Raising Boys Who Want To Read

 by Allison McDonald

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 bed time. 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.