- By grade 4 an average boy is two years behind an average girl in reading and writing
- Boys make up 70% of special education classes
- Boys are four times more likely to have ADHD
- Boys are 50% more likely to repeat a grade than girls
- Boys are three times more likely to be placed in a reading disability or learning class
Helping boys to become readers
I have shared some of these ideas in a previous post (here) but I've developed them a little further here. Before sharing a list of specific hints, let me share what I see as four fundamental things about boys and literacy:
1. Boys are more likely to be attracted to books and reading when the books and the reading event (whether at school, or reading with mum and dad) offer opportunities to discover, experiment, explore, learn new things, make them laugh, consider the curious or unusual, help them to play, see how things work, share trivia tricks and facts with other boys, explore the unknown, and generally do interesting things.
2. Boys need to understand the value of story and storytelling from an early age. This can be acquired through early books, the stories you share with them (anecdotes, memories, tall tales etc), traditional stories and fantasy. Until boys value story, they will struggle to cope with reading.
3. Fathers and mothers need to learn how to listen to and read with your sons. Reading to and with you should be enjoyable, not boring or a chore. See my previous post on this topic (here).
4. Fathers have a key role to play in boys literacy and learning development (see my post on research in this area here).
At a more basic level:
- Boys need a lot of help choosing books that they will not only like, but which they will be able to read. Take the time to help your sons choose books, if they pick up a book with an exciting cover and find that they can't read it this will be a disincentive.
- Fathers have a special role to play in encouraging boys to see reading as a worthwhile pursuit. Fathers who read will have sons who read. Fathers need to read to and with their sons. A good way to do this with older boys who struggle is to read the first few pages aloud and then ask your son to read on. In this way you'll find that your son can read for longer and cope with harder books.
- Don't forget the importance of non-fiction - boys want to learn and non-fiction is often a good way in - try books about sea creatures, space, sport, transport, technology of any kind.
- There is also a place for riddles, joke books, cartoons, poetry and silly rhymes.
- Comics and magazines are also a good place to start - get them reading. But don’t forget that it is the quality of the story that will ultimately motivate boys to want to read and so quality literature is important to develop long-term readers.
- Online reading and research is also a good source of reading challenge for boys.
Some sure fire starters for young boys
If you can't get your 3-5 year old boy to listen to a story try one of these ideas to turn around:
Read a book dramatically that lends itself to lots of action, loud noises and maybe a rumble half way through (when the wolf eats Grandma, or the boy gets falls out of the tree). Be dramatic, get their attention!
Read a story that they've heard before but mess up the story line as you go along. This is probably how writers invented fractured fairy tales. The first little pig built his house from straw, but he wasn't stupid, so he used super glue to hold the straw together. The wolf knocked at the door and said, "Little pig, little pig, let me come in." The pig replied, "No, no, no, I've used super glue, get lost." "Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow you're house down," roared the wolf. "Two chances wolfey, get lost" and so on. It doesn't matter if the story logic breaks down, they will still love it anyway.
Get out some dress-up clothes and get them involved in acting out the story. Try to involve all members of the family and have lots of fun. You can sacrifice the accuracy of the story in favour of having a great time.
Some books about Boys and reading
Some of the following books offer good general advice about boys and reading
'Bright beginnings for boys: Engaging young boys in active literacy', Debby Zambo and William G. Brozo, International Literacy Association
'The trouble with boys', Peg Tyre
'Best books for boys: A resource for educators', Matthew D. Zbaracki
'Raising bookworms: Getting kids reading for pleasure and empowerment', Emma Hamilton
'The Reading Bug', Paul Jennings
Other Web Resources
'Guys Read Website' - I don't like the design of this site but it has a great set of links to authors who write books that boys might like. Here is the link.
The UK Literacy Trust has a great list of resource links dealing with boys and literacy (here).
The Hamilton Public Library in Canada has a useful site with some good booklists and advice (here)
Max Elliot Anderson's blog 'Books for Boys' has some very useful material and links (here)
You can read all of my posts on boys (here) and boys education (here) using these links.
Family Action Centre at Newcastle University has an Excellent Fatherhood Network and many programs (here)