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?
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.
In their desire to provide high-quality literature for their kids, sometimes parents overlook the books their boys might actually want to read. Don’t pass over graphic novels, joke books and nonfiction.
Note preferences among boys. Draw on research done by educators, librarians and publishers and look for reading materials with one or more of the following qualities:
- Characters or heroes that reflect your son’s personal goals and passions
- Books written in series, with characters they come to know and care about over time
- Humor that will make your son laugh and appeal to his sense of adventure and mischief
- Emphasis on plot and action over description and emotion
- Content they can use in conversation, including jokes, fun facts and statistics
Build on your son’s passions, questions and preferences. Studies show that when children are excited about a topic, they will keep reading. Even the most active boy can get lost in a book—or a website or an adventure-packed comic book that matches his passions and preferences. Children’s librarians and bookstore owners are precious allies, but there are online resources as well:
Guys Read, a website devoted to motivating boys to read (http://www.guysread.com)
Children’s Choice Booklists published each year by the International Reading Association (http://www.reading.org/resources/booklists/childrenschoices.aspx).
Make sure the text matches your son’s reading level. Teach your son the “Five-Finger Test” to find books at the right level:
- Read one page of the book (or section of the magazine, comic book, website, etc).
- If there are more than five unknown words, choose something else to read.
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.
For more ideas on motivating boys to read, check out the following report prepared by the Ontario Ministry of Education, Me Read? No Way! A Practical Guide to Improving Boys’ Literacy Skills at: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/brochure/meread/meread.pdf