Did you know that boys produce less serotonin than girls do? This can cause them to be more antsy and fidgety when forced to sit still for long periods of time. My own boys are prime examples of the "I’ve got ants in my pants" syndrome. Even if we’re watching one of their favorite movies, Caleb and Ben are constantly moving about the room, often jumping and pretending to be the characters in the movie. When the movie stops, they keep going, and going, and going, until we force them to go to sleep.
Boys are active learners. In most instances, the act of doing a specific task or lesson is far more beneficial for boys than learning about that task through reading. Boys tend to be visual, tactile learners. They succumb easily to distractions, which makes reading quietly especially difficult. When an adult hands them a book, they may look upon it as some sort of punishment.
In order to get boys to love books, parents and educators need to change the way THEY think about books. For instance, boys have a hard time keeping quiet for long periods of time. I have learned that while reading to my boys, I need to allow them to ask as many questions as they want so that they feel like active participants in the reading process. Sometimes Caleb will jump off the couch and physically demonstrate something he was thinking about while I read to him. For a woman who loves to curl up and read quietly for long periods of time all alone, uninterrupted, this whole let’s move while we read thing takes patience. But it works for them; they don’t get frustrated, and they’re learning.
I am thankful that my boys love fiction. A lot of boys don’t. They may not see it as a useful way to spend their time. Many boys prefer reading about sports, space, rockets… all those things that go and go fast. Other boys love fiction, but perhaps not in the form that educators and parents believe is educational or beneficial. Boys may choose science fiction over other types of literature and may choose comic books over novels. These genres appeal to boy’s physical, imaginative natures and should be encouraged! Discouraging alternative genres makes boys believe that real reading is boring and that there is something wrong with them for desiring to read something out of the mainstream.
Finally, educators and parents need to make books relevant for boys. Keeping books and magazines around as reference material is an excellent way to do this. Whenever Caleb has a sudden question about airplanes or about how to grow marigolds, we pull out a book and read about it. Boys love pictures; they learn best visually, so reference books with pictorial descriptions are excellent reading choices.
How do parents and educators make fiction relevant for boys? By incorporating it into their play. I read Caleb and Ben Star Wars books. A lot. I would say Star Wars is their favorite right now. When we are done reading a Star Wars tale, they act out the story. My husband and I have even bought them plastic light-sabers so they feel like authentic Jedis. Boys love fantasy and they love active play. Why not take fantastical aspects from the books they are reading and encourage them to perform what they have read? They will probably take it even further, making up their own stories with the same characters, extrapolating ideas and motifs from what they have read and incorporating it into their own dramatic play.
Reading can be a physical activity! Who knew! As King Julian, the lemur from Madagascar says, "I like to move it, move it…" Boys NEED to move it. It’s how they learn. Let’s help them move it while learning to love reading.