Boys and reading

The gap between girls and boys may be less about reading ability than about attitudes. Literacy expert Carolyn Jaynes answers the question: How can we make reading more fun for boys?

Learning Stages

By Carolyn James, Ph.D.

LeapFrog Literacy Expert

As the literacy development expert on LeapFrog’s Learning Team, Carolyn ensures that the curricular design in LeapFrog products is grounded in the latest educational research. Before joining LeapFrog, Carolyn was a reading professor at Sacramento State University, a curriculum developer for the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, and a teacher in the San Francisco bay area. She earned her doctorate in educational psychology at Michigan State University.

While research has shown that attitudes toward reading decline through the elementary years, especially among boys, there are ways to help your son get into reading.

Foster a love of words and reading

Early on, help boys recognize that words and language are part of the fun in life.

Read to your son, early and often. One nationwide study showed that at age 4, children are read to, sung to and told stories less often than they were at age 2, and the numbers are lower for boys. Try to read aloud to your son for 30 minutes every day beginning when he’s an infant—and keep it up as he grows.

Focus on your son’s oral language development. Studies show that oral language and literacy development go hand in hand. When they tell a funny story at the dinner table or sing rhyming songs along with their toys, kids develop skills—such as sequencing events and recognizing rhymes—that help them in learning to read. So talk and listen, explain things and ask questions, sing songs and make up simple chants. Turn car trips and walks to the park into opportunities to predict the weather based on the clouds, plan a birthday party or create your own silly limericks, knowing that these oral language experiences will contribute to later reading development.

Help your son view reading as a reward. Consider giving books or magazines to children as presents or as a recognition of special achievements. Make reading a positive experience and set up a special, comfortable place for reading at home.

Make reading social

Studies show that children who see themselves as part of a community with other readers choose to read more often.

Encourage your son to talk about what he’s reading. This can be done formally, with a book club sponsored by a library or local book store, or more casually, such as at the dinner table or with friends after school.

Keep reading aloud together. Older children benefit from read-aloud experiences just as much as the younger ones. After reading something together, take some time to identify the most exciting parts, discuss the most surprising character, or debate the value of the author’s message.

Rally the support of your friends and family. Connect your children with older friends and relatives who love to read. Encourage them to read books together, talk about the books they read growing up, and share stories from their generation.

Make reading a fun, active experience 

Before reading, have your child take a "picture walk" through the book and make some predictions about what might happen. As you read together, pause from time to time to ask questions like "What do you think will happen next?"  "What did you think about that character's decision?"  Ask basic recall questions (e.g., Who built the house of bricks?), as well as questions that require your child to "read between the lines" (e.g., Why would the first pig build a house of straw?)

Ask questions that help your child make a personal connection to the story (e.g., Have you ever felt sad and lonely like Miss Spider?).

Punch up the fun as you read aloud. Voice the characters, pause for dramatic effect, and bring out your inner comedian.


For more ideas on motivating boys to read, check out, a website designed to help boys become engaged readers.