Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Forum: How to Raise Boys Who Read

Good morning/afternoon, friends! Sorry for the delay in posting today's Friday Forum - we had a little confusion amongst the Bloom Staff this morning :) But we're really interested in today's topic and hope you'll weigh in.

A few months ago we came across this article about boys and literature. It got our wheels turning and we really want to talk about it.

Here are a few excerpts to help you understand the premise:

Author Thomas Spence points out that boys are increasingly more unfit for the classroom - especially when it comes to reading. Boys consistently score lower than their female counterparts on reading proficiency assessments - and the discrepancy is found in every socio-economic and ethnic segment of the population.

In order to get boys to read, publishing houses have started to "meet the boys where they are" catering to their fascinations with bodily humor offering titles like Captain Underpants and Sir Fartsalot Hunts The Booger.

Some say that at least this kind of literature "gets the kids reading." But I love what the author points out:

One obvious problem with the "SweetFarts" philosophy of education is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn't go very far.

He continues with the observation that the appearance of the boy/girl literacy gap happened to coincide with the surge of video games and recreational internet, noting that boys spend more time "plugged in" than girls do and suggesting that this increased screen time causes their academics to suffer.

He ends with this fascinating conclusion:

I offer a final piece of evidence that is perhaps unanswerable: There is no literacy gap between home-schooled boys and girls. How many of these families, do you suppose, have thrown grossology parties?

What do you think about all this? Grossology as a literature genre? Screen time interfering with academics? (How could it not?? Kids get used to hyper-sensation, technicolor graphics and psychedelic sound effects; even the most gripping of chapter books would pale in comparison to that level of stimulation.) How have you been successful in encouraging your sons to read?

You really should take a minute to read the whole article - it's excellent.

em and anne


Suzanne said...

I don't have much personal experience as my son is only 1.5 years old but my mother - a children's librarian - has said that boys tend to enjoy non-fiction books more. She encourages parents whose sons aren't into reading to focus on non-fiction books that match the child's interest as a means to spark a general interest in reading.

Rachael said...

Interesting article! I've heard the same thing Suzanne mentioned about boys having more of an interest in non-fiction books than girls. (My son right now has no interest in anything other than books about dogs and ducks, but he's only 19 months.) But he loves to sit on my lap while I read to his sisters.

My plan for my sons (can I pluralize a 12-weeks-from birth child?) is the same as for my daughters: lots of books. No TV. No video games. Period. That's just how our family works best.

jessica said...

I'm a homeschooling mother of 4 boys (ages 8, 6, 4, 2) and 1 girl (who is nearly 11) and find this topic absolutely fascinating. My kids are all voracious readers-- reading well above their "grade" levels (though I tend not to believe in such things) because in our house we read. ALL. THE. TIME.

And here's the secret pointed out in Mr. Spence's article:

The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple—keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.

We don't have video games in our house. The kids get 1/2 a day max on the internet. We don't have a TV, but watch movies on the computer every once in a while-- usually after we've finished the book.

It seems pretty drastic to some people- but the family culture it has created in our home is worth them not quite being able to keep up with conversations about i-Carly with their friends.

Though I do have to make rules like "No reading before breakfast."

Robin said...

I've been lurking for a while, but this particular subject gets my goat, so I have to comment. I am so sick of the over-saturation of bathroom humor in the media presented to our children. Sure, it's mostly pointed at boys, but girls get into it to. It's in their books, their TV shows, everything. As the mother of an 11-year-old boy, I see the results of it coming out in my son's behavior. I know a lot of this is just normal pre-teen behavior, but what parent thinks it's a good idea to encourage your son to be even more coarse, sarcastic, foul-mouthed (I consider "fart" a bad word--I even have a hard time writing it here), and bad mannered then he already naturally is? We tell our three-year-olds not to stick their hands down their pants in public, but we give our eight-year-olds books that encourage them to make fart jokes and eat their boogers? Ridiculous!

Despite my son's not-too-perfect manners, I have to be proud of the fact that he is a reader. While he has read his share of booger and butt books, he also spends hours poring over books about astronomy, egyptian and greek mythology, ghosts, dragons, and wizards. While he does lean rather heavily into the fantasy genre, I am okay with that. I think the obsession with wizards and dragons these days equates to previous generation's obsession with the Wild West and outer space.
I think the best and the only way to really get a child reading is to read to them. If you want your child to love something, you expose them to it repeatedly from an early age, whether it's books, music, or whatever. I have always read to my children from the time they were babies and still do on occasion. Even the older ones love it when I read to them. It's such a great opportunity to introduce your kid's to great literature and be able to discuss it with them. If more parents would take the time to give their kids this personal gift of their time, then I'm sure we'd see a lot fewer fart books on the market.

Sarah said...

I agree that the key is reading to your children. We try and teach our kids to read, but we make sure that also read to them. We've banned potty humor, but I also dislike the Junie B. Jones series because I think she's incredibly rude. There are so many wonderful books out there that you don't have to settle. Right now my oldest is enjoying the AR program at his school. He is definitely motivated by the possibility of getting a party. It's one of my greatest joys to see him curled up on a chair reading. Also, I just read the Read Aloud Handbook, and I think it's a wonderful resource.

Maile said...

Wow, this is a fascinating topic to me! And I would have to say that so far the author's comment about there not being a literacy gap between homeschooling boys and girls to be true. My 4.5 yo son loves to "read" just as much as his 6.5 yo sister. I'm rather baffled by the amount of time he will sit looking through book after book, even if he doesn't actually know what the words say. I can definitely claim credit for this one as both my kids learned by example - I almost always have my nose in a book. In our home, we have no video games and only watch movies on our computer from time to time. I think both of these things make a huge difference. The times when my kids have been allowed to watch more TV, their creativity and interest in books definitely goes down.

Megan said...

I have a 3 year old who loves to read books with me. I started reading with him when he was baby and tried to every day.

But, honestly, I can tell you that his real interest in reading began when I started consistently reading my scriptures during his quiet time when he was 2. I also shortly after found time to read books for pleasure, so he saw me reading a lot. It took about 2 days for him to start pulling out his books and asking to read them more. We also don't have any video games and I don't let him play games on the computer at all.

I am definitely not trying to be like, "Look at me, I read my scriptures" because I struggle to fit it in just like anyone else. But I definitely saw that the blessings of trying to do it spread to my son's reading... Who woulda thought?

And now, he's learning how to read himself with a book that my hubby found at work (the elementary school). It's called "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons". It's based on the DISTAR program used in schools to help kids who fall behind in reading, but geared for pre-schoolers. The lessons are super easy to teach, take 20 minutes and by the end of the 100 lessons, your child should read at a 2nd grade level. Pretty cool, if anyone's interested.

Sorry for the novel.

Anonymous said...

I love you, Robin. I don't know you, but I love you nonetheless.

Kayli said...

I have to be the one to take the other side-- my son was doing totally BAD in school because he was reading TOO much.

Truly, at the last parent-teacher conference we met with my 8-year-old son's teachers and they said he was only bringing in completed homework about 50% of the time, and he often was not paying attention in class (why the teachers didn't bring this to our attention sooner is a huge mystery to us). This is a kid who previously had top grades, excellent behavior and motivation and excelled in school.

Now, you have to understand that there were other things going on, like moving between 3 different classes and teachers in a year, and learning a new language, but TRULY he was doing great in all his classes until around Christmas time when he got all the Harry Potter books and started reading them, and the Percy Jackson series for Christmas, and a whole bunch of other books. He NEVER stopped reading. He came home, told us he finished his homework at school, did whatever chore we had him do, and then proceeded to read the rest of the afternoon/evening. If he finished a book, he picked up another one and started reading it without a pause.

My husband and I really think it was him being so wrapped up in his books that he couldn't pull himself out for the real world -like school and homework. I kindof think it was as much an addiction as some kids have for video games.

Now, I am much to blame here, since I let him read so much. But it was winter time, and so I didn't push him to go outside as much, and I thought he was getting his other responsibilities done, and I would much rather have him read than watch movies on the computer or play games on the internet or whatnot. So...

Since we found out about his poor performance, we have limited his reading to one hour per day with opportunities to earn more time. Also, he can read German books as much as he wants (which obviously are harder for him, so he's not as prone to do it for hours on end). And we also check his homework every night. :) It's been about two weeks and we just called his teacher and she said she's seen a big improvement.

What's the point of all this? Not too much except moderation must be applied to reading too. But despite this, I'm still happy to have a son who loves to read so much. And since I would get in trouble for reading in school occasionally and would stay up too late with a flashlight reading when I was a kid, I figure it's par for the course. :)

And finally, of course I'm not taking "the other side" at all. Even after this experience I still agree with everyone and think boys should read just as much as girls should read. And I *LOATHE* rude humor for anyone, boys, girls or adults. The end.

Amy said...

Turn off the T.V. and read books!

That's my simple suggestion. We do let our son watch a little T.V. every day but it's mostly just educational shows. We do make trips to the Library on at least a biweekly basis.

Any time my son asks to read a book I drop what ever it is I'm doing to read that book to him. Or I tell him how awesome it is to read a book and ask him to read it to me. He isn't quite two yet but he can read a little bit but he can for sure tell me what he THINKS about each page in the book. We don't just READ the words on the page. We talk about each picture in the book and what we think about it. Books are so fun!!! Much more fun than video games and T.V. because first of all - you're not interacting with PLASTIC - you're interacting with a human (THIS IS HUGE THESE DAYS), and you'll find that when you use your whole brain on regular basis you feel better about yourself and more fulfilled.

I make sure to talk and LISTEN to my son a LOT. I tell him how good and smart and wonderful I think he is. This way he feels good about his thoughts and his ideas and he feels smart.

Oh yeah, one other thing. Let your kids see YOU reading. If they see you reading more than they see you watching T.V. or playing video games that is what they are going to do more with their time.

Just remember it's OK (actually it's GOOD) to say no to your kids on a regular basis. When they want to watch T.V., play video games instead of read or going outside to play - just say no. It doesn't have to be a big deal. Just say no. They'll get used to it after a while.

Tanya said...

Interesting article. My 8 1/2 year old son is reading at a 6th grade level. Although I hate to do it, his punishment is LOSING reading time because it is the most important thing to him. We started reading to my son when he was still in my belly .. lol ... and continued to make books a part of our daily life. Although he can read himself now, I still spend time each week reading outloud to him. I don't like the Captain Underpants books, but my son loves them (I compare them to those cheap romance novels I take w/me on vacation) and as a parent, I just have to make sure he is balanced in his reading materials. I honestly believe that the biggest gift we can our childern is the love of reading.

S said...

We had reading contests in my home. Whoever read the most pages (at a suitable level) got the prize. Usually money. They weren't often, but my sibs and I are competitive and how great as my mom watch us update our page numbers on the fridge and battle it out! :) There was also daily scripture study. Competetition there too. Nobody wanted to be labeled as a "slow reader", so we all tried to show each other up with how fast we could read. My mother taught each of us how to read. Many of my siblings read a lot. Some were more avid readers than others but all of us read well. Being able to read fast and process information quickly has been invaluable to me. I'm so grateful for the incentives my mother and siblings provided. My youngest brother was a decent reader, but my mom had grown lax by no. 10 (seriously!) and he was allowed to feed his video game addictions. He has graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, so he's doing just fine. However, I know that he wishes here weren't still so attached to the games.

In conclusion, academics are not the only thing that video game addiction can hurt. Please do all you can to limit damaging media for your children.

Astyn said...

I remember reading this article in the WSJ. It is very good and I agree with the author.
I hope I can foster a love of reading in my boys, not just a love of bathroom humor.

Katie said...

My oldest son is 7. He finished the first Harry Potter last night, all by himself. Non-fiction is his favorite though, and he loves books about volcanos, earthquakes, and hurricanes. His teachers at school and at church say that he reads as well as a teenager. I am starting to sound a little braggy, huh? Well, he is also obsessed with the Wii, the internet and my hubby's iPod and would much rather be riding his bike or playing soccer than reading.

What did we do to cultivate his reading skills? I taught him how to read before he started kindergarten. We used the book "Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons" and whenever he reached lessons 25, 50, 75, and 100, he earned a date with me. It was work, but it gave him so much confidence in his ability to learn, before he even started school - so when he started he knew he could conquer anything. He goes to a language immersion school, and they expect the kids there to be a little "behind" in their English skills for the first few years because they are learning two languages, but he has never had that problem.

Like I said, he has a lot of exposure to all that other stuff - TV, Wii, computer...but that is all limited. No Wii on the weekdays and no iPod until he has practiced the piano every day. We let him read every night as he is falling asleep (when he can't do anything else) and that is when he does most of his reading.

My second son is 5. He learned to read last summer when he was 4 with the same book. He doesn't start kindergarten until the fall, so I know he will have that same leg up in learning confidence than his brother. He loves his electronics just as much as his brother, but loves reading more. He is also obsessed with word searches.

I highly recommend the book, if you haven't gathered that yet. I will use it for my third son as well.

The only other things I would mention are that I set an example for reading - I am always reading something. Also, you choose what your kids read - surround them with good books that interest them. Lastly, we do scripture study every night using the children's scripture stories right alongside the scriptures. My 5 year old reads from the story and then the 7 year old reads the scripture that goes with it.

jeanine said...

I agree with the others... I'm not fond of the rude humor for boys books. They will learn that without reading about it.

My oldest is in Kindergarten and is beginning to read. The trick with him is to not push it... or he won't do it. He's like that with everything. I use a lot of praise and encouragement but try to not make a huge deal of it. He's always enjoyed books and will sit down and look at books forever.

I also found it interesting that many people said that their boys like nonfiction better. My son is constantly coming home from school having checked out a book about bats or snakes or some other animal... much more often than a storybook.

Our boys see us reading a lot so I think that sets a good example for them. They often ask me what my book is about which I think is cool. We read every day and the library is one of their favorite places to go.

I agree with having less screen time (but "less" is different for every family).

I read this article awhile ago... Thanks for bringing up such an interesting subject!

(ps. Here is another article about raising boys that might be a fun forum topic:

Katie Aldrich said...

Wow- I am so glad you did this post! I have two boys, 7 and 9 (and a daughter and one on the way), and neither of my boys really "like" to read. The ONE series my nine-year-old, who is a boy's boy (loves sports, being outside, etc.) will read of his own free will is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I don't want him emulating those characters, some of them really are not nice people, but that's what he loves, and he brings the books home from the library at school.

In response to Jessica and the quote she shared about limiting electronic media in the home, we don't have TV or video games. I have A shelf of good chapter books (most of which they haven't read)- would it help if I had 5 shelves? Every one of our neighbors has a wii, so they spend a lot of time doing that at other kids' houses, but as for ours, none of that, and still not much reading.

My husband and I DO read chapter books out loud to them and they love that. We will keep plugging along...

Lorie, Alec and Andrew said...

I'm late to the forum but found this an interesting read since I have a 6 month old boy and taught 3rd and 4th grade for a few years. My main input is as a teacher since I'm new at the mom thing. I like what has been said so far and would reinstate reading aloud. When I had boys in my class who didn't like to read I loved to see their change of opinion about books after a good read aloud. Some of the most magical changes came from reading aloud Where The Red Fern Grows, Wringer, and The Magicians Nephew (from Narnia Series). Some of these boys(and girls) need to hear the life that can come from a book before they know how to create it themselves, but once they hear a good example it can help them recreate that in their personal reading. That may be why so many like non-fiction at the's already real to them.
I kept Captian Underpants out of my classroom library. If a child brought it to read I wasn't going to stop them but I do think those "funny" and I agree, gross, books can get in the way of them even trying much better reads. You do have to find what they enjoy however, and introduce them to lots of different genres. If they try one genre and don't like it they may say they don't like reading when in reality they may just not like reading that genre. They may never know they like reading if they don't give other genres a chance. And so sometimes I think there is something to be said for an occasional Diary of a Wimpy Kid (which I did have in my classroom library).

Mr Jon said...

To help make learning to read fun and engaging, our reading program includes lesson stories that are matched to the progress of your child's reading abilities.

These lessons stories are part of the learning program, and comes with colorful illustrations to make learning reading fun and engaging for you and your child.

These are the exact same stories and step-by-step lessons that we used to teach our own children to read!

Find out here: Teach Your Child To Read?

Best rgs