The National Literacy Trust has this week published a report showing evidence that boys are falling behind girls when it comes to reading. Carried out by the All-Party Parliamentary Literacy Group Boys’ Reading Commission (now there's a mouthful!), the report states that at age eleven 20% of boys are failing to reach the expected level in reading, compared with only 12% of girls. The Commission also found that boys are more likely to want to watch TV than read a book and that they struggle to find books that interest them.
So why are boys not turned on by reading? And what can we do to help? I think this starts very early on at home, before children even start school. The gender stereotypes that we all claim to try and do away with nevertheless take hold, and parents find themselves playing lots of active games with their boys, claiming they have lots of energy and need to be on the go. Girls on the other hand are encouraged to be gentle and love doing “crafty things”. Even by the time they get to toddlers I can see a preference in many of the boys for racing round the room and playing on the cars and bikes, while the girls come over to the “messy lady” (that’s me) and sit quietly to glue and stick and draw. They’re encouraged to try writing their name and identify the shapes and colours and letters that I have out on the table. Maybe I’m guilty myself, of subconsciously making more effort to welcome and encourage the girls, thinking they’ll get more out of it, and allowing the boys to be boys, and run off their energy. The National Literacy Trust also found that boys are less likely to be given books as presents, and that role models in schools are more likely to be female (either staff who teach reading or volunteers who come in and help with reading).
Boys may not want to sit quietly for hours and read a book – some do of course, and we must be careful of making generalisations - but we can encourage our boys; our own children and the boys that we know, by praising them when they do spend some time, even 5 minutes, reading. We can make sure there’s a wide choice of reading material to choose from: comics, adventure books, non-fiction books, books linked to their favourite TV programmes, even sticker books. We can ensure they get positive messages about reading from men – grandfathers, fathers, uncles and friends of the family can be asked to talk to them about their favourite books and what they like reading. So often reading is seen as uncool for boys, so to get a positive message from a man about reading is very powerful, for both boys and girls.
A last word from me: Make books fun. Having the time to read a book, either together or alone should be a treat and something we enjoy, not a chore. Being passionate and enthusiastic about reading is vital to your child’s learning, so don’t be afraid to dance around the room when reciting a favourite poem or put on silly voices for different characters – if they see you engaged and enjoying yourself, they will be too.