Sunday, October 24, 2010

Six Not-So-Secret Tips for Encouraging Literacy Development in Boys

Several years ago when I taught pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, I had a foster grandparent volunteer – a senior citizen who helped in the classroom every morning. It was a wonderful program; it was nice to have a male role model in a female-dominated profession! Whenever the boys played in housekeeping/dramatic play area, Mr. B. would tell them, “Get outta that kitchen. Boys don’t play in the kitchen.” I had many talks with Mr. B and reminded him that it was really OK for the boys to be in the Dramatic Play area. It’s such a touchy subject with men sometimes. Sometimes they just don’t want to see their boys playing with dolls – but it isn’t a sign of doom , it really isn’t – they are imitating what they see mommies AND daddies doing – dads take care of babies, dads cook, and dads clean up. Four- and five-year-olds are experimenting with these roles and it is how both boys and girls learn.

So, all things equal for boys and girls, right? Weeeellll…..not exactly. Boys and girls deserve equal opportunites…but that does not mean that we, as educators and/or parents, should ignore their differences. Sure, it's OK for young boys to play with dolls and for young girls to play with trucks; but when it comes to boys and literacy, research shows that there is a significant gap in reading achievement. Boys and girls have biological differences and we can’t expect boys to fit into our mold of what we think a “reader” should be; we instead have to be flexible and bend our expectations to meet the needs of the young boys in our lives. Boys might not sit still for a 15 minute circle time so we have to find another way to reach them.

Research shows that literacy skills are a predictive factor in school success. Creating a nation of boys that are lagging behind in reading skills means that they are at risk in other subject areas as well. Our effort to erase this literacy achievement gap has to begin in the early years. Here are just some of the things that parents and teachers can do to set a literacy foundation early in a young boy’s life:

  1. Start early: I remember reading that adults tend to read and talk more to girls than they do to boys – even in infancy. We can’t set our boys up for failure even before they get a chance to crawl! It’s important for all babies to be read to; research shows that the single most important thing a parent can do to raise a child who reads, is to read to them early and often!
  2. Choose books that will be of interest: Whatever those interests are, foster them. Is your two year old obsessed with trucks? Have a five year old that can’t get enough of dinosaurs? Or a ten year old who loves all things related to baseball? There are books on just about every topic under the sun! Visit the library often and get acquainted with your local librarian!
  3. Value Read Aloud Time: Even after a child learns to read, continue to read aloud. Hearing the rhythm, patterns, tone, and pronunciation of written language helps children to become better readers.
  4. Timing is Important: If boys seem to have a short attention span, choose books that are not too long. Or, read books in chunks – a few pages a day/night. What’s important is that you are reading!
  5. SET AN EXAMPLE: Boys need good role models. Dads, granddads, uncles, or other male figures should model literacy behavior. Children see and children do!
  6. Keep tabs on digital media: Boys are attracted to video games and computers. It’s unrealistic to eliminate all digital media from a child’s life; to do so would suggest that computers and video games are inherently “bad.” I suggest that the use of video games and computer time is monitored – supervise the time children spend using these devices, select games/software properly, and select well-developed websites to explore.
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  1. Awesome! Thanks for posting-I am going to link this!

  2. Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed! I've been wanting to write this post for a while!

  3. I do all of these things. I think most of us do. But number 4, is definitely a tip to share with everyone! Read longer books in chunks. They even love short chapter books, AND bookmarks!

  4. Cynthia - Glad you enjoyed. I'm working on two more related articles so I hope you come back soon.

    Christie - I'm so glad that you do these things...many do not. But sometimes I think this blog is just preaching to the choir. Most folks who find me already have an interest in literacy. Many parents need reminders on how to help children - boys AND girls - start off on the right foot when it comes to literacy skills. And I'm glad that you found a new tip in #4...I used to read chapter books to my kindergarten glass - each day before naptime we'd read a chapter or two and they loved it!

    Happy Reading!!



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