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).
Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.
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.
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 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).
Wondering where to start with reading out loud to kids? Check out The Read-Aloud Handbook. Now in its sixth edition, this book serves as a road-map and inspirational guide for reading out loud to children. It includes invaluable booklists and reading suggestions for children of all ages.
What about having Dad in charge of the trip to the library every other week? Having parents trade off can give the other parent a nice break at home. Or maybe you’d rather have trips to the library be family time every time. The more a father is involved with reading on all levels, the more children associate reading with Dad, and that’s better for kids.
As we focus on the importance of fathers reading out loud to children, there may be a sense of panic about doing “a good thing right, and doing it right now.” Remember the reading facts that Jim Trelease shares, “1. Human beings are pleasure centered. And 2. Reading is an accrued skill” (4). Without keeping these in mind, little else will work. Scheduling reading time is a great idea, but keep reading time as fun as possible.
Sometimes starting a new habit requires external motivation. Maybe a chart with stickers will help both you and your child become excited about the progress and consistency you’re achieving in reading aloud. In not too long, the chart will disappear and the love of simply spending time and reading together will take over.
Reading out loud to children doesn’t end once the child is no longer a toddler. The reading material may change, but there’s evidence that reading out loud to children across the span of childhood--even into adolescence--has academic benefits, not to mention the bonding that takes place while spending quality time with your child.
Have reading material readily available in your home. Whether the books are purchased or borrowed from a library, having books on hand is one of the key differences between children who read well and children who don’t. You may even want to consider purchasing a set of encyclopedias to go on your shelf—even a used, slightly outdated one is fine. The internet is a phenomenal tool for up-to-date information, but there’s something magical about perusing the glossy pages of books filled with pictures and words of faraway people, things, and places.
One mother recounts a time when her husband picked out a book on “great escapes,” for his daughter—about criminals escaping from prisons and people getting out of tight spots in general. “I never would have chosen that for her, but it turned out to be a favorite. Now we have a series of those books and she learns interesting facts and information we would have completely missed if I’d always been in charge of choosing the books.” Utilizing a father’s unique perspective on reading material will open up new worlds for children.
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.
Trelease, Jim. The Read-Aloud Handbook, 2006-2007 ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.