Dads Reading To Children

Over the past forty years we’ve witnessed a marked increase in girls’ academic achievement. Unfortunately, there’s also been a documented decrease in boys’ academic achievement.

There are several theories about why this is happening, but perhaps the most compelling is the assertion that school, and reading especially, is being seen increasingly by young boys as a “feminine” activity.

Even though it’s likely our fathers did not read to us (Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, cites a study where only 10 percent of participants reported having fathers who read to them—see xxiv), fathers reading to children is one of the very best ways to reverse the academic ambivalence we’re seeing in young boys.

Does Reading Out Loud Really Matter?

Studies show that boys who are read to “by their fathers scored significantly higher in reading achievement, and when fathers read recreationally, their sons read more and scored higher than did boys whose fathers did little or no recreational reading” (Trelease xxiv).
The benefits of fathers reading out loud to children are not only academic. Do you have memories of a parent reading to you?
Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, writes, “When do we bond best with the young? Whenever it’s one-on-one: one-on-one walk, one-on-one talk, or one-on-one read. You will discover you have far fewer arguments or problems with a child when you’re in a one-on-one situation” (40).

Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.
--William Butler Yeats (qtd. in Trelease 1)

Gabe, His Father Bill, and Reading Aloud

One mother, also a college professor of English, reports about the experience of having a son diagnosed with ADHD, who reached third grade still complaining, “I hate to read.” Nothing she tried (and she tried a lot of techniques) seemed to infuse her love of reading into her son.
The mother goes on to say, “Then Bill decided to get involved. As a child, my husband was an unmotivated student who never enjoyed reading, probably because of undiagnosed learning disabilities. When our son, Gabe, was seven, someone gave him an Animorph action figure, and Bill decided to check out the Animorph series by K. A. Applegate. He began reading an Animorph book to Gabe and soon discovered they both liked the kooky humor and the science embedded in these sci-fi stories about kids with a mission to save the earth” (Trelease 106).

One book led to another for this father and son, and five years later books have “become a huge bond between my son and his father” (106). They often read together at night, and the mother will fall asleep to the sound of her husband’s voice reading out loud to Gabe. Dinner table conversations often focus around the latest book, and the mother has broadened her “reading tastes beyond the Newbery winners” (107).
In fact, Gabe, now in seventh grade, “consistently excels in language arts and independent reading and tested in the ninety-ninth percentile” in proficiency tests. “Gabe sees himself as a smart kid because he is a reader” (107).
“All this reading has been motivated by pure pleasure, not by ‘shoulds.’ Although Gabe has other hobbies, including sports and art, I feel confident that nothing in his life has opened his heart and soul as much as reading aloud with his dad!” (Trelease 107).

In The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease cites a success story of a father reading to his daughter over the course of her childhood. One of the keys to their success was to have a cache of “Daddy Books,” chosen by the child. These were special books she wanted only Daddy to read to her (28).

Fathers who read to children are participating in one of the best ways to help stem the downturn of boys’ academic performance. Like one mother said, “Gabe sees himself as a smart kid because he is a reader” (107).

But maybe the best reason for fathers to read out loud to children is the bond they’ll create as they share time together.

Sources

Trelease, Jim. The Read-Aloud Handbook, 2006-2007 ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.