Why Comfort With Reading Leads to Success in School & Life
Tips from Jump-Starting Boys by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill
Q: Why is it important for kids to be comfortable with reading?
A: Studies show that the most important predictor of academic success is the amount of time children spend reading books – more important even than a child’s economic or social status.
Q: What does that have to do with their future achievement?
A: Getting a good education is not as optional as it used to be: Two generations ago, 60% of jobs involved unskilled labour; that number now has fallen to less than 20%. Students who read well, do better academically, which leads to better jobs and overall more confidence and success in life.
Q: Why all the recent attention on males falling behind?
A: Since many of the jobs lost in recent years have been in manufacturing, construction and sales – work
traditionally dominated by men – unemployment has hit males far worse than it has hit females. Males with higher education are less susceptible, but the number of males being accepted by universities is falling compared with females (currently 57% females, 43% males).
Q: And this has something to do with boys reading at an earlier age?
A: The majority of reluctant readers are boys, and an estimated 40% of boys are reluctant readers. In fact, on average, boys are 1.5 years behind girls in reading and writing, from their toddler years right into their teens. This gap is worldwide and growing, for reasons our book explains. It’s also easily resolvable, as we outline.
Q: So how can we help our kids do well in reading, school and life?
A: They need more support around reading and writing – for boys especially, before fourth grade. Our book offers hundreds of ideas; below are just a few of them.
13 Ways to Turn Kids – Especially Boys – On to Reading
1. Read with or to them (or sit with them while they read) for at least 15 minutes per day. This can
triple their reading improvement in a month.
2. Arrange for a reading buddy, maybe an older kid down the block, preferably of the same gender. Or
arrange for your child to be a reading buddy, which can also be super helpful.
3. Be aware of the role-model factor: Make sure your son sees males reading, is read to by males,
and experiences males discussing their reading. (Book clubs, dad or uncle, reading buddy, etc.)
4. Find fun, comfy places to read, like under a table with a blanket thrown over it, or seated on a
5. Let young kids hold the book and turn the pages.
6. Resist criticizing kids for squirming during reading sessions; some actually focus better while
fidgeting. (Wise parents even encourage them to move about, by reading to them while they’re on the
trampoline, or suggesting they draw or play with Lego during reading.)
7. Guard against objecting to their reading choices (toilet humour, fighting scenes, graphic novels,
etc.); too many parents inadvertently turn their kids off reading by being too controlling about what
they read. Educated women especially tend to over-push fiction and classics on boys.
8. Restrict their screen time (e.g., some families use a dinnertime “drop box” for all electronic devices). And/or have them “earn” extra screen time by reading (e.g., for every hour with a book, an hour of extra screen time), to emphasize that you value reading over screen time. But allow movies with subtitles (including Manga) to count as reading.
9. Especially for boys, adopt more active styles of learning – encouraging skits, drawing, field trips,
props and interviews (e.g. with Grandpa about family history).
10. For boys, seek out boy-friendly books (Guinness Book of World Records is a sure-fire winner). Boys tend to like adventure, thrillers, suspense, sports, horror, fantasy, humor, picture books, comic books and graphic novels. In fiction, they like male protagonists, and lots of action and dialogue. Publishers like
Orcabook.com specialize in books for reluctant readers (called “hi-lo” for high interest, low vocabulary).
11. When they can read on their own, continue to read to them at a level about two years above
what they can read (builds the scaffolding for more advanced reading).
12. While you’re reading to them, have them raise a finger for each word they don’t understand. Three
fingers or more per page (roughly 5%) means the book is too difficult; trade it in for something easier.
13. For young kids: Buy some flexible plastic tubing at a hardware store, and read to them with
one end at your lips and the other at their ear. Teachers swear by this!
(Jump-Starting Boys: $16.95, available online or from any bookstore; published by Viva Editions, Berkeley).
Award-winning co-author Pam Withers (www.pamwithers.com) has also written 19 bestselling adventure books particularly popular with boys.