Your daughter loves nothing better than to cuddle up with you and read for hours on end. Your son, on the other hand, will sit still for a cozy read for maybe five minutes; then his attention wanders, he’s bouncing around, and he’s off before the prince has time to rescue Snow White. On his own, he will read only comic books or the instructions for a video game.
With all the research emerging about reading ability being the most important skill for academic success, what is an anxious parent to do? “First of all, relax,” says reading expert Jacki Crowther, Books for Kids program manager for Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program. “He’s reading. Whether it’s classic literature or the back of a cereal box, he’s gaining facility in decoding words; he’s learning vocabulary; and most important, he’s learning to enjoy it.” Jacki recommends the Web site guysread.com as a good resource for parents or anyone trying to encourage a boy to read.
You can give your son the benefits of reading in many ways. In workshops for families, Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program teaches parents how to work reading time into their hectic schedules. “This is important for all of us,” says Shana Faulkner, Page Ahead’s Family Involvement program coordinator, “whether you are a two-income household busy with careers and soccer practice, or a single mom working two jobs to make ends meet, we all face challenges in finding time to read with our children.” Shana recommends including children, especially boys, in activities that require reading. “Read the assembly instructions together when you put together a bicycle. Read the how-to manual when you need to fix the toilet.”
All of these activities help children become better readers. In fact, in America’s Smallest School: The Family, P.E. Barton and R.J. Coley state, “The more types of reading materials there are in the home, the higher students are in reading proficiency.” Choice is the key to getting all children, including boys, to read. When children are able to follow their interests and have access to a variety of books and reading materials, they are more likely to read for recreation and will spend more time reading. Your son may be less articulate than your daughter in explaining to you his reading preferences; be sure to provide him with books and periodicals about his favorite hobbies or sports. Boys also enjoy humor, so let him read the comics. Better he spend an hour reading a comic book than just five minutes reading The Wind in the Willows.
In West Seattle, Schmitz Park Elementary successfully gets boys and girls reading with Read Naturally, a reading program that involves choosing a story to read independently, first on their own, then aloud with a recording. The recording helps the children learn proper pronunciation and punctuation. After reading the story once on their own and three times with the recording, each child times himself to see how many words he can read in one minute. The equipment — tape deck, headphones and a timer that dings — allows the children to use all of their senses. This is appealing to all the children, especially the boys. Teri Korsmo, Read Naturally program coordinator, says that even boys who say they hate reading enjoy this program. Choice again plays an important role in the children’s success. Teachers prepare individual packets of stories to suit each child’s interests; each child then chooses his own reading material from within that packet.
Boys are also particularly interested in reading information that they can use or that relates to their lives. Teri has noticed that when a story sparks a child’s interest, he will often bring to class newspaper articles or other information on the topic. Letting him follow his interest allows him to take his learning beyond vocabulary and story comprehension.
To encourage at-risk children to read, Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program gives away approximately 150,000 books a year, primarily to children from low-income families. Giving children their choice of books is integral to the program’s philosophy. The agency always provides a wide variety of titles, plus extra books, so that no child is stuck with the last book on the table. Books for Kids manager Jacki Crowther asserts the importance allowing children to choose, “Give the kids what they want to read and they’ll read it. Give them something they don’t care about, and you’re wasting your time.”
Children who spend time reading do better in every subject in school, including the sciences. So let your son read what he wants. Who knows? He might even learn something along the way.
If you would like to give books to children living in poverty, or learn more about Page Ahead Children’s Literacy program, visit www.pageahead.org or call 206-461-0123.