Parents have trouble encouraging boys and girls alike to read, but could it possibly be more difficult with boys? Yes! You’re not imagining it if you feel your son is especially reluctant to read. Various studies have found that young boys fall behind girls when it comes to reading. Some suggest that boys are reading, but lack interesting material because publishers target female demographics. This argument is based on the premise that publishing editors are mostly women and perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy by only supporting books that appeal to girls and women. Accounts like this claim that reading is marketed as feminine (Kindle ads aren’t manly enough), so reading doesn’t appeal to men. It is also suggested that boys do in fact read, but that their interests in humor, violence, and athleticism don’t qualify as “real reading.” This is particularly obvious when we think about how comics often are not considered serious reading material.
So maybe boys are reading. In fact, the American 2012 Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Reportfound that 40 percent of both girls and boys read 1–4 days per week (although 36 percent of girls reported reading 5–7 days per week versus 32 percent of boys). So what’s the problem? The problem is that boys don’t love reading as much as girls: 34 percent of girls rate their enjoyment of reading books for fun as “I like it a lot,” while only 25 percent of boys said they liked reading books for fun a lot. Similarly, only 26 percent of boys “love” reading books for fun compared to the 32 percent of girls that “love” reading books for fun. The Scholastic India report that was released earlier last week came to the same conclusion: Only 78% of boys “loved” or “liked” reading versus the 84% of girls that reported really liking or enjoying reading. Perhaps boys don’t claim to enjoy reading as much because they are told what they do enjoy reading — for example graphic novels or sports magazines — is not “real reading.” Whatever the reason, it is important to make reading more fun for boys. I mean, how likely are you to do something you don’t enjoy? It shouldn’t feel burdened.
It’s not all bad news for boys though! The American 2012 report found that 47 percent of boys considered reading “very important” or “extremely important,” an increase from the 39 percent of boys that considered reading very or extremely important in 2010. The Scholastic India report found that 54 percent of boys considered strong reading skills important — more important than computer skills, critical thinking, or math skills. The Scholastic India study also found that both boys and girls equally agree that they would read more if they could find books they liked. This means things are looking up for readership amongst boys but how can parents encourage boys to read, especially with all the technology and entertainment of today? There are plenty of tips online, but here are some steps to encourage your son to read:
Step 1: Expand the definition of reading to integrate reading into any activity
Encourage any kind of reading. Let your child practice her or his reading skills and grow confident. Even reading manuals and instructions is still reading. As adults, we have such an easy time reading such materials that we don’t even consider this reading. However, to a child whose skills are still developing, such a small feat is still a challenge — and a future victory you can celebrate conquering together!
Practice reading, no matter what you’re doing. Get creative with this! If your boy likes brownies, have him read the recipe instructions to you while you bake. If he likes birds, buy a birdhouse set and have him follow the directions. Considering the Scholastic report found that boys don’t enjoy reading as much as girls, it’s important to create positive associations with reading early on. Integrate reading into whatever you’re doing, rather than focusing on reading as the main activity itself.
Step 2: Read aloud… but only at first
It is important for parents to read to their children. It builds a sense of connection, comfort, and joy. This is well known. But reading aloud can also be a way to encourage your son to read on.
Think about what makes you want to read a book. A cliffhanger, perhaps? So read aloud to your child until you reach a cliffhanger. Then put off reading to them for a while. For example, if you’re reading Cinderella, stop as the clocks strikes midnight. Tell your son you’ll continue tomorrow night, and put off reading the rest of the book to him to motivate him to finish reading it himself. The Scholastic study showed that boys realize reading is important, so use this step to show your son that reading is also exciting and full of suspense. If you’re reading a longer book likeHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, there are multiple cliffhangers to end on: after Hagrid gives Harry his invitation to Hogwarts, right before Harry’s put into Gryffindor, and so on. Each twist and turn in the plot is an opportunity for your son to take charge and read on by himself.Use reading aloud to your son to gradually transform him into an independent reader.
Step 3: Choose books based on his interests
Your child is now used to both reading parts of a book, but not a whole book. It’s only a matter of time! It is important to continue to emphasize the fun of reading. The Scholastic India report from last week found that both boys and girls would be equally happy to read more if they were able to find more books they were interested in. Use reading to expand on your son’s interests. If your son likes watching the TV show Chota Bheem, then go and get him the book series or have him write his own adventures and fan fiction. If he’s an avid soccer player, get a book on the history of soccer or books with characters that play soccer. Your son will see reading as a fun way to learn more about the things he thinks are cool.
Step 4: Talk about the movie vs. the book
It’s somewhat disputed, but literature is regarded by many adults as superior to film or television. Convey this sentiment to your son. Choose a book with a film adaptation. Read the book, watch the movie, and then discuss the differences: What was missing from the movie? How were the actors casted different from what you envisioned? Did you like the book or the movie more? Help your son appreciate books — and movies — more deeply.
Step 5: Buy books written by the same author
Your child loves a particular book, maybe even an entire series. Take advantage of this! Go ahead and purchase books by the same author. With this last step, you should have a son who isn’t intimidated by reading and truly enjoys it!
These steps can be used to develop the reading skills of all young children, regardless of gender, but hopefully they are especially useful in developing a craving for books in our young boys. As parents, you are a big part of nurturing the future generation of readers and obliterating the myth that reading is for girls?