Current research suggests that boys spend less time reading than girls. In their research on gender and literacy, educators Michael Smith (Temple University) and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm (Boise State University) identified several reasons for this discrepancy, including: it often takes boys longer to learn to read than girls; boys seem to value reading less than girls do; and girls tend to comprehend both narrative and expository text more easily than boys. Parents of boys often find themselves wondering: “how can I engage my son more willingly in the important habit of reading?”
Here are some recommendations:
Model good reading habits:
Role models play an important part in boys reading for pleasure. Family reading time, bringing a book along when there is an anticipated waiting time, or looking up information together adds value to the experience of reading. Reading aloud to a boy provides an opportunity to engage him in a book outside his independent reading level.
Find what they are interested in:
Boys should be encouraged to read what excites them, which often includes comics and graphic novels, informational texts, magazines/news articles, biographies, and other non-fiction texts. Boys may be encouraged to read when they see themselves in the text, so begin by looking for male characters who enjoy similar experiences or activities.
Make books part of the conversation:
Integrating books into everyday conversation reinforces reading as an important and worthwhile task. Making references to books that are being read in school, or books that family members are reading, can help raise a boy’s interest in reading, especially when he sees that it is a valued activity by important people in his life.
Read every day:
Reading should be a daily routine. Reading for at least 20 minutes a day exposes children to an abundance of vocabulary and language. Reading time can take multiple forms, such as reading several short articles, reading from a website, being read to by a friend or family member, or following along with an audio file.
At The Haverford School, we employ a comprehensive literacy program that intentionally connects language development to reading and writing skills. By the time our students depart the upper elementary grades, they are capable of reading authentic literary and information texts and writing structured, organized narratives, informational, and opinion pieces. By weaving literacy skills across an integrated curriculum, the boys have the opportunity to apply their knowledge in multiple contexts, which reinforces key skills necessary for success in the innovation era: critical thinking, empathy, problem solving, creativity, and collaboration.
By modeling good reading habits, following boys’ lead on interesting topics and themes, and incorporating reading into everyday life, we can start to shift the trend in boys’ perceptions of reading. This will propel their self-confidence, their academic success, and their proclivity toward lifelong learning.
Dr. Pam Greenblatt is Head of Lower School at The Haverford School. She holds a B.A. in speech and hearing science and psychology from George Washington University, an M.A. in speech language pathology from George Washington University, and a doctorate in educational and organizational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.