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  • Kenton E. Biffert

Boys Can be Readers: strategies to get boys reading.

"Readers are Leaders." I was told this by a teacher when I was young and it stuck with me my whole life. I was one of those boys who struggled with reading and despised it.

I remember I used to be placed in front of a red, metal, reading machine with a little screen. The paper would be fed through the top, a speed that I was expected to read at was set, and then the paper was fed through. I was to read, comprehend and answer questions. And I always did poorly. The machine went too fast. So, I got smart. I took to the reading lab a pocket full of pens and when the teacher was at the other side of the room, I would jam the gears from the back with the pens and control the speed so I could read the story. And I learned to hate reading.

It wasn't until my Uncle Klaas insisted that I try one single Hardy Boy book. I took out his collection, laid out the books, and through a process of elimination, chose The Twisted Claw. This became my first novel. I've been reading books non-stop ever since.

When my wife and I began to have children, we decided to design our home and lifestyle around reading in an effort to instil a love of reading in each of our children. And it worked!

Here are a list of strategies we use with our children (boys and girls) to have them read.

(N.B: Our goal in this was not to just have them read, but to have them love reading, ie: picking up books and reading for enjoyment on a regular basis.)

1. Model Reading: if the parents are glued to smartphones and ipads, then the children are not seeing them read. My wife and I are always having books on the go, books by the toilet, on our bedside, and are discussing the books we're reading.

2. Design the living space around reading rather than watching t.v. The 'hearth' for us is not a 200" flat screen television, but reading spaces. Shelves of books, soft lighting, comfy places to sit with a view and so forth.

3. Audio books: with the breakthrough of 1000's of audio books, we have found a wonderful new place for story in our lives. We listen to audio books together in the car and the children have ipods they can use to listen to their own audio books. I personally always have an audio book on the go. It was through this medium that I was able to listen to the Odyssey and the Illiad. If is too expensive, try out for books in the free domain like the greats from Jack London.

4. We don't give out money for household chores. These are simply expected when being part of a family. However, we do give out money for books read at their reading level and more for books read above their reading level.

5. Push their reading levels in tandem: My wife and I will read books that the children are reading, namely ones that are pushing their reading level in length, plot complexity, or vocabulary. For example: we are currently studying the fall of Rome in history and the two oldest are reading books a bit above their reading level. We read the book with them, talk about the book at dinner and enjoy the journey with them.

6. Set reading goals: In January, when we set goals as a family for the year, we set reading goals. It is encouraged that the children make a list of books they hope to read and we try to insist they always pick a classic to read each year.

7. Read out loud to them. A lot. Every day.

8. Fill your home with great books and get rid of the twoddle. (Twoddle being poorly written or illustrated or potty mouth type books). Seek books that have beautiful illustrations, beautiful language, great heroes and so forth.

9. If there is no television, no video games, no ipads, no smart phones and no laptops available to the children they will look for something else to do. Our toys are essentially limited to Lego, board games, blocks, the great outdoors and … books. Thus, our children get reading when they get up, read on the toilet, read in the van, read at the breakfast table (we don’t allow reading at the dinner table) and read before bed.

10. Seasonal books: we collect, yearly, more and more beautiful Christmas, Advent, Easter books. These books are only brought out when the season calls for it. Thus, it is with excitement that they are read over and over again every year.

Really, the key in developing a reading family is to have a passion for reading yourself.

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