But I have to confess there were times I resorted to my own parents’ stock reply: Just because.

So here’s the deal. As parents, if you want your children to learn and understand the world around them. If you want them to be strong learners. If you want them to eventually become independent readers, you’ll answer their questions.

Further, you’ll teach them to ask more questions as they read. Why? Because asking questions is one of the best ways to fully understand what they read, and not be content to just  “get the words right.”

In all the years I taught first and second graders to read, there were always students who could say the words perfectly, but through discussion or written follow-up work, it became clear they didn’t understand what they’d read. They had mastered phonics—they could make the words sound pretty good as they read aloud, but they didn’t have the meaning of the words figured out.

Understanding relates to expanding vocabulary. There are subtleties in the meanings of words that are only learned through experiences with seeing and using them. But often, kids don’t take the time to think about the words they read. They don’t understand they’re supposed to do more than just say it right.

As parents, you have a great platform for extending your child’s understanding. You can ask a question about the story you just read together. “Why do you think George got into trouble?” or “Who is your favorite character in this story?”  Be willing to answer questions your child has about a story and teach her to ask questions as she reads. “What do you think will happen next? “Why did the fox want to give the Gingerbread Boy a ride across the river?”

Asking questions is one of the best ways you can strengthen your child’s reading skills. More importantly, it’s one of the best ways to strengthen reading comprehension—one of the most important skills in all of learning.