Friday, March 6, 2009

Boys Don't Read?!?

I remember reading an article last year in a parenting magazine about why boys don't read. "Boys Don't Read?" I thought to myself. As a mother of an eight year old boy who laps up books like a starved kitten I somewhat struggled with the concept! Now I am not naive. I was a teacher for several years and have taught children in the primary grades straight up to junior high. I am certainly no stranger to literacy issues in our country especially those that affect our Aboriginal youth. I believe perhaps there is something to the article writer's hypothesis that boys tend to score lower on standardized reading tests than girls. What bothered me however was their reasoning. Boys Don't Read Girls' Books they touted and there are very few good books written for boys yet the library is bursting with stories for girls!! WHAT?? I had trouble stifling a giggle as I thought of all the female authors of days gone by, those that had to use male nom de plume just to be published, turning over in there graves. In a world where man is king in the literary world....there are no books for boys!
The article claimed that girls are more flexible readers. They will read books written for boys but boys will not read books written for girls! I'm wondering what constitutes a girl's book versus a boy's when one discusses truly good children's literature. My son is 8 and his book of choice currently is "Anne of Green Gables". To be more precise, the entire series of Anne books. He has just cracked open the third in the series this week! Is this unusual? Perhaps...
but I believe there is a reason he reads what he does and at the level he does.
When my son was a baby I rocked him to sleep reading "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone". From infancy to this present day we have read to our children daily. Of course reading daily with your children is a literacy development fundamental but it goes deeper and further than this. My husband and I read everyday ourselves. We have modelled reading as an activity for enjoyment and for the acquisition of knowledge and we have surrounded ourselves and our family with books! I would dare anyone to find a room in our home that did not contain at least one book...okay I admit there is the furnace room. I believe that our personal relationship with books is reflected in our children's. I believe that the issues of boys and books do not stem from the lack of good reading material but rather the messages we send them. I do not pick a book off the shelf and say this is a boys' book or girls' book but rather this is a well written book or a poorly written one. When I relate the story from a classic to my children in an attempt to peek their interest I do not focus on whether the main character in a heroine or hero but rather relate some of the interesting aspects of the book.
When obtaining my bachelor of education I recall viewing a video clip, a true story about a primary and middle elementary school teacher in an American inner-city school (I do not recall the details of location and names). The school was one with a poor academic record and the children were struggling. The teacher taught the students about Shakespeare and used his plays in a way that appealed to them. These were young children, you must remember not high school students. The children flourished! When asked about this phenomenal change and what brought it about the teacher remarked, "What was wrong before was their expectations were not high enough!" They were not expected to succeed, they were not given expectations to meet or even attempt to attain! Just as this woman broadened the worldview for these children so we must do the same for our own. We should not intimate that there are boundaries between genres such as those of gender. We must introduce literature to our children with an open mind!

TIP: Another important tip which I found developed excellent literary and verbal skills in my children is to use language when speaking to them that you would use in conversation with an adult. I know this may sound strange but it truly makes a world of difference. Patronizing children by "dumbing down" your use of language can hinder the swiftness of their vocabulary acquisition. Even if you know that your child will not comprehend a word don't be afraid to use it. Use the more complex word and then follow it with an explanation or definition rather than refraining from using it!

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