I admit I may have a soft spot in my heart when it comes to getting boys to read. That's because I have two boys of my own and at different stages of their lives I worried they would not become the avid, lifelong readers I had set out so hard to help them become. At one point, early on, I was concerned my youngest son, Sean, had a reading disability.
Oh boy - I knew that if he encountered difficulty reading early on it would impact his love for reading. I was concerned but I held fast to the course that I know works for ALL children and we made it through that rough start. To save you the suspense and to set your mind at ease in case you have a boy or two in the home that doesn't like to read, both my boys are strong, independent readers who always have their nose in a book as adults. PHEW! Mission accomplished!
So what did I do and what can you do to help boys who may be getting off to a slow start or tell you they aren't as interested in books as they are sports, video games, snacks, sleeping, and just about anything else they can think of?
First, stay the course and keep calm! One thing about our children - whether boys or girls - is if they know something bugs us or pushes our buttons they will do it all the more, right? If they know saying things like, "I hate to read." upsets you they are going to use that as leverage.
Pick your battles, don't get emotional, and don't let them see you sweat! We cannot control our children's likes, dislikes, feelings about something, or force them to do things. Well, we can but in my experience forcing doesn't equate with learning to love something. We will have to set guidelines and make the medicine go down with some sugar but be gentle and remember your ultimate goal: you want them to LOVE to read and be fluent, confident, independent readers.
Practical Things You CAN Do
Just like with chores and household rules, be consistent with your reading times and expectations. If you let them wiggle out of reading time or fanagle a video instead of book "just this one time" I promise they will sniff out your weakness! Set routines and guidelines around reading.
Example: 20 minutes of independent reading every morning before schooling time or before the TV gets turned on. This is where they can choose what they read - so a little give and take here helps them feel like they have choices - but be clear that this time is non-negotiable.
Be consistent with your set reading times during school or review time. Don't let them pick math over reading and then be "too tired" to read. Reward or incentivize for their attention and best effort during reading time so the experience ends on a positive note.
Example: "you can go out to play after reading time."
Keep reading practice time sacred. This is the time when your child practices familiar books and reads to others. This will reinforce that reading is not just for "school time" but it's a skill everyone works on daily.
And then, of course, don't skip the read aloud. This should be the best time of the day and allow you to choose books above your child's reading level so he can see that if he keeps practicing he can read books like Hatchet and The Hardy Boys on his own some day.
"Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent."
~ Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer
Choice and Interest
Boys often have particular interests in reading materials and oftentimes moms and female teachers fail to recognize this. There may be bias toward what good reading material is and the books that may have interested you or your daughter may be a real drag to the boys.
It's okay to give in in this area. I've overheard parents argue with middle school boys about books and it only serves to make them less reluctant to read.
None of us like to read books that are boring, irrelevant, or fail to capture our interest. Let's give boys the flexibility and freedom to read what they want and not make them feel bad about their choices. I know, Captain Underpants is not on every parent's dream list, but trust me, he will grow out of it. And if he doesn't then maybe he's destined to be a comedian, comic book writer, or even a successful author like Dav Pilkey (who by the way has a tear jerker of a story and one you need to hear if you have a child who may see the world a bit differently than most do!)
Books Choices and Genres
Here are the choices about reading that boys tend to make. Knowing this information can help you research appropriate books that you will allow and that are tuned to his interests. Of course, these are generalities based on research and experience, you know your child best so stay attuned to his likes and dislikes.
Boys tend to prefer:
- comic books and graphic novels*
- joke books
- stats books
- strong boy protagonists who go on adventures
- history or science based fiction**
- series books
- realistic fiction
- fantasy and science fiction
- online research
*parents please always preview graphic novels for content and make sure it's appropriate for your child
**hence why series books like The Magic Tree House and Star Wars are so popular
This is definitely a tough one. There is a lot that can eat up reading time: television, video games, sports, play time, play dates and sleepovers, parties and other activities
Do your best. Life is a balancing act. Sports and outdoor activities are also healthy for a child's development. Think more about the tone you are trying to set in the home and the culture you want as a family. What are your core values that you want to be evident in how you live as a family?
I assume literacy is a core value. You will need to define what that looks like for your family. It may mean no electronics or no television, or limiting these for seasons.
What we do more of we do better. Better readers tend to read more which makes them better readers. Weaker readers tend to read less thus keeping them behind stronger readers. It's all about how you communicate what's important as a family. I allowed video games and television but always kept parameters around those things.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Whenever my boys showed an interest in certain books or authors, I jumped on that opening.
Sometimes it meant dropping everything and going to the library to find the latest books he was interested in, taking the time to order from a different branch, and yes, paying those library fines too!
I also took advantage of free book exchange sites like paperbackswap.com and gave my children the log in so they could order books or place them on their wish lists.
For the latest best sellers, it meant buying them new and pre-ordering to make sure the book was in my son's hands as soon as it was released. Honestly, I rarely said "no" to a book purchase. The good news is there are many ways to get books at reduced costs now days!
Be an example to them and read. Creating a print rich home environment goes a long way to deeply planting the seed that reading is a value your family holds dear.
Show interest in what he is reading. It may not be our cup of tea but take the time to read aloud with him the books that are lighting his fire at the moment - who knows - you just might find Diary of a Wimpy Kid is funnier than you thought it would be!
Make it Competitive
Chances are your boys are more competitive or goal driven than the girls (again, a generality but this might work for you). Create goals and races or competitions to get there.
My son didn't really take off until about third grade when his teacher set reading goals for all her students. It worked and he ended up reading about 65 books that school year! Learn more about setting goals with readers from author Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild.
Try book logs, reading logs, Lucky Listeners (for young ones), rewards, incentives, exchanges for screen time, etc.
Most of all - just have fun. Let your child have fun. Enjoy the process and be in the moment. Grit your teeth if you have to during the Diaper Baby season but just keep them moving forward and keep the love of reading your main focus.
The following list is roughly structured from early readers to fluent readers in middle school. Please comment and share some of your son's favorites!
Nate the Great
Henry and Mudge
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Baseball Card Adventures
Matt Christopher books - all about sports
Magic Tree House
The Magic Schoolbus
The Boxcar Children
Sideways Stories from Wayside School
Choose Your Own Adventure
The Hardy Boys
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Graphic Novels - parents preview content first
G.A. Henty - historical fiction
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Thanks for tuning in and letting me share what's near and dear to my heart.
I would love to share more with you in our Facebook Group. Click HERE To Join. ~ Mary