How to get boys reading?

Do you feel that reading isn’t as popular with children these days? We’re all too wrapped up in our iPhones and tablets, after all, and attention-grabbing apps and games are too much competition for boring old books. Well, you might be surprised to learn that sales of children’s books rose by 16% over the past year, according to the Publishers’ Association.[1]

Even so, getting kids not just to read but to get into reading is tough; and getting boys into reading is particularly tough. This is because of a combination of factors, some of which we’ve pointed out below. But it’s not impossible to help your son pick up reading for pleasure, and we’ve put together a few tips for hooking your boy’s interest in reading and hopefully encouraging a lifelong interest in books.

Be a role model

Boys don’t have many reading role models, so it’s difficult for them to pick up the habit from their heroes. If you think about the role models that boys have, like footballers, firefighters, police officers, they’re all people who do things. People who take action and do their best to win. Reading doesn’t come into that. These people don’t tend to be thinkers but doers, and there aren’t that many thinkers to look up to in modern society. And even worse, this can make boys think that reading is girly or too much of a nerdy activity.

There’s also the fact you won’t convince your son to love reading if you don’t at least read occasionally yourself. Children are very much influenced by the hobbies and interests of their parents, from music and sport to cooking and baking; reading is no exception. Cally Smart, an English teacher and blogger, spoke to the Guardian about how “The best role models seem to be dads, sports coaches and athletes, men the boys aspire to be. If they experience these men reading and sharing their love of books (any books), then reading is not seen as a female occupation.”[i] So get on it!

Accept the odd distraction

Unfortunately, boys are far more easily distracted than girls. This makes it more difficult for your son to sit still and keep concentrated, especially over long periods, meaning that reading is always going to be a little more complex than with your daughter. But rather than making a point of keeping his attention at all times, and turning the whole bedtime reading process into an unpleasant conflict, accept the situation as it is.

There is no point getting annoyed with him: gently try to keep his attention by incorporating physical activity into reading (we’re thinking of pointing or pulling faces, by the way, rather than star jumps). And if you can’t keep him engaged, bear in mind that reading to your son isn’t just for now. It’s for the future. Over time, his attention span will improve, so keep patience and remember that you’re in this for the long haul.

Encourage your son to read independently

Boys like to feel independent and older than their age. So, if your son is still young, reading bedtime stories to them while they read along is probably the best idea. But once your son gets a little older- and the exact age depends less on development and more on personality- they’ll start wanting more independence and the ability to do things for themselves. This means that your son will want to read aloud by himself rather than being sat down and lectured.

You’ll know when to start better than we do. But when you feel your son is ready, let them take the upper hand when it comes to bedtime reading. Make sure to start with books that are perhaps a little below your son’s usual level: that way, you can keep interference to a minimum if, for instance, there’s a word he doesn’t understand. Over time, he won’t just be reading to you, but he’ll learn to read on his own.

Read around your son’s interests

Once your son starts becoming more independent, it can be more challenging to pick up the habit of reading from scratch or keep up their previous amount of reading time. This is natural, especially if you only have a small number of books to choose from, which can get boring for your son. The best way to keep your son’s active interest in reading is to read around your son’s active interests!

This could be anything from football to stories about Barbie and Ken, but whatever your son decides is up to him. Don’t try and shape him or force him into choosing things that you deem more ‘suitable’ for him (barring the usual advice about parental guidance). If you do, you’ll make reading unpleasant, and he won’t pick up the habit. A good tip is for you to go shopping for books together and let him pick out what he likes the sound of from the blurb on the back of the cover. Engaging your son in this way will motivate him to read and to think about reading more often.

Reinforce positive behaviours

With both boys and girls, it’s important to encourage positive behaviours. And this doesn’t just apply to books and reading, but every aspect of life. It’s of the utmost importance not just to discourage lousy behaviour through punishment but to encourage good behaviour with rewards. So, for his continued commitment to reading- say, if he reads with you every night or you manage to finish a book together over a week- then it won’t be a bad thing to offer just a little reward.

At the same time, it’s also possible to treat reading as a ‘reward’ in itself. If, after all, you’re reading books around your son’s interest- dinosaurs, football, recipe books, it doesn’t matter- he will genuinely enjoy the time you spend together poring over a book, and he may even want to read on his own. But he’ll be especially eager if you encourage him to think of reading as a reward- something to be enjoyed and savoured rather than a chore to get through from a young age.

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