Q: My husband and I are both big believers in reading. We always encourage our children to read – and had no problem getting our two older daughters to become interested in reading. But, now, as my son is getting older and entering third grade (a time when my daughters’ love for reading blossomed), he seems completely disinterested. How can I get him to read on his own?
A: It might make you feel good to know that the discrepancy between boys and girls in terms of reading is well documented in educational journals. Whole books have been devoted to studying why boys lag behind girls in terms of their reading skills and here are some of the reasons that scientists and educators have compiled:
Biology. Girls develop fine motor skill proficiency at an earlier age than boys. Because reading and writing are linked, girls will often be better readers because they are better writers. As they grow older, these early differences continue to grow.
Vocabulary. A language professor from New Zealand explains that girls talk more than boys, speaking 30% more words over a day than boys. And they talk more from an early age – to toys and dolls and playing school – so it’s natural they are more adept with language. This adeptness translates to a greater comfort with the written word as well.
Subject matter. Because the subject matter is generally chosen by women (teachers, mothers, or librarians), the subject matter tends to be tailored towards female interests. Without something familiar or exciting to hold on to, they boys will lose interest.
Genre. Girls understand narrative prose with ease, while boys are more comfortable with non-fiction. However, non-fiction is not often used in schools for reading instruction. This practice tends to skew the instruction towards the way girls learn.
One or more of these issues could be affecting your son’s interest in reading – but there is plenty you can do to help him overcome these obstacles. First, encourage him to choose his own books. Give him multiple options that appeal to his hobbies and interests.
Second, talk to your husband about providing your son with a positive male role model for reading. You mentioned that both you and your husband are believers in reading. Does your husband read in front of your son? Do they read together? Seeing someone male who he admires will help your son understand that reading is a valued activity for all members of the family.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, remember that reading is reading – regardless of whether it is a comic book, newspaper article, or a novel. If your son is sitting quietly with his eyes moving across a page, then he is reading and should be applauded. Help your son come up with a reading log so that he can truly understand how much he reads each day. You can even begin with the small things – like the cereal box and road signs. Eventually, he will branch out to longer books and articles.