When my son was a toddler, I envied my friends with daughters. Their little girls sat quietly and had tea parties, attended to tasks for more than five minutes, and would play with a single toy while their moms went to the bathroom. My son rarely sat still for more than thirty seconds, had the attention span of a flea, and moved from toy to toy with cheetah-like speed. I wouldn’t trade my son for any amount of money, but at the time, I would have done anything to be able to go to the bathroom without being interrupted.
Gender isn’t determinative, and the differences between girls and boys aren’t always so stark, but it would be foolish to pretend they don’t exist. This is particularly true when it comes to reading and literacy. Studies consistently show that girls acquire language earlier than boys, have larger vocabularies, and use more complex sentence structures in preschool, and once they reach elementary school are “one to one-and-a-half years ahead of boys in reading and writing.” During their school years, girls outpace boys in spelling and writing, and differences in writing persist into adolescence. Boys are also more likely than girls to be placed in special education classes or to be held back in school.
This isn’t to say that boys aren’t good students, or great writers, or champion spellers. They are and can be. These well-documented differences in achievement in reading and writing, however, mean that parents may need to give boys additional support in those areas.
So how can parents help their sons? Here are a few tips:
1. Foster Language Skills
Talk, talk, talk. Make sure you keep talking to your sons even if they’re always on the move. If your boy is obsessed with trucks, have a conversation about trucks. Point out their colors, shapes, sizes, and functions. Tell stories about trucks and ask them to do the same. Constant and high-quality conversations with children help build vocabulary, increase comprehension, and improve overall language skills.
2. Find Books Boys Like
This may sound simple, but it’s not always easy to find books on subjects that boys like. Award-winning children’s author Jon Scieszka has created a website to help parents find books that appeal to boys and young men. At Guys Read you can find booklists for boys as well as anthologies that Scieszka has compiled with fellow authors that are targeted at, you guessed it, guys. You can find stories for animal lovers, sports buffs, the car obsessed, budding detectives, and more. But, if your son likes princesses, Fancy Nancy, ballet, or horses, make those books available too. Pay attention to your child’s interests, even if they’re not traditionally “male.”
3. Think Big
Reading doesn’t have to be limited to traditional books. Consider adding comic books, graphic novels, magazines, trading cards, and newspapers to your shelves. If your son likes building things, encourage him to read the instructions or how-to manuals for tasks he’d like to try. Invite him to help you cook and have him read you the recipe. Construction sites have tons of signage that can challenge a young boy’s reading skills and the cranes are pretty fascinating too.
4. Be A Role Model
If you want your child to read, he needs to see the adults in his life reading too. Read whatever interests you, but if you can also embrace your inner geek or forgotten athlete and learn to love dragons and science fiction, even better.
5. Keep Things Moving
If your son would rather be playing than reading, try to pair books with activities. Read Casey at the Bat, then have a game of catch and talk about the book. Check out Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, then make dinner together. Read a story of outdoor adventure, then take a nature walk. That way, you can exercise your son’s mind and body at the same time.
Our sons are just as capable as our daughters of becoming engaged and excited readers. They may just need a little more help getting there.