Trading Balls for Books – How to Encourage Your Boy to Read

Aug 15

Throw a ball to a boy and he’ll probably fire it back and launch a game into action. Hand that same boy a book and he’ll probably fling it aside for a more compelling activity.

Sound like a cliche? Maybe not.

The 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) of fourth graders found girls outperformed boys in all 40 countries, including Canada. Recent studies in Canada and the U.S. have shown similar results. While numerous school initiatives across Canada try to close this gap, Jo-Anne Coughlin, a teacher with more than 20 years of experience and Early Literacy consultant from 2001 to 2006, insists parents are always the first educators. Sitting comfortably in a pint-sized chair in her grade 2 classroom, she offers insights into the challenges facing parents with the familiarity of a seasoned mother, she has five (now grown up) sons.

Giving a boy choice in what he reads will help feed his literary appetite. Ms. Coughlin says parents can help by tuning into their son’s interests and providing a range of literature that fuels his inquisitiveness. But don’t focus on storybooks alone; boys are likely to seek out less conventional reading material, such as trading cards, magazines, and reference books. That’s okay, concedes Ms. Coughlin, these sources build literacy skills and are a valuable part of a boy’s scholastic backpack.
She recommends fact-based reference books to hook reluctant readers,”They enjoy the bite-size pieces of it, photographs, captions, headings, and they have choice in terms of where to begin and end in reading.”
Publishers are responding to the unique needs of boys by offering factionals, books that combine fact and fiction, such as the Magic Treehouse Series which embeds historical and geographical facts within an adventure story about two children who travel to different times and places.

Boys like to know their purpose for reading, says Ms. Coughlin, and they’re less likely than girls to read for sheer pleasure.

They dig through their source for useful morsels of information that they can store in their pocket of knowledge for later use. Boys want to engage others in their reading experience by sharing the ideas and facts they’ve discovered. A publication that includes instructions on how to make a craft or perform an experiment gives him a purpose for reading and provides an opportunity to share the experience with a friend. Ms Coughlin encourages mothers and fathers to find books that provide them opportunities to work creatively together.

Parents should set aside time to read, without distractions like TV and video games for both themselves and their child.  Mom and Dad model the values they wish to instil in their children when they read in their presence. But don’t underestimate the importance of time together, engrossed in a book or discussing the latest read because, says Ms. Coughlin, “Anything a parent does one on one with a child and takes seriously, makes him think it matters to them, so it matters to me.”

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