I had a lot of friends as a kid. Anne of Green Gables, all the March girls, the Hardy Boys, Katy of What Katy Did, the Naughtiest Girl in School and countless other imaginary people were significant in my early life. The world of books was as important to me as the “real world”. Sometimes more so.
My seven year old son doesn’t seem anywhere near as enamoured with reading as I was at the same age. As someone who still considers a good book one of life’s greatest pleasures, this worries me. So when Dymocks literacy expert Ryan Spencer invited me to ask questions about kids and books, I had quite a few. Particularly around boys and reading. This is a longer than normal post but I found the answers so helpful that I had to publish all of them. I hope you find the below as enlightening (and encouraging) as I did.
My eldest son is 7 years old and used to love reading but now he seems to think it’s a race to get to the end of the book. So he will skip words (or even pages!) and make things up. How can I help him rediscover the joy and immerse himself in reading, rather than feeling like it’s something to hurry to the end of?
Reading is all about making meaning, and so when we read with our children, it’s vital that we bring them back to what the book was about when we’ve finished reading.
When you are reading with your child, it can be useful to stop and ask questions about the text content when interesting things happen in the book. This reinforces that meaning is most important and assists parents to be an active part of reading the text. Short, funny (or even disgusting!) books such as Andy Griffiths’ ‘Bad Book’ are great ways to encourage boys to stay engaged with the meaning of the text.
My son’s current obsession is all things soccer and given the choice he will always take out non-fiction soccer books out of the library. I am glad he is reading something — but I just don’t feel like he is experiencing a real connection to a story which is what I personally love about reading. I feel like this is fuelling his love of soccer but not of reading. What is your take on non-fiction for kids?
Males traditionally have different reading interests than females. Boys therefore usually won’t want to read the same thing as their sisters or female classmates will, and this is okay.
Frequently, we get trapped into thinking that there are only one or two types of books that children should be reading. The first is usually picture books, which we then expect children to grow out of as they progress towards reading novels. However, these types of text don’t always engage and excite young male readers.
Encourage your son to choose what they are interested in reading. If he wants to frequently read non-fiction texts about soccer, this is okay. Don’t restrict your sons’ choice in reading – when choices are restricted, a huge disincentive to read is created. A good way to continue this interest is to suggest a broad range of reading materials from the same topic, such as fiction books about soccer (Tim Cahill’s books comes to mind) or even a graphic novel about sport.
I read often, and around the boys, but my husband doesn’t. How does this influence them and their future relationship with reading? My husband tends to read reports for work and that’s about it. It’s not something that gives him pleasure.
Experts agree that when it comes to engaging boys with books, the key is reading with dads, uncles and grandfathers. When fathers engage with their sons in reading, the level of boys’ engagement, interest and participation are known to change. Dads are able to engage their sons in different ways with books, usually by hooking into shared interests and developing sustainable reading habits.
The following tips are easy ways for dads to start or further develop quality reading relationships with their boys.
Spend Quality Time Reading Together
Dads who share quality reading time with their sons are role-modelling effective reading behaviours. Encourage your husband to read at home with your son – it’s an excellent way to build quality reading time. Ask them to make a special time together on weekends to venture to the local library or bookstores.
Read About Shared Interests
Dads need to share their favourite texts with their boys – talk about the types of authors, what happens in the story and what the characters are like. If you generally read only magazines or the sport pages in the paper, talk about these too. This sharing builds strong relationships around reading and demonstrates that reading takes on many different forms.
Laugh and Have Fun
Boys love humour, and the plethora of humorous books that are in print makes these a popular choice. By having fun with books, we are encouraging boys to come back and read again and again.
Sometimes my 7-year-old will read to his brother, who is 2. He reads toddler books to him so they are below his reading level. Is this still a good way for him to practice his reading? Or is it a bit of a cop out? It is so cute to see them reading together.
This is valuable reading time regardless of the books that are being read, and it should be celebrated. When we read a book that is easy or simple for us, we are practising the skills that it takes to be a great reader. This is vital practice for a 7-year-old, as they learn important book handling behaviours (such as holding books, looking at pictures and turning pages left to right), are exposed to words they already know and helps them to develop fluency when reading.
We get readers home from school and some of them are pretty dry. He does read them but sometimes under fair duress. I worry that this will stifle any future love of reading. How would you recommend parents deal with this?
When your children bring home required reading, whether it be home readers or a set text for class, make sure that this isn’t the only reading they do. Provide incentives for your child to want to return to books of their own choice, in order to foster their interest in reading.
If teachers insist on reading the dry boring books, do these quickly first, then move onto a more interesting selection. In my experience, a quick note to the teacher explaining what you’ve read at home is all that is needed. No teacher will ever be upset if you’ve read more books at home!
Children need to know that it is okay to read whatever they want, when they have the opportunity to do so. Giving children the chance to read whatever they like when shopping at the bookshop is a great place to start. If you are picking up a book to take home to your child as a gift, purchase a few, so they can choose something that interests them.
What ways can I use reading time to help my son with his spelling and understanding how words work? How can we make this fun?
The core of the reading process is making meaning. When a child changes a word in the text, they are being a resourceful reader. They are working towards making sure that the text that they are reading makes sense for them. The child who reads the word flu instead of cold is putting the text into their own context. Children need to know that it is okay to not read “word perfect” all of the time.
Unfortunately, prior reading experiences for many of us have stressed the importance of reading “word perfect” and have implied that to do otherwise is cheating in some way. When a child changes a word, or looks to a parent for help, the importance of making meaning needs to be shared. Simple prompts for parents, such as “what would make sense here?” or “let’s read on for more information”, give the reader a strategy to figure out what they are reading.
Getting stuck on a word in many cases results in pointing at the unknown word and sounding out, or the parent becomes the “instant word factory” and supplies the word to the child. Both of these strategies are unsustainable. When figuring out unknown words, sounding out is the least effective strategy because the clues aren’t in that word – they are in the rest of the sentence or the pictures.
I genuinely want my kids to develop a love of reading because I think it’s such a rich part of the human experience. But I don’t want to push it either. What are some good ways to develop a genuine love of reading?
The simplest way to encourage children to engage in reading is to relax around the process. Parents are often anxious when they feel that reading isn’t going as well for their children as it should be. This then translates to the children that they are reading with. One of the easiest ways to relax around the reading process is to change the location reading takes place at home. If the difficult reading times have always been at the dining table, then encourage a variety of reading locations. Try lying down on the lounge room floor, Mum and Dad’s bed, or outside under a tree.
Let Your Children Choose What They Read
Book choice is a vital component of the reading process. As adults, we very rarely read anything that we either don’t love or enjoy. Why then do we insist that children must read cover to cover something that they don’t necessarily enjoy or like? Often these imposed choices on children come from a place of love – we are trying to support the children in accessing a text that is at their reading level. It is often hard to let go and let children choose their own books. This is vital, however, for developing strong, self-sufficient readers.
What are the best books for 7-year-old boys?
In my experience, 7-year-old boys love humour and books about disgusting subjects! Andy Griffiths is always a great place to start, as his collection of books are funny and downright disgusting at times! The Bad Book and The Very Bad Book are great places to start, particularly with reluctant readers.
Classics such as Paul Jennings’ ‘Unreal’ Series are also great to engage and excite boys. Other popular selections include ‘Captain Underpants’ series by Dav Pilkey and ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series by Jeff Kinney.
For more book suggestions, check out a range of children’s books from Dymocks online.
Do you have kids that love books?
What do you do in your house to foster a love of reading?
Do you have a son whose interest in reading seems very different from your own at the same age?