On Raising Boys Who Read

Photo: Flickr user KellyB.

My boys are voracious readers. Sometimes I’ve even been tempted to make them put the books down and do something else. Anything else. A friend of mine tells me that this is a good problem to have. Her son, the same age as my youngest, won’t pick up a book to save his life.

“How do you do it?” she asks.

She’s not the only one wondering. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal ponders How to Raise Boys Who Read. From the article:

According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, for example, substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. This disparity goes back to 1992, and in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents.

How did we get to this point with our boys? Some blame technology and video games. Others blame the reading material itself:

A considerable number of teachers and librarians believe that boys are simply bored by the “stuffy” literature they encounter in school. According to a revealing Associated Press story in July these experts insist that we must “meet them where they are”–that is, pander to boys’ untutored tastes.

While I don’t disagree with the idea of letting kids read what interests them, I didn’t have to pander to my kids with books like Zombie Butts from Uranus. My youngest did pick up Captain Underpants on the recommendation of a friend, but it didn’t cause him to seek out more books in the bathroom humor genre. I think he had enough sense to realize that while there may have been a few chuckles in the book, it really wasn’t as enjoyable as some of the other stories he’d read.

As a homeschooling family we’ve had the freedom to let reading occur at a more natural pace. I never sat down and said, “Today, we learn to read.” Instead, I read to the boys. A lot. I pointed out signs, telling them what they said. I made sure they had access to plenty of interesting reading material. Not just books, but maps, games, Pokemon cards, and LEGO catalogs. And they learned to read. Note that I didn’t say, “I taught them to read.” I didn’t. I gave them the opportunities and they essentially taught themselves. I answered plenty of  “How do you spell ___?” questions and told them what the unrecognizable words were when they asked. But that’s been the extent of my reading lessons.

My eldest was reading picture books at the age of four, and asking the librarian to help him find non-fiction books on topics of interest at five. My youngest was a late reader. At age eight, he didn’t read much beyond some familiar and basic words but he was desperate to know what all the Harry Potter fuss was about. I told him that when he could read, he could read Harry Potter. He’d finished the first book in the series two weeks later because all of a sudden, reading became interesting and important to him. Today? Both boys are reading at levels well beyond their respective grade level.

I think that because my boys have had the opportunity to read what interested them, at their own pace, they’ve learned that reading isn’t a chore that must be completed, but rather an activity to be enjoyed. My youngest – the late reader – carries a book with him everywhere he goes in case there’s a down moment when he can squeeze in a little reading for pleasure.

That Wall Street Journal article closes with this interesting fact:

There is no literacy gap between home-schooled boys and girls.

This is not to say that every homeschooling family uses the same method. Certainly that’s not the case. But somewhere between home and school, something is going on. Is it the push in schools for high scores on standardized testing? Is it the long hours of seat time leaving boys with the desire to do nothing but move when the bell rings?

My friend whose son is a reluctant reader feels very strongly that he was pushed to read when he wasn’t ready. His first two years of school was full of forced memorization. In her mind, those lessons did nothing but teach him to hate reading. Forcing our boys to sit and read when their brains are simply not there yet is counterproductive.

I’m not suggesting that everyone run out and homeschool. Absolutely not. And I’m not suggesting that kids with learning disabilities be left to their own devices. But why not take a lesson from what seems to be working and ask schools to ease up a bit? Give these boys the resources, let them read at their own pace, and I’d bet that in no time this problem will be a minor one. Let these poor kids learn to enjoy reading.

So, GeekMoms. Is your son a reader? What did you do to encourage a love of reading? Was there one teacher who really inspired him? This is my story; tell us yours!

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