Our “special family” invited hubby and me to our great grandson’s 7th birthday party held in Pennsylvania at a trampoline park (my first time inside one of these places). I watched in amazement as these boys (and a few girls) ran, jumped, bounced, and slid with wild abandonment and pure joy on their faces!
During our time there I had two young mothers engage me in conversation about their son’s reading difficulties. Both boys are in second grade, one likes to read, the other one not so much. I shared some information and made plans to follow-up with both.
I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if all little boys approached literacy with that same joy and wild abandonment I was witnessing at the trampoline park. If they could view learning a new reading strategy like it was an obstacle to overcome in their popular video games. If only they could be as comfortable taking risks in their reading as they are jumping up and down on these trampolines. Too many boys, especially those of color, are getting turned off to literacy early.
My New Year’s Wish
For 2016 I’m hoping that we won’t squash our young boys’ enthusiasm or stifle their energetic curiosity as they learn to read. I’m counting on you to nurture and encourage them as they begin to learn to read.
Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way
It’s important for you to stay focused on the responsibility you have to help your little boy find his entry point to literacy, this is the text that will initially capture his imagination (no matter what type of material) and set him on his journey to become a life-long reader.
My son (who is now a grown man) remarked how reading was not his favorite thing since it involved sitting still. He was a nonreader until he discovered Sports Illustrated magazine in middle school. The photos, stats, and stories about his beloved football players kept him riveted (and sitting still). Over time his reading interests and tastes grew, but he credits Sports Illustrated with sending him on the journey to life-long reading (and he’s still a subscriber to Sports Illustrated magazine).
Tap into your little boy’s interest. In a book primarily written for teachers - Bright Beginnings for Boys - the authors share a strategy that parents could just as easily do at home with their young one. Give him a simple inventory that asks him to make drawings to go with sentences about some of his favorite things. For example, give him the statement – If I could do anything in the whole wide world, this is what I would do and have him draw his response. Make sure to then have a conversation with him about his drawing. Use the information gained to ask his teacher or a librarian for book recommendations based on his interests.
Video games are usually on most lists of things that boys like to do. Word of caution – reading demands focus. Although our little darlings are sitting still as they play these games and we may think they are focused, but what’s really happening is the brain is shifting and scanning instead of learning to sustain focus. A boy’s attention developed through constant stimulation of video games and television and little quiet time in the home will probably not have developed the focus he needs to be successful in reading and in school. (Moderation in all things is one of my hubby’s favorite sayings).
Take what works with video games and use it to help your literacy efforts. He usually chooses which game to play and/or for you to purchase. He’s heard all the hype about it and has to have it! Do the same thing with books, share the hype – “You’ve got to hear this story!” or “Wait until you read this book…you’re gonna love it!” Build that same excitement.
The other good thing about video games is the reward given for effort. The boys work hard and earn their way to the next level. Do you reward his effort as he practices his reading? Do you praise his improvement as you listen to him read fluently? At home, is he given time to practice and get really good at one reading level before moving on to the next harder level? Do you go to the bookstore and reward those good grades with any book he chooses? It’s time for us to start thinking like video game creators.
The characters and their adventures in those video games are what engage your little boy. Keep this in mind as you help them select books to read. Boys want to see themselves in illustrations and will be more engaged if they can identify with the characters story. Just think about the books that are popular with our young developing boy readers - Capt. Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and any superhero book, etc. – because they can relate to the character or the adventure. Identifying with the characters is crucial for our boys.
Whenever I’ve read the picture book David Goes To School to a class the boys would be having the time of their lives listening to that story because most could relate to the character and his antics! (If you haven’t read this book with your little one – go immediately to the library and get it. I’m sure your little boy will enjoy it as well and will ask you to reread it repeatedly).
As the holiday break ends and our boys run, jump, climb, and bounce their way back to school let’s commit to helping them find their way to becoming life-long readers.
See you next Wednesday!