Location: Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Positions: Parent Writer
A recent study presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2011 conference found that boys are more competitive than girls from as early as four years old and remain so into adulthood. It’s something most of us with sons already know: competitiveness is simply hardwired into boys.
Persuading my 7 year old son to do his maths homework is easy. He treats every maths question like a competition and a challenge, and he feels a sense of achievement in discovering the answer. That’s because boys like to compete, even if it’s against themselves, and they need to feel there is a purpose behind what they do. Persuading my son though to do his reading homework is another matter. He hates the reading books he brings home from school and often says to me, “But what’s the point? Why should I bother? They’re boring”.
Silently I often agree with him. Books to teach young boys to read are often boring, pointless and let’s face it, girl-orientated. What boy wants to learn to read with a duck, rabbit and chicken asking “Let’s cook. I can cook. We can cook”? (That was one of my son’s first school reading books).
At the end of his first year at school, my son couldn’t read. I was beside myself with worry. I spent a fortune on word games, books and alphabet puzzles but to no avail. My son, Alex, simply wasn’t interested. Then I had an idea. Why not combine reading and action, reading and a treasure hunt? So I wrote a short book about a boy called Super Sam, who was funny, naughty, silly and mischievous. On the last page of every story, Super Sam would find some treasure hidden in the house. This was my son’s cue to go running looking for the treasure. He loved it! I don’t think he even realised that he was reading. By the end of the summer he had read about 60 books, and when he returned to school the teachers were amazed by the transformation.
Having seen how “Super Sam and the Hunt for Treasure” has since helped so many other boys to discover the fun of reading, I have become convinced that tapping into boys’ competitive spirit is one of the key ways of teaching them to read. Give boys a purpose, give boys a reason why, and they will read.
If boys are hardwired to be active and competitive, then as parents we need to tap into boys’ sense of fun, adventure and the need for a challenge.
Here are a few more ideas that I have found helped my son:
· My son loves to bake (sweets and cakes), so I write him simple instructions so he can do it himself. This gives reading a purpose.
· My two eldest children love story competitions. As soon as my son hears the word “competition”, he grabs his pen and starts to write. I usually give four prizes: longest story, best spelling, most interesting, funniest. Favourite titles include “The mystery of the missing ruby” and “The legend of the broken sword”.
· I have also tried other treasure hunt ideas like the Learn-to-Read Treasure Hunts, from Amazon. My son really enjoyed these skills building games. I sometimes write my own treasure hunts at home – it’s a good tip to write in the corner of each clue where to hide it, so that you don’t get confused.
I would love to hear from other people who have discovered ‘competition-based’ resources that encourage reading in young boys. For those boys reluctant to read, that’s make it worth their while!