Encouraging Boys to Become Better Readers

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I have four children; two boys and two girls. For the last four years, my three eldest have shared sleeping quarters despite the fact that there are two empty bedrooms and two empty beds that remain uninhabited every night. Everyday is a sleepover and while there is a bed for everyone in the makeshift dorm room they have created in the smallest bedroom of our home, there have been benefits and interesting observations made as a result of this sleeping arrangement.

I read to my children almost every night. When they were younger, I found the Usborne collection books invaluable. As they grew older, I began reading children’s classics to them: Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, Paddington Bear, Charlotte's Web, James and the Giant Peach, etc. etc. etc. You get the picture. Three children born within a year of each other receiving the same quality of books and being read the same number of pages at the same time of night by the same reader in the same environment as one another. Sounds the same, right?

Interestingly, the outcome -- as it relates to reading ability -- is not. While all three children love books and love being read to, there is a marked difference in my son’s ability to read when compared to my two daughters. Theoretically, reading to children makes them better readers. That is what all of the papers and studies (mine included) will tell you. I trained in education (specializing in reading) at the graduate, postgraduate and doctorate level. Reading is my forte and a lot of it goes on in my home.

So is my son a superstar reader? Truthfully, the answer is that he is not. He struggles and needs a lot of support in order to maintain his ‘average’ reading level in school. Despite his large vocabulary, his reading (when it is done out loud) remains jolted; he stops and starts then stops again. His facial expressions would suggest that he needs the breaks in order to enable his mind to catch up with what he has just said. So, am I worried about his reading ability? The answer is that I am not. For starters, he is young and there is a lot going on mentally and physically. He is a happy, healthy boy who is growing and learning everyday and as he does not suffer from any learning disabilities, I have no reason to be overly concerned about whether he can read flawlessly. He has benefited tremendously from being read to at home and I am quite confident that in the long run, his love for books will far outweigh any short term reading issues that may currently exist. My two girls (the eldest and second youngest) can read a copious amount of books effortlessly and with the greatest of ease. It is my son (second in the birthing order and a year above my youngest daughter) who finds reading a challenge and speaking to other moms of boys, it is surprising how many of their observations regarding their sons' reading abilities mimic my own.

So, how can we help boys become better readers?

Boys and reading

At times, it can seem almost unnatural for some boys to want to voluntarily read a book. They would much rather be outside and physically engaging in an activity; this is more commonly the rule rather than the exception. So what can we do? Getting boys interested in reading doesn't happen overnight, but it can happen. People often forget that reading is a hobby. Sure, it's one of the 3 R's of education but it is also something we do to unwind and relax (unlike writing and mathematics.) So, it should be fun. To that end, when trying to engage boys in reading:

  • Allow them to choose their own reading material. Provided it is appropriate, the most important criteria here should be that it is something they are interested in reading.
  • Make sure you're aware of their reading level. If a book is too challenging, the likelihood is that they won’t read it and become frustrated even trying. A reader needs to feel connected to a book and they can only do this if it is something they are interested in and are capable of reading.
  • Have them read out loud to you. I would be lying if I said you’ll never encounter any resistance to this but it is important that you persist. For the more spirited in nature, suggest they read a sentence at first, then two the next day, then a paragraph, then a page, etc, etc, etc. If in the beginning you are unsuccessful in getting them on board, don't give up. Ask them to read to you, every day, until you get the answer you are looking for. One you have jumped the first hurdle, it will become easier and more natural for them to do this.
  • Use the internet. Find out what books other boys their age are reading. The amount of information out there for parents is extraordinary. I recently had to ask my son to take a break from his current read because he was struggling with the comprehension and seemed lost with the storyline. This was despite the book being a sequel to one he'd just finished reading with no problems at all. Googling led me to the Horrid Henry collection which I was slightly skeptical about but the reviews were wonderful, the illustrations were great and the reading level was right so I took a gamble and ordered a few books on line. What a success. Horrid Henry is now easily his favorite character and the books have been a big hit; Googling got me there.
  • Find the time to read to him. I know it can be difficult but finding a time that is convenient for the both of you will pay off in the long run. Don’t worry about the classics for now. Read whatever you can so long as it interests him: comics/ dinosaurs/ wizards/ knights/ cars/ trucks -- as long as he is listening, it's good.
  • Build his confidence. All children like to hear they are doing well and constant reinforcement is a wonderful way of building confidence. Tell him he is a great reader and let him hear you telling other people the same thing. Praise his reading in front of his father/ caregiver/ teacher/ aunt/ grandparents/ even the book salesman and watch his confidence grow.
  • Trust in yourself. You can make a big difference to your son’s reading. All it takes is a little effort every day.

Persistence has its rewards.

  

Peggy Nastat

Photo Credit: aidanmorgan.

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