Reading is the key to opening many of life’s doors. Don’t let your kids get frustrated and behind — help them discover a love of learning in a book.

By Carrie Higgins

Raise your hand if you have a reluctant reader in your house. Raise your other hand if that reader is a boy. More than likely, if you have one hand up you also have the other. Don’t despair: I have some practical suggestions to help reach your reluctant reader and navigate the tricky world of getting them to not only read, but enjoy it.

Before I begin, please understand I’m not picking on boys. The hard truth is studies show girls outperform boys in reading in all 50 states, and other statistics point to the fact most boys don’t rate reading as a highly valued skill. As a former school librarian, I’ve gathered five tips for engaging your reluctant reader and hopefully turning him (or her) into a lifelong one.

1.  First things first: Start young.

From day one, surround your little one with books, and include it in the daily routine. Nightly stories are a perfect transition into bedtime. At first, my son had a hard time sitting still even for the shortest story. But we kept trying, starting with short board books — usually about trucks. We added on more until we had a repertoire of books he now loves to sit through (See his five favorites here.)

2.  Value what he reads.

Anecdotally, 9 times out of 10 boys preferred non-fiction over fiction. They devoured magazines, graphic novels, books on cartooning, song lyrics, player bios, and books of video game “cheat codes”.  When they did pick up a fiction book it was typically Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. While those titles may not be Shakespeare, realize that reading is reading — and there’s value in nurturing the reading spark in any reader, but most especially our reluctant ones. Engage him in these books, and encourage them even if those books make you cringe.

3.  Seek the underlying cause.

Is your child not interesting in reading, or is it simply too hard for them? Many reluctant readers are also struggling readers, not necessarily because they hate reading but because it’s hard for them.  Which, of course, may lead them to dislike it. Obviously your child’s teacher is the first step in figuring out the cause, but if that doesn’t seem to be helping then perhaps seek local reading tutors that can target the issues and make learning fun.

4.  Model reading in this modern age.

At the end of the day, we all like to unwind with some TV or internet time. But if we don’t show our kids how we make time for reading, they won’t make time for it either. For boys it’s especially important to see other male role models reading. So it’s time for Dad or Grandpa or Uncle Joey to pick up a book and enjoy reading too, darn it!

5.  Create a literacy rich environment.

When I was young, I was an avid reader but stuck to certain genres. My mom would leave books around the house that I’d never typically pick up for myself…until I did, because they were right there.  It challenged me to read outside of my comfort zone and I discovered some pretty amazing books that way! Weekly trips to the library can also encourage finding new and exciting titles.

For some local flavor, be sure to check out popular author Jerry Spinelli’s novels. Most take place right in our area, and as an added bonus his books usually feature male characters. Local Barnes and Noble stores, like the locations in Plymouth Meeting and Valley Forge, have thematic book clubs. Plus they have story time for little ones and host visiting authors, as well. There’s even an entire website dedicated to topic: www.guysread.com.

Value reading, and it will be valued in return  Putting these ideas into place will help ensure your child sets up a lifetime pattern of reading for enjoyment, which can open the door to many wonderful things. Kind of like a book, right?

Carrie Higgins is the former librarian at Wissahickon Charter School in Philadelphia and now stays home with her kids, ages 3 and 1.  She finds sanity by blogging about DIY projects, parenting, the occasional Mommy Misadventure and more over at www.MakingLemonadeBlog.com.