Do not train boys to learning by force and harshness,
but lead them by what amuses them, so that they may better
discover the bent of their minds. – Plato

Father reading with sonChapter 9 of The Read Aloud Handbook begins with this quote from Plato and it really resonated with me.  As with the rest of the book, Chapter 9, titled ‘Dad – What’s the Score?’ is full of anecdotes, quotes, and insight into getting the dads of our children involved.

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We all know there is now, and seems to always have been, a problem with boys and reading.  Trelease delves into the history of the problem, citing many studies and examples.  He also concedes, it’s a big problem, needing a lot of attention and resources.  As with any issue, the first step in coming up with a plan is diagnosing the problem accurately.

Those of us who have witnessed this young male crisis know it’s not a boy thing.  It’s a man thing.  Boys don’t raise themselves – at least they’re not supposed to.

Trelease delves into the societal role of men in their families.  Most dads (again, we’re speaking in generalities here), feel they are experts in three key elements: boys, business, and sports.  We have all seen how most boys worship their dad.  Well, when boys see dad worshipping say, The New England Patriots every Sunday night (or Monday night, or, well you get the idea) instead of say, E.B. White’s brilliance, it sends a message loud and clear.

??????????????????????????Obviously, a love of sports alone is not the single cause to boys’ struggles with reading, the key is to find balance.  One of my favorite quotes from the chapter reads, The father who can find his way only to ball games with his kids is a “boy man,” whereas the father who can find his way to a ball game and to the library or bookshelf can be called a “grown man.”

The problem with “reluctant reading daddies’ spans socio-economic groups too.  In all income brackets, studies found fathers read to their children only about 15% of the time (compared to mothers at 76%).

So, what to do about this issue?  Naturally, Trelease has some suggestions!

  1. Have the dad in your life read this chapter of the book!  It’s short, just nine pages!  I’d recommend photocopying it and handing it to him.  Ask him to read it and then talk about it.  What does he think about it?  How does his reading with the children in his life compare?  We’re not out to attack anyone, just start a dialog.
  2. Offer the Treasury at the back of the book as a jumping off point for titles.  There’s even an entire section on sports related books on page 216!  You might even purchase or check out a few titles to help him get started.
  3. In addition to the list above, there are even more titles to hook dads at the end of the chapter.

Trelease’s final attempt to appeal to dads hit the ball out of the park for me:

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What a wonderful chapter.  Focused right at dads, this is surely one to have the husbands/fathers in your life read.

But, as teachers, we all know there are some dads that just aren’t going to read much to their kids, no matter how much we try.  We also know there are many children who don’t have a father in their lives (or not everyday).  As teachers, what can we do?  I’d like to offer a few of my own suggestions!

  1. Hire more men in early education!  I know, I know, this is easier said than done.  As teachers we need to encourage our male peers to at least think about working with younger children.  When I started my teaching program, I never dreamed I’d be working with kindergartners.  It was the very wise advice of one of my professors (yes, you, Mrs. Sedenka) who suggested I try student teaching in second grade.  She saw something I didn’t and I’m eternally grateful.
  2. Invite men to come into our classrooms to read!  I try to visit as many classrooms as I can at my school to share my love of reading and books.  If you don’t have any male teachers at your school, find men to come read to your class!  Principals, custodians, police officers, grandfathers, men from your own life (doesn’t your brother or husband owe you a favor?) are all wonderful guest readers.
  3. Talk to your class about the males in your life that love reading.  Your own dad, brothers, husbands, sons, etc. all love to read and just hearing about that can encourage boys.  You might even start a ‘Family Reading Display’ somewhere in your room.  List a spot for all of your family members and post pictures and/or photocopies of what everyone is reading (novels, picture books, newspapers, magazines, etc.).  The boys in your class will love seeing what the men in your life are reading.
  4. Have a Dads Literacy Night.  Many of us have Family Literacy Nights and invite families in for read alouds and related activities.  Why not have a ‘special’ night just for dads.  Pick a few of the titles Trelease recommends and build your event around them.
  5. Start a ‘Boys Book Club’ at your school.  Even if you can’t find a man to lead it (I’m guessing someone you might not expect would be willing, see number 2 above), start a book club just for boys.  Next year, I’m leading a group for the 4th-5th graders.  My hope is to meet during lunch a few times a month.  We’ll read high interest books and they’ll have a voice in choosing them.

How do you support and promote a love of reading for the boys in your class and/or care?