Hooking Boys on Reading

Literacy experts suggest that to be more effective in sparking boys’ interest in reading, we may have to broaden our views and make more use of nontraditional resources.

By Jessica Forrero

It is often easier to find an adolescent boy cleaning his room than to find him voluntarily reading a book. With so many distractions competing for his attention – video games, instant messaging, TV and sports – the odds of his picking up a book on a Saturday afternoon are slim to none. Unless he is being graded, your child probably has zero motivation to read for pleasure.

As a parent, you may feel as though you have exhausted all of your resources. You’ve dragged him to the library on a frequent basis, lectured him on the importance of reading until you were blue in the face, modeled good reading habits in front of him, limited screen time and stocked the house with “recommended” books. Regardless of your efforts, your son still would rather have dental work performed than spend a free minute engaged in a book.

So now what?

Go Nontraditional

The problem may lie more with our definition of reading than with boys’ attitudes toward books. Both educators and parents are guilty of defining “reading” in overly narrow terms; thus, we may be overlooking nontraditional literary resources that have the power to tap into boys’ interests and foster a love of reading that every parent hopes to witness. According to John Scieszka, author of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and founder of the Web site, we have to give boys more choices – especially more nonfiction.

“Boys like to read for a purpose, to find out how to do things, like how to build a dirt bike or skateboard. That’s just not encouraged enough,” Scieszka says.
In support of this view, Jeff Wilhelm, an associate professor of English education at Boise State University and an authority on boys and literacy, explains that “boys like to read what’s toolish, not schoolish.”

Video game guides, how-to manuals, Guinness Book of World Records, books on tape, comic strips, newspaper sports columns – these are all valid sources of literacy that are often overlooked by parents and educators who claim these sources fall outside the realm of “real” reading.

“Boys prefer reading things that have something they can immediately use, talk about, argue about or do something with,” Wilhelm says.

Consider that these alternative types of reading still count as reading, and in many instances, can effectively hook a resistant reader.

Go with Passion and Play

Another very effective strategy a parent can use to hook a resistant reader is to target a child’s passion. If your son lives and breathes skateboarding, find every book you can on the subject. Also, consider your child’s life events and interests, and then find books that connect with his experiences.

“Even books that seem like wild fantasies are about real stuff to the boys who are struggling with similar issues,” Wilhelm adds. Harry Potter is a prime example.

Some other nontraditional ways to get your child reading include cooking together from a recipe, writing messages back and forth to your child, playing board games like Scrabble or Boggle or asking them to make cards for special occasions. When all else fails, hardly any boy can resist a good laugh. A lighthearted book can help motivate readers who see reading as a chore. The goal is to promote as many positive experiences through reading as possible. This helps them become competent academic readers and plants the seed of lifelong reading as well.

“Many children are passive readers. They read the words in a text, but do not fully comprehend and retain what they are reading because they are not actively engaged in the reading process,” notes Bob Cerf, owner of ClubZ! In-Home Tutoring. Cerf suggests parents and educators offer boys books that engage and encourage them to think about what is coming next, how they feel about a character, what they would do when faced with a similar situation as a character in the book, or relate back to their own experiences.

“This engages readers,” he says, “and increases comprehension and retention.”