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These Tips Might Make Your Son a Reader

By: Debbie Glasser

Parents of boys may have heard that raising an eager reader isn't easy. In spite of stereotypes that suggest boys are less likely than girls to be engaged readers, literacy experts suggest this doesn't have to be the case.

In fact, according to William G. Brozo, Ph.D., professor of literacy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., these stereotypes can interfere with the ability of boys to develop a lifelong love of reading. And he urges parents not to adopt what he describes a potentially “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Brozo, the author of To Be a Boy, To Be a Reader (International Reading Association, 2002), explained that although boys and girls share the capacity to become strong and avid readers, boys may experience unique challenges.

For example, he said boys are regularly inundated with a stream of electronic messages about what defines masculinity, and these messages often are at odds with what teachers and parents demand from them in school and at home.

He said that because boys' primary-school teachers are mostly women and because mothers tend to purchase books for their children more often than fathers, boys may perceive reading as a “girl thing.”

And teachers and moms may be making reading choices for boys based on their own sensibilities, which may or may not match those of the boys for whom the books and reading material are intended, Brozo said.

He hopes parents, teachers and other adults will pay close attention to the importance of nurturing boys’ literacy. “This isn't just a matter of supporting their future professional success,” he said. “Literacy is a way of enriching selfhood for boys. The better, more thoughtful readers they are, the better, more thoughtful men they may become.”

Here's how parents can promote their sons' love of reading:

Find an “entry point.”

Look for reading material that captures their imagination. “Even if he prefers a stereotypically masculine text that clashes with your own sense of what is considered good, quality literature, respect his choices,” Brozo said. “As boys read more, their skills and abilities will improve, and as their abilities improve, you can begin introducing them to more sophisticated and complex stories and books.”

Look for books with male characters.

“Research suggests that boys generally prefer and better comprehend stories and texts with male protagonists,” Brozo said. “Boys often respond enthusiastically to books and other materials that present the surprisingly diverse face of masculinity.”

Think “outside the book.”

There's more than one way to encourage a love of reading, said Lisa Blair, president of the Miami-Dade Family Learning Partnership. “Comic books, magazines, computer-based activities, and books on tape can help build reading skills and keep children interested in reading for pleasure,” she said. “Provide a variety of fun, interesting literacy-building materials and opportunities.”

Start a book club.

Encourage boys to meet with other boys and their parents to talk about reading material they enjoy, Brozo said. “Boys should be able to select texts for these clubs, even if it's sports pages, graphic novels or CD cover notes,” he said. “Having fun with text is the highest priority here.”

Go to the bookstore and library.

“Even if your son doesn't pick up a book, keep trying,” Brozo said. “He'll be more likely to develop an interest over time when he's in a place where he's surrounded by books…You can't hard-sell books to a disaffected reader.” Parents should be patient and encouraging and not pressure their children.

Get involved.

“The importance of parental involvement in children's education cannot be overstated,” Blair said. Parents should supervise homework, get to know their children's teachers and provide an environment at home that nurtures learning. “Students who have home support usually have higher-than-average reading achievement,” Blair said.

Set the tone.

Parents can use reading as a model in the home and books as a springboard for family discussions, Blair said.

Start early.

“It's never too soon to start reading with your child,” Blair said. Parents should make reading a part of their family's daily life from the start.

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About the author

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Mailman Segal Institute for Early Childhood Studies at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

This article was originally published in Positive Parenting in the Miami Herald on February 23, 2006