Getting boys into books

Our Educational Consultant, Geraldine Taylor, tackles the issue of boys and reading and explores the many ways in which you can help them learn.

Boys are being seen as a problem again.  This time it’s about reading, and falling behind girls, or preferring online games.  The media have had a field day with the report that fewer boys are making the expected progress in English than girls, at primary school.

I’ve taught boys and girls, and there is an emotional difference in the way they react to learning. It’s a difference, one isn’t better than the other – but sometimes it’s harder to fit boys into our learning grids and developmental models.

As an educational consultant, I’m always saying that children develop at different rates  – but this is especially true for boys. Boys get there, and frequently surprise us, but we may not get the early assurance we’d like that they are into books.

Boy running

Little boys are power houses, they seem to feel an internal locomotion (that’s why they love tractors and things that go – there’s an identity there). They like what they are learning to be surrounded by excitement, even competition. They like to feel mastery and success quickly. If they struggle to learn, this can affect their self esteem and they can switch off or get distracted. They want movement in what they do and they’re on the look out for the next exciting thing …

Well, we could say this is awful and get bogged down in fears for their future, or we can celebrate their vibrancy, and look for ways to use this learning style.  Gareth Malone explored this in his recent BBC series Extraordinary School for Boys – and for teachers and us at home, it’s about finding ways to encourage the skills so that they are storing them up for when they are ready to focus on them.

We don’t need to differentiate between boys and girls learning styles as soon as they are born – but please watch to see how little boys love books about vehicles (eg Ladybird’s Emergency book, below) and things that go! It’ll become evident to you when boys need a bit of encouragement, boy style.  It’s great to surround boys’ reading with excitement and energy – concoct sound effects, clap your hands, bring the books to life.

Emergency book

Synthetic Phonics is good news for boys – it’s like cracking a code. Boys are often able to read more than we think they can, in terms of incidental print, text online, games and sports results. They master print detail in the environment because they need to know it.  Read more about Phonics.

Superhero Phonics

The National Literacy Trust’s Reading the Game initiative works to promote literacy skills through the motivational power of sport and this year produced the World Cup toolkit reading resource  to help encourage young people’s reading through the power of football. Male role models matter a lot – hence the important impact of fathers’ reading and sports celebrities.   They’re also affected by whether their mates read or not, and reading time at home with us is especially valuable.

Boys like to read high status material – beautifully produced non-fiction with amazing facts, stories about the current superhero.   They also like joke books!

If you’re looking for inspiring reads, the national project ‘Boys into Books’ has produced two booklists in their ‘Riveting Reads’ series, to support the reading needs of boys.

You can also download their 20 top tips on how to encourage  reluctant readers.

Finally, an insight from my teaching years – teaching in an all boys’ school, I often despaired that 12 year olds were easily distracted, looking for excitement (this isn’t new or just the result of technology), and then, because of a book supply mix up, all I had was stack of old books from the back of the cupboard to use for class reading. So I got on with it and was astonished – so many of the class got right into it, loved it, read it on their own … and we’re talking about Moby Dick!.

With boys, give them the opportunities to learn, keep enthusiastic– and assume nothing! What matters is to delight in the way they learn, and how they are.

Geraldine Taylor, Ladybird Educational Consultant

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