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How to Turn Your Son into a Reader

“How can I get my son to read?  Anything.  Anything would be better than nothing at all.”

This question comes up over and over in conversations between teachers and the parents of boys, beginning in elementary school and growing in stridency as boys reach middle school and get the label “reluctant readers”.

Number One Rule:  Read aloud to your kids, but make a special effort with your sons.  Every day.

It may be awkward to begin the read-aloud routine as your son gets older, but it’s not too late.

There’s no better way to build vocabulary than to hear an unfamiliar word in context and have it explained right away.

In my house (remember that I teach reading), we read every night for the first nine years and beyond.  We moved into chapter books like the John R. Erickson Hank the Cowdog series (also available in audio) long before Kindergarten with exceptions every now and then for pre-school favorites. Sometimes, my son wants to read on his own, and I’m satisfied to let him because the titles he chooses are far above grade level.  Whatever other people say, don’t let the fun end just because your friends have stopped reading to their kids of the same age.

Be adventurous and don’t be afraid to read above their grade level.

In elementary school, choose highly regarded chapter books that are above grade level like: Luke and Acts (from a modern translation of the Bible), Harry Potter, the Ranger’s Apprentice and now playing at our house, the fun Secret series by Pseudonymous Bosch.  There’s no better way to build vocabulary than to hear an unfamiliar word in context and have it explained right away.  Remember, you are reading aloud because you are modeling fluency and vocabulary for your children.

Turn off the TV in your SUV and listen up!

Audio books for kids

Audio Books

Audio books are great for road trips, or taken in smaller sips on every errand for a couple of weeks.  This kind of interrupted reading exercises a child’s long-term memory, active listening skills  and powers of recall.

Don’t be afraid to venture into some adult audio books.  By middle school, my own children were addicted to the recordings of James Herriot’s stories of his life as a country veterinarian; his stories are usually funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, and always engaging.  Some YA titles, like Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl audio books, provided us with many hours of entertainment in the truck during the high school years with my now-grown-up daughters. I am looking forward to re-living them with my younger children.

Audio books can become a life-long habit.  Used book stores make audio books more affordable, and your local library can make them available for free.

Beg, Borrow and Buy to Build a Text-rich Environment

Turn your home into a  text-rich environment with: newspaper comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, high-interest non-fiction like the DK Eyewitness books and even *gasp* reading-intensive video games. Collect books and magazines.  Turn on the subtitles on the TV whenever possible.

Materials with visual supports (pictures) help build understanding of the text.  In my experience as a teacher, boys are drawn to materials about their particular interests: favorite musicians, sports, mechanics, hobbies and gross stuff.  (Why do you think the Captain Underpants series is so popular with elementary and middle school guys?)

Be Alert to Signs of Learning Differences

Statistically, learning disabilities are more common in boys than in girls.  Don’t waste any time if you feel that your son is experiencing difficulties with reading.  You are your child’s best advocate.  There are many resources on the internet that can help you decide what other steps may need to be taken.  The Child Development Institute site is a good place to start.    Send article as PDF   
About the Author

Kathrese McKee started life as a Systems Engineer at EDS, spent time in real estate, taught middle grade Reading and ESL in Texas, and settled down to blog and write speculative fiction for Young Adults.

As a teacher, she fell in love with books written for Teens and Young Adults. Her favorite books are “coming of age” stories about young people on the difficult road of self-discovery.


  1. Latricia See says:

    Great article! Thinking back to my own experiences, I’d like to encourage parents not to be discouraged when their little ones refuse to sit still and cuddle in quietly for reading time together. This heart-warming scenario may not happen often in real life! When my kids were small, we’d share what I now think of as ‘reading adjacent’ activity, where they would play or do crafts nearby while I read a story aloud. Sometimes, I’d think they were not listening at all, but then they’d react to something in the story and I knew they were hearing every word. This kind of flexibility can make sharing books more enjoyable for everyone, perhaps especially for energetic little boys.

    • I never know what my son is thinking about until he blurts something out. Frequently, his comments show he has been listening even though it looks like he is playing with something else. Kids are great multi-taskers.

  2. David L. Keys says:

    Lots of reading is half of it; the other half is a good program of comprehensive intensive phonics. Some reading disabilities are really the result of poor or unfocused instruction. Read first something that interests them, and then introduce them to classic stories like Robin Hood or Treasure Island.

    • I completely agree. My own daughter had difficulties that were holding her back at school. Intensive, one-on-one phonics instruction transformed her from a struggling, frustrated, reluctant reader into a true bibliophile who is seldom seen without a book under one arm and a book or two in her purse.

      Classic stories are “classic” because they transcend generations and hold up to the test of time. Some, however, contain such old-fashioned language or heavy dialects that it’s better to offer an updated version of the original text. I know that I’m going to step on some toes here, but here’s a couple of sentences from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin, published first in 1884:
      “Sometimes the widow would take me one side and talk about Providence in a way to make a body’s mouth water; but maybe next day Miss Watson would take hold and knock it all down again. I judged I could see that there was two Providences, and a poor chap would stand considerable show with the widow’s Providence, but if Miss Watson’s got him there warn’t no help for him any more.”

      Whew! Pity the average teenage boy or girl who must slog through that for the sake of reading a classic! So, really consider your reader’s ability to use inference and context clues to figure out what unfamiliar words and concepts mean. Preview the titles you suggest to your reader so that you don’t send him or her down a path to frustration. Ultimately, you have to know your reader.

      Thanks for your very thoughtful comments! I hope to hear more from you so back by often and let me know what you think.


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