Every year CLiF works with thousands of low-income, at-risk, and rural children from birth to age 12. And every year, without fail, our most challenging clients are the oldest boys.
We’re not alone. Nationwide boys read at a lower rate than girls, drop out of school at higher rates than girls, go to college at lower rates than girls, and earn college degrees at lower rates than girls.
On Saturday, January 18 I was on a panel at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier discussing Boys and Books. (Read Bear Pond’s wonderful blog post here). I spoke that day from the perspective of someone who has worked with tens of thousands of young readers over the years. I also spoke as the father of 13-year-old boy who started as a bit of a reluctant reader but has grown into a strong and avid consumer of books.
Here are a four suggestions I would give anyone trying to help spark a boy’s interest in books and reading. These apply to girls as well:
1. Let Kids Choose
When I started CLiF in 1998 I was somewhat of a book snob. I leaned towards recommending and distributing award-winners, classics, and well-reviewed series. Over the years I’ve grown to realize that our primary goal is not to get kids to read high-quality books, but to get kids to read. Period.
Research–and daily observation–shows clearly that boys who get to select the books they read are much more likely to enjoy reading and to read more often.
2. Make Fun Reading Materials Easy to Find
When he was younger our son resisted reading books. So I made sure he tripped daily over things he did like to read: Tintin, Calvin and Hobbes, Donald Duck comics, the Guinness World Book of World Records. I left them in the car, the bathroom, the living room, anywhere he might grab one and curl up for a bit. Hour upon hour he exercised his reading muscles on those scattered offerings until he was ready to tackle books.
3. Listening is Great Too
Do you have a boy who finds it hard to sit still to read a story? Who spends lots of time in the car? Get some audio books.
Many recorded books have excellent readers (such as Jim Dale from the Harry Potter series) who do a stellar job of bringing books alive. Some struggling readers also like to read a book to themselves while listening to the audio version.
And of course, the best way for a boy to hear a book is to read it to him aloud. Our son is now 13 and I read aloud to him for 30 minutes almost every night. It’s one of the highlights of our day, and every day his vocabulary, imagination, and world expand.
4. Find What They Like and Get It
Many reluctant readers finally fall into reading once they stumble across the one book that totally grabs them. The problem is that many boys don’t know how to find that one book.
Help them out. Think about what that particular boy might be into (hunting, science, cars, music, dance, sports) and ask librarians, bookstore staff, or other kids and parents what books might fit the bill. It’s like fishing: you might need to try a bunch of different lures before he bites.