It’s back-to-school time, and parents are scurrying to equip their children for success. But children’s school preparation should begin much earlier than August. As numerous studies show, it should start during a child’s toddler years.

Parents’ involvement with their children (both academically and otherwise) from their earliest years in life has been linked to their cognitive development and future academic success and educational achievement. (continued below video)

For example, on average, preschoolers whose parents frequently read to them score significantly higher on cognitive development, and those whose parents provide cognitive stimulation tend to have higher IQs and greater academic success. For children of all races and ethnicities, parental involvement is associated with greater academic achievement.

The impact of parental involvement has long-term consequences. Adolescents whose fathers are more involved during their childhood tend to attain higher levels of education as young adults, and those who have positive relationships with their mothers in kindergarten are more likely to excel in middle school.

Likewise, those whose parents are highly involved in their education during elementary school are, on average, more likely to graduate from high school. Parental engagement in children’s academic and leisure activities alike is linked to higher academic achievement and better grades.

In the arena of social development and behavior—which can also impact children’s prospects for success in school—parents again make a difference. Children who have positive relationships with their mothers in kindergarten are less likely to exhibit behavioral problems and more likely to achieve academically in middle school. Youths whose parents are present in the home at transitional times in their daily life (for example, when they wake up, come home from school, and go to bed) are less likely to experience emotional distress, and those with responsive and involved parents tend to have higher self-esteem.

Given that children’s success in school has significant impact on their future endeavors, policies should be designed to optimize parents’ involvement in their children’s education. School choice would empower parents to be the decision-makers in their children’s education, moving parents “from the margins to the center for their child’s academic development,” as one report puts it.

Many states around the nation have taken important steps to boost school choice opportunities. As more states implement such reforms, families will have greater opportunity to choose the best educational options to meet their children’s needs.