Raising Boys Who Want To Read

 by Allison McDonald


raising boys who want to read

I was reading this article from the Huffington Post while nursing my daughter over the weekend. After she drifted off to sleep I laid there next to her thinking about how we as educators, parents and adults, in general, handle our boys and what they choose to read. This is a fresh topic at our house because my son has started reading independently; while he is far from fluent, he can read simple “I Can Read” books alone if they interest him.

How do we get our boys interested in books?

Read to them starting from birth.

That is the most basic answer, but it’s not a complete one. Some kids won’t sit for books while some need to be moving when taking in the information. Some simply don’t want to read. It looks hard; it looks confusing, and it makes them feel dumb when they can’t figure it out.

You have to make them want to figure it out – to conquer that desire to give up with a stronger desire to find out how to read so they can read something really cool.

So how do we make books worth the effort?

Teaching boys to love books doesn’t start when they are learning to read in kindergarten. It starts at birth by making books a daily part of their play time, not just bedtime. Here are some strategies we’ve used:

We did many book festivals when my son was a toddler. We’d pile up a ton of books, jump on the bed or couch, and read. I always gave him the power to choose the books we read, which gave him a sense of control and allowed him to develop favorites and his own opinions. I wrote a post about how we discovered this strategy and how it came from my son’s inability to sit stuck snuggled on my lap to read as a toddler.

Make going to the library a regular activity. My son hates story time at the library, not because of the librarian (whom he is actually quite fond of ) but because he doesn’t want to sit and listen to the books she chooses. He wants to listen to the books he chooses. So if your child dislikes storytime don’t give up on the library. Try other times; let them choose their own books and don’t just show them the kids section, show them all the adults reading too.

Which brings us to the next strategy: role models. Boys need to see the men in their life reading. As a stay at home mom whose husband works long hours with a long commute, I end up doing most of the reading, but it’s still easy to create wonderful role models even if time together isn’t abundant. I got my son and husband a subscription to Sports Illustrated to share. They read the articles together and have some “man time” reading it together. It gives them special time together while also promoting reading.

Let them choose their books, but steer them to widen their horizons too. My son is all about Batman so we scour the library for these books, some of which I am not fond of. But he is so excited about reading I think it’s more important to keep building that foundation of books being cool and developing his view of himself as a reader that I enthusiastically pop them in our basket. Don’t be quick to say no to a type of book. What your child might hear is you saying no to reading.

Another strategy is to let kids “break the rules” with books. I am not advocating stealing books or any other real rule breaking; what I am talking about is letting kids stretch out bedtime with some reading time of their choice.  We just started this with my son and it’s so thrilling to see him enjoying reading alone.

My last strategy is what I feel is my mission here at No Time For Flash Cards, which is to use books as the foundation for play. We go both ways, sometimes reading a book first and sometimes starting with play then finding the books to go along with it.  When my son read this Babar book with me last week  he immediately wanted to dress up like the soldiers, so we fashioned a costume, not just for the pretend play that followed but because it attached a positive association to reading,  it reiterated to him that reading is part of play.The statistics are frightful, but we aren’t powerless. There are things we can do to help make reading and books accessible to young kids (especially reluctant readers) and yet again it comes back around to play. Hopefully with a strong foundation of trust in the enjoyment books provide the less enjoyable side of reading will be worth the effort.

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  1. Coffee and a Mop says

    My first son (he’s 6 now) I read to almost every day since he was born. He loves books now.
    My youngest (almost 2) would rather eat the books. He has absolutely no interest in listening to me read from the books. which is totally fine…i know he’ll out grow that. What makes it hard is the fact that whenever i go to read to my other son he wants to be part of it…but he just likes to grab the book and tries to eat it…if i take it away it brings on the tantrum…which ruins the story time between me and my other son.

    But like I said…he will out grow it lol.

    • admin says

      My daughter eats books too – and I think her brother did to start with too. I read to her at meal times when she is contained more often because even if I give her a book just to eat while we read another one she will still grab the book we are reading.

  2. anonymous says

    Great post! Thank you! My son is about the same age as yours and just on the cusp of beginning to read on his own. It is very exciting and I’m thrilled that he loves books. We visit our library often and he, too, is in love with the superhero books – many of which are not the best. I was so glad to see you address this in your post. I’ve been allowing my son to check them out too, for fear that he would lose interest in books and the library if there are too many restrictions. I’ve found that he only wants to browse the superhero books at the library, but when i read to him at home, he’s happy to listen to a mixture of the superheros and other books as well. Our routine at the library has become him choosing superhero books while i choose some more age appropriate books (many of which are suggestions i get from your site – thank you!). He always brings a stack of superheros over and says “mommy, did you choose some books for me too?”. So, its working for us for now. So glad to know I’m not alone in this.
    I’d love to see a similar post for ideas on how to encourage our sons with writing. my son does not have a strong interest in art, so I’m always looking for other ways to encourage writing, drawing, etc.. So far, I’ve found that he likes mazes like the ones you see on kids menus at restaurants and connect the dots pages too. I’ve been able to print those for free online, but would love any other suggestions you may have!

    • admin says

      I think we have the same little guy! Mine was and still is sometimes really reluctant to write and to be honest it so bugged me. But it bugged me not because he needed to write at 4 but because I saw how ready he seemed, but his reluctance at 4 was developmentally on par and a sign he wasn’t ready. So like you I found the things that used writing tools and encouraged drawing, line-making, and some writing. Mazes were big around here at Christmas time.

      Something my son’s teacher and I both do to encourage his pretend play but to use it in other areas is to have him write super hero ( and previously police and fire station) reports. Don’t worry about spelling, shapes of letters etc… right off the bat just get him wanting to write on his terms. I hope that helps, also here are a few posts of ideas we’ve used http://www.notimeforflashcards.com/category/writing-activities

  3. says

    Love this post – I just posted a ‘craft’ (well really an activity) on your link and learn, because last week I was trying to get my son (2nd of two) to learn some sight words, and I had to get creative and appeal to his interests to motivate him… boys and reading can be a challenge!

    • admin says

      Yes so true obviously all these strategies can be used for boys or girls, I was focusing on boys because of the article that inspired the post and how boys lag behind girls in this area.

  4. says

    Want a great book to red with your little? We are reading The adventures of Old Mr. Toad, by Thornton W. Burgess. Excellent book, highly appropriate for the little boys or girls in your family. Great science lessons weaved into a fun story line and stretching vocabulary make this classic very worth while! We are loving it! Great read-aloud!

  5. MICHELLE says

    I so agree with you. The biggest to me is just to read to your kids from very young, leave books lying around, make it part of their normal environment and try to minimise other media as much as possible when they are little. The other is to focus on the pleasure of reading not the process of learning to read. Keep reading to your kids until they can read to themselves and beyond. Never shame a child about not being able to read. And yes, let them see you enjoying reading.
    Don’t give rewards for reading either – it implies that it is something that is not fun (would you give your child a reward for watching television). And your idea of tolerating or even better not frowning on books that are not exactly works of art – hard to do but I agree.

  6. says

    Hi, Great post. What I see in schools here in the UK is a totally uninspiring set of first reading books (Kipper and the magic key) They are soooo concerned with word sets and a dull, dull, dull set of characters that the books are just not worth reading – how do our educators imagine that kids will be inspired by them. I kid you not, I’m bored by the cover let alone when we open the books. When we go to the library we look for books about Star Wars and Ben 10 – Like the writer I’m not particularly taken with this genre of books either, but our 6yo is, and surely that’s the point. He needs to be fired up by reading. I think maybe girls get more fired up by learning than boys and so don’t mind that the material they’re asked to wade through is abysmal. Thanks for the post, it made me think and I’ll be signing up to your RSS, looks like an interesting blog.

    • admin says

      I think one thing and I am SO guilty of this is that so many early years teachers are women and frankly don’t have much interest in the more violent, fantasy , crude humor books that boys are fascinated with. We end up not suggesting these books and many boys drop off and lose interest in reading. We need to suck it up and realize that boys ( and some girls too) need to be steered towards these books or we may loose them to books altogether.

  7. Shaye says

    That’s weird. I am a preschool special ed. teacher and all of my male students love books! Maybe it’s because I love books and it’s infectious:) We really have fun and we pick the best books.

    • admin says

      Shaye when I was teaching preschool my boys and girls were pretty equal too , but if you read the original Huffington Post article I linked you’ll see that the drop off is in school age kids. These strategies are suggested to give our boys ( and girls) a deep foundation so when they hit those later school age years that the interest doesn’t drop off completely. Your students are lucky to have a great teacher already keeping them interested in books!

  8. Diane says

    Boys are never too old to be read to. So after they have learned how to read IMO parents should continue to read to them and make it a sharing venture. I was still reading to my son when he was 9 years old. Some friends thought he should do it himself but the question arose, would he? Now he is 40 years old and still is a reader for pleasure and information, so I think my response to continue the reading paid off. Reading was not easy for him which is the main reason I continued it past the time I might have stopped and gotten my own book:-)

  9. nopinkhere says

    Glad my guy is not the only one who hates storytime. I never really thought of it as a control issue before. Thanks for that perspective. So far we have avoided the superhero books; not sure my son knows they exist. He heads straight for Elephant and Piggie instead.

  10. says

    I actually remember when you showed a video of your son reading Freight Train years ago. “Reading.” BUT still! At that point my daughter, about the same age, was not verbal (speech disorder). I never forgot that.

    I actually have a draft of a post written bc my son didn’t like books as a baby-unless you count chewing the spines. But I didn’t require him to sit, and found books that he could interact with. Now he likes all sorts of books-even long ones.

    Thanks for keeping up the great work!

    • admin says

      Did that post discourage you? I am asking honestly because when I wrote it I was thinking that it would be obvious he was memorizing, and we’d read it 500000 times but how I think it will come across and how it does are sometimes miles apart.

      I think it’s awesome you found books he liked and he’s developed a love of books, yay mama!! My 11 month old likes chewing and ripping books 🙁 not so much anything else!

  11. Rebecca says

    I have three boys, all of whom love to read. My oldest was the toughest, but my sister-a librarian-suggested I read him Calvin and Hobbes, or any assortment of comic strips geared towards children. He also only chose Non fiction books to read until about the seventh grade. we did invest in some books on cd (namely Harry Potter) and made sure we exposed him to books whenever we could. Thanks to the comic strips, he is really ahead in language understanding and loves to read now, as a junior in high school. Because he reads, the others of course want to emulate him. We did read to all of our children from the onset, and also they all saw the both of us reading. Good luck to you!

  12. Erica C says

    Good post, My son is about the same age as yours and just on the cusp of beginning to read on his own. It is very exciting and I’m thrilled that he loves books. We visit our library often and he, too, is in love with the superhero books – many of which are not the best. Thanks for sharing.

  13. says

    Thank you for writing this important post. As a former teacher, I have seen what happens when reading isn’t encouraged prior to Kindergarten, especially in boys, and the gap is often so large, many children simply never catch up or learn to enjoy reading. Thank you for bringing attention to this important issue and suggesting such wonderful ideas to help engage children, especially boys, in reading.

  14. says

    As a children’s librarian (and a GUY children’s librarian, at that), I’m always excited to see new ideas for getting boys excited about reading. It certainly begins at home, and, as you say, making sure your boy can see men who model reading and enjoying books.

    For some other ideas, I’ve been impressed with Michael Sullivan’s “Connecting Boys With Books: Closing the Reading Gap.” His research is good, he’s had a great deal of experience in various relevant roles, and he’s succinct.

    And of course, bring your kids (boys and girls) to your local public library. A good librarian should find out what your child likes, and can then suggest so many wonderful choices. I try to review a lot of the ones I recommend for boys, in particular, in my blog.

  15. Dawn says

    I have a one year old and she would rather be moving. If we are alone together she has started to sit on my lap – which is so exciting to me. So, if I just read books out loud while she looks at another — is that the thing to do? It’s hard for a Mommy to stay motivated when I’m not sure she’s getting anything out of it. I feel like it is the thing to do, she is getting something out of it and I just want to be told I’m right. Am I right? 🙂 Thanks!

    • admin says

      yes yes you re doing it right! She is seeing mommy read which is a basic foundation for her enjoying and understanding what it means to read and what books are for. I would find some books with dynamic elements for her as well, like lift the flap books. My daughter adores them and it gives her some opportunity to move as well. Have fun with her and remember your job isn’t to force her at this age to sit and listen it’s to provide the environment for her to do it when she is ready.

  16. Kate says

    I have three sons (6, 4 and 2yrs) and I am really lucky that all three of them love to read and have books read to them. I think it was just part of my oldest sons’ temperment to love reading because he adored books from birth! On his frist Christmas he received a hardbound copy of the complete collection of curious george and it instantly became his favorite book. He would sit on the couch at one year of age and listen to 50+ pages of curious george! (my husband and I were quite sick of the book in no time at all! haha) I definitely think his interest in reading helped him in kindergarten! He had a pretty easy time learning his phonic sounds and was reading early readers fairly quickly. He still prefers to be read to by mom and dad though, because his “big books” are more interesting than the simple readers 😉

    My younger two boys are a lot more active than my oldest and they DO have a hard time sitting still for an entire story. However, they still request stories all the time – they just want to wiggle around and flop onto the couch, off of the couch, onto the couch, off of the couch, etc while they listen! haha

    My husband and I are both big, big readers. I normal read 3 or 4 books a month and my husband reads even more than I do! So I think it helps that the kids have grown up seeing reading as a choice leisure activity instead of a chore.

    • admin says

      I think it’s great that you know that when they wiggle and move it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are done reading. Many parents will scold a child for not sitting still and end the story, which is exactly the opposite thing we want to do. Toddlers wiggle , it’s what they do. Parents would probably be shocked to find out what wiggly “distracted” kids are taking in. Kudos to you!!

  17. says

    I know so many men who seem to hate reading that I didn’t want the same thing for my son. I’ve made books part of his scene since birth and so far it seems to be working – he’s not quite three and loves books. During the day, he’ll “read” books and bring them to us to read to him and every evening his story time is a favourite time. He also insists on bringing books when we go for longer car rides and when we take trips. One of our tricks is that books are always accessible – he never has to ask. In addition, we make sure that there are not only to fiction books but that there are non-fiction books on things that interest our son such as dinosaurs, animals and construction vehicles. This love of reading has also led to knowing his letters and a little word recognition. Hopefully we can keep him on track and he’ll continue to love books throughout his life.

  18. says

    I just love this post and also agree wholeheartedly. I have read to all three of my children, two boys and 1 girl from the day they were born and all three love books. I’m a big fan of picking out books together and reading anywhere and making reading a natural part of our life. Thank you for such an important post! Thank you for sharing your link with our Bonbon Break readers!

  19. Lisa says

    First, I have to say how much I love your website! I have three boys, 5, 3, and 1, and we are on our fourth consecutive year of cooperative preschool (2 years with oldest, and currently in second year with middle). Parents must volunteer one day each week, and on the weeks I’m responsible for bringing a project, yours is the first website I consult and am never disappointed. You’re so full of fun and creativity, thank you!

    Onto the reading issue, I highly recommend the Guys Read website (www.guysread.com). It’s mission is just this, helping boys find books that interest them, that make them want to read. I’ve gotten several books for my guys based on the suggestions on this site and they’re always a hit. Also, I’m finding that even though it somehow feels like I’m violating a motherly edict that requires me to teach some semblance of propriety, it’s okay to read your kids “The Day my Butt Went Psycho” and other such fare.

  20. Toni says

    I love to read. My children have tons of books in their rooms(read: Mommy is book junkie) my younger daughters have often struggled with reading…then my son comes along, and wham! He is a natural. We chuckled because the night before first grade we kept having to ask him to go to sleep. In the morning there was a big stack of books on the floor. “I had to be ready for first grade,” he said. Now I am working on my daughters.

  21. Moriah says

    My son, now 11 (almost 12), is an avid reader. His kindergarten teacher actually asked me how I did it. I started reading to him regularly at just a few months old. I would put him down in his crib and hold up a very colorful book with simple words and read. Sometimes he would just stare at the book and others he just wanted to look around the room. When he didn’t seem focused on the book I would keep it short, but just after a year old he would bring books to me that he wanted read to him. By the time he was in preschool he could read simple books. He was reading chapter books by third grade.

  22. says

    As a father of five boys I have found that I cannot expect my boys to sit perfectly still while they are being read to. Sometimes I let them play with lego bricks while I read and other times I let them color while I read to them. Boys like to be busy. We also have our boys listen to tapes/CD’s of stories while they play Lego. Thanks for the article.


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