Monday, May 14, 2012

A dangerous trend for boys


Last year, Huffington Post writer Lisa Bloom wrote an excellent article titled How To Talk To Little Girls. In the article she advocated raising the level at which adults communicate to girls. She had noticed that many people, including herself, have a habit of complimenting girls on they way they look or on their dolls. The implicit implication is that we expect girls to be cute and have nice things. She shifted her focus to the intellectual capabilities of girls and encouraged her readers to do the same. The easiest way to do this? Ask girls about the books they're reading. It's a great article and I would highly recommend reading it.

My sister, Hilary, sent me Bloom's latest article (How To Talk To Little Boys) and this time she's focused on boys. Citing the alarming trend that boys are reading less and less, and even think of reading as "girly" Bloom writes about the importance of encouraging our boys to put down the video games and pick up books. Learning to read for one's own pleasure is a skill that we have discussed quite a bit on this blog but  the latest research shows that boys are reading less and less. And it's difficult to get boys to choose books over the instant gratification of video games. Books require an investment of time and interest, while video games are instantly stimulating and ones' effort is rewarded quickly. There can also be a social aspect to video games as boys can compete with their friends and play the games together. That can be harmless but if the games become their only point of communication, their ability to converse on topics of real-life importance may be hampered.

In terms of the research pointing to the growth of video game use among boys, I find two things especially concerning.

First, the social development of boys is threatened when they spend hours each day interacting with a television screen. In an era when social critics are decrying the increasing social isolation of individuals, this is not something to be taken lightly. Video games are playing a role in shaping our boys perceptions of reality and as they get older this becomes more and more damaging. Couple this with often violent, sexual, and anti-social behaviors modeled on the most popular video games and parents have every reason to unplug those gaming devices. Of course, there are plenty of video games of an educational and/or harmless nature, but even the time spent playing those should be limited.

Secondly, video games are huge time wasters. They are a simple solution to boredom, but boredom is an essential aspect of childhood and ought to be embraced. Boys need to run, play, rough house, explore, build, get hurt and even get in trouble. In exploring and playing and imagining, boys are able to exert their inherent boyish-ness. And they are able to discover who they are, what they are interested in, and develop a self-esteem and confidence in their abilities. This doesn't happen when a boy is playing a video game, no matter how many levels he may beat.

Transitioning from the topic of video games, there are more reasons for parents to be concerned when it comes to the reading lives of their boys. Bloom provides some alarming statistics regarding the academic performance of boys. Girls are now outpacing them in nearly every subject. While I believe there are many factors at play in this trend (classroom settings are often unsuitable for active, antsy, curious boys, the curricula fails to engage boys on a meaningful level, teachers expect less of boys, etc.), it reinforces the need to get boys reading. Bloom makes a good point in that most of the role models who emphasize the importance of reading are usually female. As she states, "Time to turn that ship around." Boys need to see their dads, grandfathers, uncles, and other male role models reading. And these men need to encourage the boys in their lives to read.

As parents who have affirmed the importance of reading in your homes, you are already ahead of the curve on this one, and you deserve recognition for your efforts! You are fighting an essential battle for your children. I find it interesting that within homeschooling families one does not see the gap in performance between girls and boys. Hooray for that! As we have written a lot about encouraging "Reluctant Readers" and allowing children the freedom to become bored, I am interested in your ideas on how to especially encourage boys to read. What sorts of books do you find the boys in your life enjoy? Do your boys benefit from male role-models who encourage reading?

I also want to share some excellent books that may help boys put down those video games!




The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw



The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green


The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

That's just a tiny start. There are so many amazing books that star curious, adventurous, active boys. I think it could be really fun to have a book club for boys. Participants could all read the same book and meet once a month for related activities, discussion, snacks, and games. It would provide a fun-based atmosphere in which boys could talk about the stories and creatively act-out things they found interesting. They could build kites after reading The Kite Rider. They could get together and stage a mock-tournament after reading Adam of the Road. A rotating family could play host so it doesn't become too tiring for parents and snacks could be themed around the book. What do you think? 

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13 comments:

  1. We have to continue to read to our children. If we love books, they will too. Often parents stop doing this when their kids start reading. Another great thing for reluctant readers is audio books. As for video games, they have an off button for a reason.

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  2. i really need book suggestions for my 7 year old-- he just does not enjoy reading yet-- loves to listen to me read- but not read himself... we've done magic tree house, etc.. need some good books that are no longer than 100 pages :)

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    1. The Chronicles of Narnia. Lloyd Alexander books are great, too! Serendipity books by Steven Cosgrove are great little books, short and sweet with a moral. "Woof Stories" by Danae Dobson are lovely. I could go on and on and on....

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    2. Hi Emily,
      Thanks for reading. I wouldn't worry about your 7-year-old at this point. You are doing great with reading aloud to him, and at this point, that's the most important thing. Be sure to be reading books that he's interested in and enjoys. Most 7-year-old boys would rather be running around and playing. That's wonderful. Active little boys are such a gift. If you're consistently reading aloud, you are opening the world of literature to him and he will eventually catch on. Children all develop at different speeds and your son may not take to reading on his own quickly and that is fine. Like you said, he loves to listen. Try out some simple readers that keep his attention and he'll transition to longer books when he's ready. Keep visiting the library, make sure there's lots of good books within reach, and he will start reading in his own time. The one word of caution would be to not push too much too fast. If you're reading aloud a book that is at his reading level, take turns reading a page aloud to one another. That way he's engaged in the story and practicing his reading skills.
      As far as suggestions, have you tried "The Billy and Blaze" series. It's a big hit with most boys and the reading level is elementary. Here's a link: http://bfbooks.com/Billy-and-Blaze-Pack
      I think Dr. Suess is great for younger readers as he shows them that words can be fun. I read through the McGuffy readers as a kid and remember enjoying them...but I may have been a bit peculiar!
      Hope these suggestions help. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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    3. Emily - I forgot to mention that we just did a whole series on the blog on read-aloud favorites. I would explore the suggestions for younger readers and see if your son enjoys reading any of those titles on his own.
      http://bfbooksblog.blogspot.fr/2012/04/family-read-alouds.html

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    4. Has your son had a chance to explore the nonfiction section of the library? My once-reluctant-reader is now a nonfiction enthusiast. :)

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    5. I started reading before my 4th birthday. Both parents were readers and Mom taught me after I kept inventing stories to go along with Sunday comics like Prince Valiant. Along with individual books, my folks bought collections of children's stories and let us dip in as the spirit moved us.

      My grandson is now 11 and loves to read. Narnia, the Wizard of Oz, and the Percy Jackson books are among the titles he's enjoyed. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series starts at a younger age level. He also likes the Captain Underpants graphic novels (so did my younger daughter back when she was in the lower grades). They're subversive, funny, and fairly easy to read.

      If you continue reading to him, that is a major plus. Mom read aloud while Dad drove when we took family vacations, even when the older kids were in junior high. She often used folio-sized, illustrated books and would hold them up to show all of us in the back the pictures. I particularly remember the Swiss Family Robinson and Marguerite Henry books such as Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Misty of Chincoteague, and Stormy, Misty's Foal.

      I remember reading a ton of sports books. When local groceries had youth-oriented history volumes as premiums, Dad got both the Golden and the American Heritage sets for us. They started me on a life-long love of history and biography. I also read religious biographies, the Bible (starting with children's editions), and our Lutheran Catechism.

      Finally, taking ownership can be important. Much of my allowance, plus money from the folks, went into Scholastic Books' coffers. I would bring the order sheets home, circle books I wanted, and then negotiate with Mom and Dad over which ones I would actually purchase.

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    6. My son is not a strong independent reader yet. We read together as much as we can but he also loves to listen to audiobooks. We check them out from our library website for 2-3 weeks at a time and then download them to his MP3 player. It's great for him because he can listen to it while scootering around, climbing the tree, etc.

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  3. This is a well-advised message for parents. Our family has been homeschooling for 17 years, and we have a household of avid readers. We did all of the recommended things - read to them a lot, made sure that they always had good quality books available, and took many trips to the library, coming home with bags full of books at a time. I would "screen" everything that came in, especially when they were young.
    The most important thing we did, however, was to establish a daily individual Bible reading time for each of the children. As soon as they are able to read, provide a clear Bible translation(not just a storybook Bible) and a notebook. Have them read a portion of scripture each morning, to develop the habit, and have them write notes regarding what they learn about God and themselves. This is, of course, to develop their relationship with the Lord. But in addition, the Bible is full of challenging vocabulary, tremendous writing, action and adventure, and life-changing messages that can encourage them to read.
    I have 2 boys and 3 girls,1 of each is in college. When the boys got to late middle school and early high school, they were harder to keep interested in books. But we used Beautiful Feet study guides throughout their education, which kept them reading all the time. My 14 year-old son told me recently that he really enjoyed the Genevieve Foster history books in the Early American History for Junior High course. The senior high U.S. and World History guide provides 2 years of well-written literature that is quite appropriate to hold the interest of teen boys.
    In addition, we provided them with classics -
    Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Captains Courageous, Sherlock Holmes, Swiss Family Robinson, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, etc. It is important that they have great books for school, but also some that are just for the pleasure of the story, where they do not have book work connected to it.
    We added to those the Civil War stories of the Shaara's: The Killer Angels, Gods and Generals, The Last Full Measure. The older ones found Joel Rosenberg's books intriguing. They began with the Last Jihad and went through the whole series as they came out. Many of the books Rebecca listed above were favorites as well.
    In the summer, we all participated in our library's summer reading program - even through high school. They have different programs for teens. I hope this is an encouragement - just keep them reading with good books and limit(we use a timer) video game usage!

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  4. Wonderful article, and great tie-in with the passionate advocacy of Lisa Bloom! It is greatly encouraging that there are voices like hers advocating for something so central to our philosophy at Beautiful Feet. Thanks for a wonderful job of putting it all together, Becca!

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  5. Great commentary Becca! Boys brain development is tied to their physical activity. Their brain develops when their legs and arms are moving. This is different from girls. Therefore, playing video games does not develop a boys brain. Again, another reason boredom is so crucial. I believe boys require more encouragement with reading because of their physicality. Therefore they may be older than their female counterparts when they turn into self motivated readers. But reading aloud to boys, even when they are capable of reading on their own, will help them became avid readers. I remember that our own brothers did not read books independently until they were older. But we always had family read-aloud time which helped turn them into readers. Maybe Solomon or Josh could give us their two cents worth?

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  6. Great commentary Becca! Boys brain development is tied to their physical activity. Their brain develops when their legs and arms are moving. This is different from girls. Therefore, playing video games does not develop a boys brain. Again, another reason boredom is so crucial. I believe boys require more encouragement with reading because of their physicality. Therefore they may be older than their female counterparts when they turn into self motivated readers. But reading aloud to boys, even when they are capable of reading on their own, will help them became avid readers. I remember that our own brothers did not read books independently until they were older. But we always had family read-aloud time which helped turn them into readers. Maybe Solomon or Josh could give us their two cents worth?

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  7. Great article! I have been enjoying your blog.

    One of my sons began reading on his own around age 3, and is an avid reader. My youngest is 8 and still not an independent reader, although he LOVES books. He had no desire to learn to read on his own until I assured him that I would continue reading to him forever (as long as possible :) ). I read aloud to the family each evening for an hour or so, which has become one of our favorite times of the day.

    Here are some things that have worked for us. I read many old, high-adventure books. Their favorite authors are William O. Steele and Merritt Parmelee Allen. There are many other wonderful authors, but overall, those are at the top of the list. They also love everything we've read in the Childhood of Famous Americans series. I think those books have helped my sons develop a love of books more than anything else. The stories end up as the basis for much of their outdoor play. I recently found Beautiful Feet, and although we already own many of the books used in this program, I'm planning to use more of them in the future.

    We live in the bush, and our sons are able to spend many hours each day outside exploring in the woods, running, climbing, building and using their imaginations. I didn't realize how important all that physical activity was to brain development. It makes sense. My youngest has to be moving all the time in order to pay attention and remember things. During our read aloud time, he draws, plays with tangrams, builds things with Legos, etc. If I make him sit still, he cannot remember anything about the story, even a few minutes later.

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