Not all boys hate to read. But a lot do, and those are the ones we’re talking about here. If a middle-grade boy is a reluctant reader, he’s setting himself up for a lifetime of problems he could have skipped—if only he knew how to read.
Let’s face it. Poor readers stress about school, tend to have lower confidence outside of school and often grow up with the intention of quitting their education as soon as they are allowed (by the state, mom or dad).
And where does that leave them?
If you’re a parent with a boy who doesn’t like to read, you are probably desperately seeking ways to inspire him to pick up a book.
How to encourage boys to read: start with the obvious
What does your son like to do? Is he a baseball fan? Does he like to cook? Is he into dinosaurs, bugs or spaceships? Surround him with books about his favorite topics. There is no need to offer him variety. If he only wants to read about World War II military strategy, let him. I know one fourth-grade boy who only wanted to read about that, and he exhausted the supply of books on military history at the local library.
There are certain genres of books your son might enjoy. One mom told me that her reluctant reader really liked books with talking animals. They weren’t easy to find, but she worked hard to keep him in a steady supply until he became an independent reader. If your son likes one book, find out why and hunt down more of the same.
If your boy likes comic books, take regular trips to the comic book store. Try a subscription to a magazine. The stories are short and there are lots of pictures. Video game fanatics might be more willing to read stories online. Download books for your gamer to read on his computer. This article has a list of websites where you can get books for children online. Some of them are read aloud, but others are digital downloads.
How to encourage boys to read: stoop to bribery
Make a trade. If your son reads a book, plan a reward that relates to the book. If he finishes a book on baseball, take him to a baseball game. If the book is a fictional account of an historic event, take him to a site where he can learn more about what really happened. And if he reads a book about two kids going on an adventure and getting in trouble, let him set up a tent in the back yard and have a sleepover.
One great way to encourage your son to read is to let him watch movies that are based on books--after he’s read the book. There are some great books for kids that were made into movies:
Some of the books on this list may be too challenging for your reader. If that’s the case, choose the abridged or graphic version if it’s available. Usually, the graphic version of a novel is shorter, and of course, children love the artwork that illustrates these timeless stories.
Break your reading challenge into manageable chunks, and your son will be more likely to get through the whole book. For example, give him a gold star when he finishes a chapter. That way, he can see tangible results as he works toward his goal.
One caveat: Be careful not to make the experience punitive by constantly reminding him that he doesn’t get the prize if he doesn’t read the book. Let him be in charge of his own destiny. If he chooses to forgo the prize, let that be up to him.
How to encourage boys to read: go back a few years
Becoming a good reader takes practice. Reading grade level material is hard work for a reluctant reader. Rather than making your son struggle through books that other fifth graders are reading, go back down to fourth grade. Find easier books that your child might like. Or even two grade levels below—whatever it takes for your son to be able to enjoy reading.
If your son is willing to keep his nose in a book for younger children, he will get all the practice he needs, simply because he is reading. Reading for enjoyment will advance his skills faster than powering through a book that is too hard for him. After all, that’s how his classmates became good readers—mastering easy books and then moving on to harder ones. What you are giving your late bloomer is the gift of taking all the time he needs.
And finally, don’t stop reading aloud. Choose books that you think your son could read by himself. Spend time reading to him before he goes to bed, but stop when you get to the most exciting part in the chapter. Lay the book on his nightstand and let him know that it’s now time for lights out. Except, of course, if he wants to finish the chapter on his own.
Leave a comment! Is your boy a reluctant reader? Share your own stories about what worked for you.
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SPEAKING OF KIDS: Musings, stories, and tips about teaching, reading, and parenting.
ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT KRISTI CROSSON
Kristi Crosson is a freelance writer, homeschooling mom of three children, and author of Healthy Mom Revolution, a blog that offers insights on healthy parenting.
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
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Gertrude Warner Book Award
Moonbeam Children's Book Award
An adventure for kids ages 8-12— especially if they like video games!