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How To Help Boys Enjoy Reading

14/03/2013 15:59 | Updated 22 May 2015
Boy reading with parentGetty

Perhaps my seven year-old son is thick. Perhaps he's been badly brought up. Perhaps his parents don't give a flying rubber for his educational development.

Perhaps these are all the reasons why his reading ability seems to be going backwards.

Or perhaps the books that have been chosen for him by his female teacher don't interest him, don't fire his imagination or ignite his curiosity.

Perhaps the fact that there is not a single male teacher at his primary school skews the curriculum and teaching atmosphere towards girls, with their collaborative creativity, rather than boys and their competitive urge to be top dog.

My son's teacher is great, but I do wonder how a 25-year-old woman with no kids of her own manages to tune in to the very different and conflicting demands of a class of 30 kids, roughly divided 50:50 between boys and girls.

Her professionalism is not in question. But is it beyond the realms of possibility that young women teachers find it easier to teach girls rather than boys, because they instinctively 'get' what makes their own gender tick, especially when those girls sit in adoring attendance, yearning-to-learn and constantly pushing their hands up, desperate to please 'Miss! Miss! Miss!' while the boys chase each other around the classroom with rulers-for-swords?

Perhaps this is the reason why my son (and his male friends, I hasten to add) are going backwards in the reading department, whereas the girls are striding forward?

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Whatever the reason, my son is not alone in his struggles with reading. Nationally, boys do fine in maths and science, but lag behind girls in reading by six percentage points and writing by 15 percentage points.

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I've seen this through my own children's experience. My son's sister is three years older than him: she is a brilliant reader. She's been reading since she was five years old. When she was seven, she was devouring Roald Dahl, Daisy Meadows and Beatrix Potter. And now, at nearly 10, she goes to bed with Holly Webb, Astrid Lindgren and J.K. Rowling.

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My son, meanwhile, would rather cut off his nose to spite his face than stick it into the books he brings home each week.

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'Look, if you don't read, you'll never be able to read the instructions to all those computer games you love,' I say to him.

And he just shrugs.

'LOOK, if you don't read, you're NOT having a Fab lolly.'

And he shrugs again.

Which just ends up with me losing my temper, him in tears and me getting a stern telling off from his mother when she gets home from work.

But I can't really blame my son because I believe there are other factors at work.

Choirmaster Gareth Malone explored this in his BBC TV series Extraordinary School for Boys. He found that boys are easily bored and are keen to take risks. They need instant rewards; immediate sanctions. And more than anything, competition. Boys have to prove who's best. Girls, on the other hand, are much more collegiate: they want to get along with each other; not prove who's Numero Uno.

This is why I think the lack of male teachers in our primary school isn't very beneficial for the development of our sons.

The solution would obviously be to recruit more men to the profession, but apparently suitable candidates are put off by fears of being labelled as paedophiles by slow-witted idiots.

Therefore, it is down to us parents to improve our own sons' chances by taking their extra-curricular education into our own hands.

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We can start this process by actively involving our boys in which books they read. Some of the material my son gets sent home with is either too complicated in its concept or too boring to grasp the imagination of a little boy.

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For example, the other day he brought home a book called: 'Think of an Eel.' It's all about eels having elvers and swimming upstream, all in poetry. It's probably a classic, but my son's first question was: 'Dad, what's an eel?'

I described this to my friend Juliet, a mum of 11 year-old twin boys. She went through the same frustrations with her own sons. 'Our tipping point was a book which had a couple of children arguing over, of all things, a cushion. 'My cushion.' Turn page, 'No, my cushion.' Turn page, 'No my cushion.'

She shared this insight: 'My sons didn't 'get' reading until they were seven: they cracked it with Asterix cartoon books, Captain Underpants and non-fiction on dinosaurs, planets, and electricity! Now they gobble books up – Harry Potter, Percy Jackson.'

From now on, I'm taking my son's reading development into my own hands. We started last night, with a book he chose himself: 'The Incredibles!' from the Disney Wonderful World of Reading series.

'Da-ad,' my son said to me, after he'd raced through the book at the speed of Dash. 'That Mr Incredible...he's just like you.'

Yes, I think we're going to enjoy reading from now on.

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