Why Boys Don’t Read And What To Do About It

It’s an age old problem – trying to get a young boy to sit still for more than five minutes has challenged parents and teachers for an eternity. Their bodies are built to move, run, jump, push, pull, wrestle, and wriggle!

Just watching my two boys is evidence of that. Their interaction is all about who can whack the soccer ball into the back fence the hardest, working out how to tie the skateboard to the bike without getting the rope tangled around the back wheel, and who can bounce from bed to bed without touching the floor.

So when boys start school, tasks like reading and writing can be frustrating when attention spans are still developing and young boys’ bodies want to be on the move.

Research conducted in 2012 by the National Literacy Trust shows that only 28 per cent of boys read every day and that 24 per cent think reading is boring. It’s evidence that boys still find reading arduous and that they can undervalue reading as a worthwhile activity.

I have tried many things with my boys to develop their love of reading – some have been more successful than others, and different things work with different kids. But if we play to boys’ inquisitive natures, action-oriented bodies and sense of competition we are more likely to have success. These things have certainly helped my sons connect with books and reading.

‘Teach me’ books

Why Boys Don't ReadBoys are more likely to read if they see a purpose for reading. If they want to learn how to build a go-kart try and stop them from reading an instruction manual that gives them the know-how for building a brilliant machine that will be the envy of their mates.

Recently Oscar found his Dangerous Books for Boys because he wanted to make a bow and arrow. After reading it carefully he came up with his own version of a slingshot which was so effective it launched the arrow over the neighbour’s fence! Archie’s brain is soccer mad at the moment and I have found him quietly reading about the different passing techniques in the hope that he will soon score a goal.

I didn’t instigate any of these reading moments – they were triggered by my sons wanting to learn something new. There’s nothing like having a purpose to get boys immersed in a book and soaking up the information.

Let’s get physical

Reading is mostly thought of as a solitary, passive activity. Sitting quietly and reading can be excruciating for many boys – it goes against every fibre of their being. Being creative and finding ways to incorporate physical activity into reading can take boys from bored to buzzing in seconds.

Doing silly faces, grand gestures, unusual voices and big actions can spice up a book no end. I’ve seen a switch flick over with my boys as soon as we make reading “physical.”

I don’t know if you have noticed but many kids’ joke books aren’t funny. Oscar was reading page after page of monotonous jokes and was about to give up when I read the next one. I stood bolt upright and mustered up my most formal English accent and asked… Q: Where does a King keep his armies? A: Up his sleevies (while pulling down a big make believe sleeve and peering quizzically inside)! This produced uproarious laughter and is now a joke the boys tell to anyone who will listen (complete with accent and actions of course).

It’s in the telling of the joke, not necessarily the joke itself, and reading any book is the same – tell it with a sense of drama and it has a different effect.

Any book can be made “physical”. Approach it with a sense of fun, or drama, and it’s amazing how a story can suddenly connect with your kids.

Books on planes, trains and automobiles

Sometimes there’s no escaping having to sit still – in the car, while on a flight, in an airport. These are great opportunities to get boys reading. If we resist the urge to keep them occupied with electronic gadgetry and surround them with interesting books instead, we at least increase the odds of them picking up a book.

As most of our family live interstate we often find ourselves sitting on planes and in cars. We have a ritual in our house where the boys can buy a new book to take away with them. Oscar got hooked on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series because he bought one at the airport and he has now worked his way through the whole series. Archie’s favourite travelling books are anything by Dr Suess. The boys equate travel with reading and can’t wait to get on the next plane and into the next exciting story.
Putting a stash of favourite books in the car seat pocket and stocking up on activity books when travelling are also easy things to do which have the effect of showing our kids that reading is a great way to spend their spare time.

While boys will be boys and will continue to love belting balls, swinging off trees, shooting arrows and racing their bikes (and let’s face it, we wouldn’t want it any other way), if we appeal to their sense of adventure and need for action, reading can be an activity that boys choose and enjoy.

Have you tried any of these things to get your son reading? What things have worked for your son?

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