23/04/2011 12:50 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Encouraging Boys To Read

Encouraging boys to read Nine percent of boys are leaving primary school with, at the best, the reading skills of an average seven year old. These startling findings are drawn from data produced by local authorities around England.

The situation rises to a shocking 15 per cent in some areas, such as Nottingham, Derby, Manchester and Telford. The most worrying aspect of these figures is that education experts claim if a child is struggling at 11, it's hard for them to ever catch up.

Some of these boys will have learning difficulties such as dyslexia. But, as parents know only too well, it can be a real challenge getting any boy to read.

'Boys do struggle in all areas of literacy,' says educational psychologist Teresa Bliss. 'The reasons for that are very complex. One is that boys' and girls' brains are wired differently. Reading is an aspect of language and girls have a better language facility, which is why they start speaking earlier.'

Another key reason boys struggle with reading, according to Bliss, is that their 'phonological processing' is not as effective.

'Phonics are the sounds letters make,' she explains. 'These underpin the acquisition of language. And dyslexic boys often find the rhythms of speech especially problematic.'

Learning in the playground

Glance around any school playground and the way boys and girls play is noticeably different. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but usually boys run around playing football or chasing games, while girls play quieter, more imaginative games with each other. According to Bliss, this is another way boys' language development is restricted, which in turn affects their reading ability.

'The key activities for boys are football and computer games,' she says. 'Neither involves language. Little boys tend to run around doing things together and play less imaginative games. Girls often hang about and chat, so are automatically developing their language skills from an early age.'

Of course, all that energy coursing through boys' veins can make it hard for them to sit and read for extended periods. Who wants to read when there are friends to chase, goals to score and forts to build? So even for more academically-able boys, reading can seem like a waste of their valuable free time.

So how can you encourage your son to enjoy reading?

Limit screen time

When they're not rushing about, 21st-century boys are likely to be plugged into some kind of screen. Whether it's TV, DVDs, computers, their Playstation or Xbox, a handheld console like the Nintendo DS, or a smartphone for surfing/texting/emailing their friends, screens dominate the lives of today's kids.

Unless you're the strictest of parents, there's no need to ban these screens altogether. But if your boy is having trouble with his reading, it's a good idea to limit their screen time especially as studies have found too much can be harmful, especially for kids under three.

And Bliss says talking to your kids about what they're watching is key. 'Kids now tend to be plugged into the "electronic babysitter" for hours a day. But when they're little, they often don't understand the stories – as parents, we need to explain those stories and help kids understand them. So my first tip is to limit their screen time, and then talk to your child about what they watch.'

Tip number two is to build on your son's current interests through your choice of books. You can turn idle screen-gazing into an educational opportunity, by following up their TV interests with related books. Whether it's wildlife, JCB trucks and diggers or popular TV characters, nurture and develop this interest through books.

'Librarians are very good at this,' says Bliss. 'Go into your local library and tell them what your child is interested in, their reading age, and ask what they recommend. It's all about trying to generate that excitement about books and show boys they can be fun.'

Bliss recommends finding a series boys enjoy, like Goosebumps for reading age eight, which are fast-paced and have short chapters. Or for older children a series like Animorphs, which features young teens who can turn themselves into animals with superpowers – exactly the kind of thing boys like.

Dads and their lads

One of the most important factors in whether boys enjoy books and develop a love of reading is what they see their dad doing. As in so many aspects of a boy's development, their dad is the role model who – often through actions rather than words – tells them how boys are supposed to behave. Bliss says it's vital that dads read with their lads.

'Dads are such important role models, because parents are the single most important influence on their kids' attitudes to education. Lots of men don't really read, but even so they need to read with their boys. Kids need to see dads being excited by books. If not, they will imitate him and it will be a real struggle to get them reading,' she says.

•If you would like to know more visit Teresa's website

•For more tips and advice on getting kids to read visit