Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Reading and boys

I get a lot of press releases land in my inbox, many of which I don't always have the time or inclination to read but one that arrived recently from the National Literacy Trust about gender and reading caught my eye. I'm quite a pushy parent when it comes to reading, I will admit.

It has been reported that when it comes to reading, there is a gender gap with many boys underachieving and falling behind girls in reading. Apparently last year 60,000 boys failed to reach the expected level in reading by age 11 and the gap is widening. Boys are less likely to be given books as presents and more likely to prefer watching TV than girls.   Action is required and that action needs to start at home where the gender gap starts.

Having both a boy and a girl at home, I must say I have noticed a difference in their approach to reading and thought this was pretty much par for the course. I have always provided them with tons of books and a bedtime story has been part of our routine since they were 3-4 months old. They both love books and have shelves groaning under the weight. 

When my son started school (he's just turned five now) he wasn't too interested in reading for himself although he has always loved looking at books and having stories read to him. He can be incredibly stubborn but I was surprised to find that with a little encouragement (and occasionally a small amount of bribery) he became more willing to try and has slowly but steadily progressed to a place where, whilst he can't read and understand everything, he enjoys trying and is so proud of himself when he finishes a book on his own. 

We read together everyday without fail, normally his school reading book but if we have time, a book of his choosing too. I've come to notice that he particularly enjoys non-fiction books and because I want him to carry on learning and enjoying reading, I recently asked him what his favourite things to read about were and bought him a stack of books from Amazon that he can read at his own pace, whenever he likes. 

I can't force him to love reading but I can hopefully help him find out that it can be fun and it doesn't have to be a chore. 

The National Literacy Trust has shared some handy tips about how to help boys engage with and enjoy reading.

1. Make reading active - Boys thrive on activity, so incorporate this into reading time. Get your sons to "act out" what they have read, and pretend to be book characters - you can join in too!

2. Provide male reading models - Male role models are really important. Fathers, grandfathers, uncles and older brothers can all play their part by letting younger boys see them reading. It doesn't matter if it's the newspaper, or a book or a recipe. In copying reading behaviour boys will gain confidence and get to be great readers too.

3. It doesn't have to be just books - Reading is reading no matter what it is. Reading doesn't have to mean just sitting down with a book; words are everywhere. Use road signs, posters, television guides and shopping lists to get your boys reading. Also magazines and comics are a great way to encourage boy to read as they tend to be visual learners.

4. Give lots of praiseBoys thrive on praise and will love getting attention for positive behaviours!  When he is reading well, give him encouragement and be specific rather than general about the praise you are giving. If a boy can understand exactly what he has done to earn the praise he will learn more quickly. 

5. Use an interest as a hook If there is a hobby or sport your son likes, find relevant fictional or non-fictional books that will appeal to him. Whether your boy likes soldiers, nature, aeroplanes, pirates or motorbikes, go to the library together and look for books on the subject.

6. Build regular reading time into the daySet aside a regular time to read with boys and listen to them reading.  Ask younger boys to point out things in the pictures.  Don’t stop reading with boys once they can read themselves, as boys can switch off from reading once they know the basics. 

7. Experiment with genresEncourage boys to try out a variety of books and authors to see what suits their taste - fast-paced adventure, horror and science-fiction are often popular, as are fact-based books such as the Guinness Book of Records.

I second point number 3 - we recently went out for the day to visit a National Trust property and my son had more fun that you can imagine trying to read the map and guide us around the grounds. He did it successfully and as it was completely his idea we were rather proud of him!

I'd love to know your views on this subject. Do you think boys fall behind? Do you treat your son differently to your daughter in terms of your expectations around reading? Do you have any ideas on how to engage your son and make reading more fun?

Thanks for stopping by and reading.


  1. Can't agree more re. number three, which, as Michael Rosen will tell you, is anathema to Michael Gove's approach to reading.

    We try to do bedtime stories each night with our almost-5-year-old: sometimes the next chapter of a long book we read to him, but encourage him to try some words; sometimes a shorter book he can manage some of; sometimes just picture-led wildlife books (his obsession).

    Have you read The Rights of the Reader by French writer Daniel Pennac? There's a great English edition with pictures by Quentin Blake. It's got lots of food for thought about our attitudes to reading, and towards teaching children to read, and has already got me thinking differently about what to do when my sons are not in the mood to read, or rejecting our current choices. Highly recommended.

    The other night I could tell that despite having chosen it, my eldest was tiring of the Animals of Farthing Wood. So rather than force him to read further, or give up, we co-created our own story based solely on the pictures. A giant killer mole on the loose was far more exciting and engaging.

    Here are the 10 rules offered up by the book:


    1. Thanks Robin, that's really interesting stuff and something I will definitely look into further. I find my own son develops better if he can be more creative - sitting him down to read or teach him just doesn't hold his interest and I think it's important that we find ways to help and encourage children at an individual level, as one size certainly does not fit all.

  2. Tough one - is it a boy thing???? I have two boys one an exceptional reader who devours reading and being read to - the other (my youngest not sure if that makes any difference) just doesnt want to read - never has doesnt want to have books read to him either - he reads his school book daily and he does actually like to buy books maybe reads the first page - if we are lucky and then thats it in the wardrobe or under the bed never to be seen again.

    1. I wouldn't like to say it is a boy thing, but the statistics speak for themselves I think. Obviously though there are going to be boys that love reading but somewhere along the way we seem to be letting it slip with boys.

  3. I have no idea and my son is probably a bit young yet to know but he's 25 months and loves books. I've always had huge enjoyment with books so I've been showing him books from when he was 2 months old after talking to a librarian who said you can't start too early.

    He gets books for presents a lot (always from me and sometimes from others too.) If I buy him a gift for no reason which I sometimes do, it's often a book. It had never occurred for me not to.

    Thanks for posting this though, it's made me realise I need to be vigilant to keep reading with him and most importantly ensure my husband does too.

    1. I think starting early and getting the interest going at a young age helps, a lot. We've done the bedtime story routine since they were about 3-4 months old and still do it now. We also always buy them books for birthday and Christmas and I give them books as rewards sometimes too.

  4. YourMrBumbles28 July 2012 17:26

    I agree with you about point number 3; but was glad to see point number 2 in such a prominent position. This is crucial and it is not just at home that it is important. Our children are missing out because there are so few male role models in schools these days. We need to find new ways to encourage men into primary school teaching. When I think back to my role models at school at that age, two of the three most important folk were male teachers. The third was the headmasters wife.

    1. I agree, point 2 is crucial. My own husband is not a reader so the children do not see him reading really but he does do bedtime reading with them and I am trying to encourage him into more books as I am such a book-lover myself! I think we are fortunate at our school that we have quite a few male teachers at our school and also a couple of male teaching assistants - which I think is a rarity! However it's a large school, with a three form entry.

  5. Great post - really good tips.

    Would love for you to link it up at my new Empty Your Archive link party which is a chance to dust off great posts from your archive - there is a focus this week on reading - would really love to see you there, Alice @ Mums Make Lists x


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