BY JEFF MANN
School, books, and reading usually do not enter into most boys’ lists of their top three favorite things to do. Let’s face it, for most boys, reading may not even make the top 300 on that list.
So how can parents encourage these reluctant reading rebels to pick up a book when they would rather do anything but? The following ten suggestions may help boys squeeze in a little reading between video games and playing football.
1. READ ALOUD TO YOUR SON. Jim Trealese, author of The New Read Aloud Handbook, says there are two factors common to the best readers in school regardless of age or nationality: 1) the frequency of teachers reading aloud to students; and 2) the frequency of pleasure reading or Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) in school. A Seattle literacy organization, Page Ahead, says reading aloud to children is the most effective way for parents to enhance language and literacy skills. Many pediatricians now give every patient a book during each well visit to encourage parents to read aloud to their children at an early age.
But why read to a child who already can read? Most parents probably read aloud to their children as babies or toddlers but probably gave up the practice once their sons could read on their own. Trealese says reading aloud has great value even for older kids. It may seem odd to start reading to your middle school aged son; however, many boys will respond positively to it. Read something that is serious, extremely silly, or even a little gruesome. Short readings like these tend to get boys’ attention and may prompt them to investigate the topic further with some reading on their own.
The New Read Aloud Handbook provides age-appropriate material to read to boys. The National Committee on Reading says reading aloud “is a practice that should continue through the grades.”
2. MODEL READING. Kids learn best from what they see. If parents expect kids to use good manners, then parents have to use good manners to set the example. The same goes for reading. No matter how many times you tell your son that reading is important in life, unless he sees you reading, he will likely think of it as an activity to be done only in school.
If you want your child to read for pleasure, you have to read for pleasure—and be sure you let your son see you doing it. Trealese calls modeling a “commercial” for reading. This commercial shows boys that people read and they read for fun. Modeling reading, like reading aloud, is critical. If boys can see older males reading as well, it is even better.
Put yourself in the role of a marketer: Your product is books and your customer is your son. David Ogilvy, an advertising expert, says, “You can’t bore people into buying your product; you can only hope to interest them in buying it.”
Simple advice, but parents need to be careful that they don’t send a message that reading is boring. Be sure boys are exposed to interesting books and try to sell them on the fun and adventure contained in the books. Avoid being overly pushy. This will only make a reluctant reader even less likely to read for pleasure.
3. MAKE FREQUENT TRIPS TO THE LIBRARY AND BOOK STORE. Most libraries have outstanding children’s sections, and many now have specific areas for teen readers complete with neon lights and comfy couches to entice these older readers. Barnes and Noble also has colorful and separate children’s areas sure to attract the younger set.
Some independent bookstores, like Kids Ink, are geared exclusively for children. The more you bring your son to these places, the more comfortable and familiar he will be become. And even a reluctant reader, if given the time, will be sure to find something that he fancies. Nearly all libraries have structured reading programs for children and teens that are definitely worth a look.
4. LOOK TO THE MOVIES. It seems as though Hollywood has run out of original ideas for movies and has been raiding children’s books for fresh material in recent years. There have been a myriad of kids’ books turned to movies: How to Eat Fried Worms, Because of Winn Dixie, Charlotte’s Web, The Ant Bully, Hoot, Holes, and The Chronicles of Narnia, and Eragon. And who can forget that all the Harry Potter films were books first? The ever popular Twilight series and The Vampire’s Assistant based on Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan are two upcoming films based on books.
Parents and teachers would usually prefer that kids read the book first, but children often gravitate to the book after being drawn into the story by seeing the movie. Kids are comfortable with the familiar characters and plots.
Finding which films are based on books is usually an easy process, as most reviews will make mention of this fact. So stay alert this fall for a kids’ book coming to a theater near you. Go see the movie and then make sure you make a visit to the library to pick up the book version or vice versa.
5. BUY A SUBSCRIPTION. Having a daily subscription to the newspaper is great for children. It can help support literacy and language. It can also help with critical thinking and encourage discussion on current events. Plus, reading it yourself is another opportunity to model reading.
Whether your child is a toddler or going through those awkward middle-school years, there is a magazine geared for him. National Geographic Kids, Sesame Street, Sports Illustrated Kids, Ranger Rick and Upfront are just a few of the many dozens of magazines geared toward children. Some are general interest magazines, but many are very specialized focusing on a specific sport or interest. Again, simply by using the Internet you can search and see if there is a magazine targeted to your child’s specific likes. Boys likely will read the issues and will love receiving “snail mail.”
6. REMOVE THE TV (AND COMPUTER) FROM YOUR SON’S ROOM. Nearly two-thirds of all households surveyed said that there was a television in the child’s room according to a recent issue of Pediatrics. A television in the bedroom hinders academic performance. A study of third graders with TVs in their bedrooms showed that they scored significantly lower on standardized tests than those children without the TV in the bedroom according to a recent issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Limiting computer use or any kind of “screen time” is also beneficial for middle school kids.
Children with TVs in their rooms watch an average of one and a half hours more TV per day than children without this additional access. Removing the TV from the bedroom and limiting TV viewing—wherever the set is located—is a smart idea; but it will not guarantee that your son will read more.
To help spur more reading, create a reading night where your family does not even turn on the TV. Instead, encourage every family member to read. Make this night fun and order pizza. Share what you are each reading, and create a new family tradition—one that fosters and encourages reading.
7. ASK THE EXPERTS. Be prepared when your son says that he doesn’t know any good books to read or says that reading is boring. Have some titles in mind that you think he may enjoy to combat these excuses.
If you are not familiar with children’s or young adult literature, ask the experts. Ask your local children’s librarian or bookseller to recommend some titles that other boys have enjoyed. You should also ask your son’s language arts teacher if he could suggest some titles. Any of these three should have some quality “guy books” on the tip of their tongues.
Searching the Internet can also reap rewards. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Borders all have sites with children’s book links. By simply clicking on a title, you will receive a brief summary and often readers’ reviews of the titles—some even by children. All of these actions will help you to have just that right suggestion when your son says he doesn’t know of anything to read. The American Library Association’s Web site is also full of great lists and titles.
8. FOLLOW THE AWARDS. There were hundreds of new children’s and young adult books published in 2008. How else can you make suggestions for your son besides asking the experts? Look to the winners of some of the children’s book awards.
The Caldecott Medal, The Michael Printz Award, The Newberry Medal and honor books, The Corretta Scott King Award, The Jane Adams Peace Award, The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award are just a few of the many prestigious awards handed out yearly to quality kids’ books.
While being an award winner doesn’t guarantee it will be popular with middle school boys, it usually means it is a quality book and well written. Often, however, the winners of these awards are character-driven novels instead of the plot driven or action novels that most boys prefer. So take caution when selecting any book. Most of these awards have their own Web sites, so finding past winners and summaries of the books is simple with a quick Internet search. Boys also like to read nonfiction, so look for books and magazines that fill this role as well.
9. CREATE A HOME LIBRARY. If your son does not have books that are age- and reading-level-appropriate at home, pleasure reading will be more difficult for him. Libraries are wonderful, but there is something magical about owning the book as well. Page Ahead states that children with their own personal libraries are eight times more likely to read for pleasure than children without a small home library. This organization also states on its Web site that “owning books is a critical feature of every child’s intellectual development.”
Having a home library won’t automatically turn your reluctant reader into a voracious reader, but it certainly won’t hurt. Gift certificates to book stores make great gifts, will encourage reading, and will help build that home library of fascinating books.
10. LET YOUR SON CHOOSE WHAT HE WANTS TO READ. Some of the previous suggestions were ways to find out about good books to recommend. But be very cautious about overruling him on a book that he has selected. Ultimately, it is best to let him select what he wants to read.
When was the last time you enjoyed a book you were forced to read? Generally speaking, any reading is good reading and will help improve skills, so don’t be upset if your son is not dusting off your copy of a Shakespeare sonnet or a Dickens novel. Comic books, graphic novels, the sports page and young adult novels are all acceptable.
Avoid criticizing his choices and do not worry if you think the book is too easy or even if he rereads something he has read before. Children like familiarity. Why do you think there are so many children’s book series and sequels to movies?
While many of these suggestions are common sense, all are easy to implement. With a little work on your part, hopefully you will see your son flipping a few pages between football games during the cool days of fall.