By Paul Stewart
A lot of boys don’t read. And when they do read, they don’t like it.
According to a recent study by The National Literacy Trust, almost twice as many boys as girls said they do not enjoy reading at all.
As Head of English at a boys’ school, I suspected as much. However, this doesn’t make the statistics any less alarming.
But I’m not giving up on boys and reading. Here are nine reasons why:
1. Reading Stimulates the Brain
Keeping the brain active and engaged prevents it from losing its power. The brain operates like a muscle – exercising it keeps it healthy and helps sharpen its logical ability.
2. Reading Enhances Knowledge
Everything added to a boy’s mind creates neural connections to pieces of information already stored there. It’s like a net with an increasing number of threads being added to it. The more neural connections, the stronger the net.
The most important thing is to value reading yourself. Fill your home with books.
3. Reading Builds Confidence
A broad vocabulary is empowering, but a vocabulary won’t grow if it isn’t fed. Reading exposes your son to words in a range of contexts, allowing him to express himself clearly and choose the right word for the right situation. An articulate boy is often confident as he has the capacity to present his views in a clear, compelling and convincing fashion.
4. Reading Aids Communication
The pen may have been replaced by the keyboard, but the written word remains the dominant form of communication in most industries. Boys who read regularly are more likely to master writing, and writers who have developed their own style will stand apart from those who haven’t.
5. Reading Sharpens Problem-Solving Skills
Most narratives present an issue or complication. Reading presents your son with a host of tricky scenarios and then explores solutions. Boys who read often find themselves vicariously involved in a range of escalating problems and challenges; through the protagonist your son overcomes obstacles, and by doing so expands his repertoire of strategies to deal with issues in his own life.
6. Reading Helps Boys Focus
Boys have many things competing for their attention and many boys consume media in a perpetually-distracted state. Evidence suggests that many adolescents struggle when met with a task that requires patience, persistence and long-term focus. Reading helps boys focus on one single task for a protracted period of time.
7. Reading and Creativity go Hand-in-Hand
Industry needs people who can design and articulate new ideas. Creative people. We need producers of content, not consumers. If our boys rely upon a few Hollywood producers to illustrate what Smaug looks like, to define Katniss Everdeen’s personality, or to provide insights into Jay Gatsby’s life, they are giving themselves over to a habit of dependency that reduces their creative impulses. In that situation, everybody loses.
8. Reading Helps Reduce Stress
Our sons’ hectic lifestyles are often accompanied by heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Books allow a boy to spend time in realms free of the things that worry him. A good book can provide relief – an escape from daily demands and duties.
9. Reading is Fun!
Many boys see reading as a chore. But given the right book and the right context, reading can be something boys actually enjoy. The trick is getting them to experience enough reading to discover this.
Shared experiences of books can lead to authentic and memorable conversations.
What can parents do to encourage reading?
Be a Reading Role Model
The most important thing is to value reading yourself. Fill your home with books. Buy your son a magazine subscription or a loaded Kindle as a gift (rather than an iPad or Xbox). Reading in front of your son is the single most effective way to get your son to read.
Look for Opportunities for Shared Reading Experiences
Shared experiences of books can lead to authentic and memorable conversations. Heading off on holidays? Using books and articles, plan activities together – reading that is purposeful really resonates with boys. Or take a book of chilling campfire tales as evening entertainment, rather than the iPad.
Limit Technology, but don’t Demonise it
Many cite video games as the major obstacle to reading, but the two activities can co-exist. Agree upon how long a gaming session should be and stick to it. Boundaries work well for boys, as long as you co-create them to give your son a sense of control. And try and make car time tech-free time – it’s the perfect controlled environment.
Consider Short Stories
Short stories work beautifully for boys as they give them a defined experience that can be completed in a relatively short space of time.
Talk to your Librarian
Librarians aren’t humourless sentinels who consider silence golden. They are just people. People who love books and are more than happy to share their enthusiasm for literature based on your son’s interests, reading level and needs.
Swap Print for Audio
If your son is still resistant to print, try getting him to listen to a book instead. In addition to paid services such as Audible, audio texts can be accessed through council and school libraries.
Take it a Page at a Time
Don’t expect your son to turn into a bookworm overnight. Set realistic and achievable expectations that aren’t going to turn books into a battleground.
Paul Stewart is the eLearning Coordinator and Head of English (Middle Years) at Brighton Grammar School, an all-boys school in Melbourne. He also has two sons.
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