I am already terrified that as my toddler son grows, each new year will bring him closer to the day he no longer loves to read. This fear is a result of my profession.
Before I became an English teacher, I had grand ideas of setting my sixteen-year-old students free in the library to watch as they dove into new worlds and discovered their love of reading in a sea of books.
So I did it. Every month, I encouraged them to check out a book of their choosing, and to my dismay, I saw the same thing happen again and again.
Month after month, the girls would walk straight to the fiction section and start perusing titles, genres, and authors familiar to them, and the boys would wander outside of the stacks with absolutely no direction and no idea where to start. Ultimately, they would slump over to the nonfiction section to pick out an informational book about WWII, aliens, or famous baseball stars. That book would then take up residence at the bottom of their bag and eventually be returned to the librarian, spines never cracked. My male students just didn’t like to read.
Obviously, there were many exceptions to my observation. There were girls who refused to touch a book and boys who were total bookworms, but after seven years in the classroom, I can say the boy-girl reading gap is a real thing. Science supports this trend as well. Psychology Today says, “boys have scored significantly lower than girls in reading at all grade levels every year since 1992. And the gap grows larger, not smaller, as children get older.”
Personally, I am quaking in my boo…ks over the fact that girls read at twice the rate boys do by the time they graduate high school. This terrifies me because both college professors and employers cite the ability to read as one of the prominent factors for success in both the classroom and the workforce.
Despite these facts, I refuse to go down without a fight!
Without further ado, here is my 4-step action plan to ensure a son, mine or yours, will love reading forever:
Step 1: Exposure
One book, Two books, Red book, 450,876 BOOKS. Seriously though. Start making books available everywhere. Their room, the living room, the kitchen, the car, etc. Take trips to the library if you can. In the time of coronavirus, many libraries are offering curbside service. We want our son to love reading so badly that we made his nursery theme children’s literature
Okay okay, this might be taking it too far. You don’t have to redecorate your child’s room, but exposure is everything. The first step to getting the horse to drink is leading it to the water.
Step 2: Have a Set Time
Reading is a habit like any other. Carve out a dedicated slice of your day to read. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- This time should not be used as a punishment.
- Attach something the child already likes to this time, like his favorite snack or a cozy blanket.
- All members of the house should be reading during this time, parents too!
- The set time expectation should be reasonable and achievable depending on the age and ability of the child. You can always start at 10 minutes and work your way up. After all, 10 minutes of reading every day for a year is 3,650 minutes of extra reading!
Step 3: Demolish the Stigma that Reading is for Girls
Our son plays with kitchen utensils and construction vehicles, dinosaurs and baby dolls. He sees me mow the lawn and my husband fold the laundry. He sees his mama read and he sees his daddy read. BOTH of his parents read to him every day.
Boys need to see male role models (dad, uncle, grandpa, brother, friend, coach, etc). choosing to read because somehow reading has been assigned as a “feminine” activity.
Currently, nine out of the ten New York Times bestselling YA (young adult) novels are written by women and feature a female protagonist. In a world where the publishing industry has all but abandoned teenage boys, we as parents have to work extra hard to remind our sons that reading is for EVERYONE. Not only is reading for everyone, but every book is for everyone. Our boys need to be reminded that they are allowed and encouraged to read all types of stories!
Step 4: Let Them Read What They Want!
All words have value, not just those of Shakespeare and Melville. Quite frankly, would YOU want to read Moby Dick in your spare time? Probably not. I am an English teacher and I think it is a bore (sorry, Captain Ahab).
What are your sons currently into? Sports? Dance? Star Wars? Cupcake Wars? Try to find a book, fiction or nonfiction, that suits their tastes.
Now, here is the big one: Okay say it with me now! “Comic Books are BOOKS.” “Audiobooks are BOOKS.” “eBooks are BOOKS.” Let them read what they want and let them read how they want to read it.
That is it! The whole plan.
Currently, my toddler son loves to read, but I am not so naive to think that this means he will always love reading. Just six months ago he would eat anything we put on his plate, but now, all he willingly consumes is waffles and blueberries.
Hopefully, with my plan and determination, we will nurture within him a love of reading that will follow him into adulthood.