In my previous article I explored a few of the reasons why our boys are reluctant to read. To follow on from this, I plan to compile a series of tips that I share with parents of reluctant readers. While not foolproof, they are a starting point, and the earlier you get started the more successful they are. The great news is, that although I have specifically compiled this list with boys in mind, the strategies will work equally well with girls too.
Tip 1 : Read to Them
It sounds obvious but if we want our boys to read we must read to them; the earlier the better. I read to all my kids in utero (although to be fair as an English Teacher I was doing this anyway). However, right from birth is the right time to begin spending time with children sharing books. Initially, choose brightly coloured board books with minimal text and perhaps texture. At this stage it is all about the quality of the engagement with your child. Your aim is to establish reading as a pleasant experience. Don’t forget that you are also teaching your child important skills for all readers, the correct way to hold a book and turn a page!
As boys move into the toddler stage they will become more interested in the story. Often, this is the time that they will find a favourite book which they will want to read with you every day. This is great, and by the time they are pre-schoolers they will probably know it by heart. However, don’t forget to share with boys a range of books; picture books that use rhyme, humour and repetition; along with non-fiction books on topics they are interested in (try dinosaurs, animals, trains). Don’t forget to read with enthusiasm, play around with the voices and above all make it fun, we need to convey that reading is a pleasurable experience not a chore.
As boys begin to read independently, around the time they start school, they will start reading to you. This is important, although don’t stop reading to them. Choose books a little harder than they can manage themselves. I recommend selecting a novel together and reading it a chapter at a time each night. My son loved Anna & Barbara Fienberg & Gamble’s Tashi series which had relatively short chapters interspersed with delightful hand drawings. As they get older so does the sophistication of the stories you choose. However, always allow children to be involved in the selection process and ensure that what you share together is a little trickier than what they would happily manage on their own.
As children move into adolescence it is still a useful activity to read to them. I’m serious. While they probably won’t appreciate you cuddling up with them each night to read, there are times where reading to your teenager aloud can be a useful activity. At this stage you want to assist your child to develop advanced reading skills. Imagine that your grade 8 child comes to you with concerns about their homework assignment. Use the opportunity to read the task to them, aloud, highlighting the key words as your go and breaking the task down into manageable chunks. Similarly, when your child comes to you with a draft that they need help with, read it back to them, aloud. When you stumble in your reading ask them “Why do your think I am having trouble reading this?”, or say, “This doesn’t sound right to me. What do you think you need to do to improve the fluency of this writing?”
Reading to your child is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. While it is great if both parents can participate in this activity, the best results with boys are yielded when it is Dad (or another male role model) who takes the lead with this. In our home we made the conscious decision that it would be my husband who would read to the children. Practically, it would have been easier for me to take control of this, fortunately my husband understood how important it was for our son especially. Essentially, when children grow up in a home where only Mum reads, we risk a situation where we are conveying the message that reading is a feminine activity. Children learn what they live. When a father reads to his son, he gives him permission to participate in an activity that for men is not always celebrated in Australian society.