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Igniting the Reading Spark in Boys

How do you get your boy interested in reading? A learning specialist at The Haverford School has some tips.

Ignite the Reading Spark in Boys

By Dr. Pam Greenblatt, Director of the Enrichment Learning Center at The Haverford School

Teachers of elementary-age students are often asked by parents, “How can I get my son to read more?” While boys’ reading, writing, and fine motor skills develop later than those of girls, cultivating curiosity and interest during the early years helps build the foundation for boys’ future academic success.


Current research suggests that boys spend less time reading than girls. In their research on gender and literacy, educators Michael Smith (Temple University) and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm (Boise State University) identified several reasons for this discrepancy, including: it often takes boys longer to learn to read than girls; boys seem to value reading less than girls do; and girls tend to comprehend both narrative and expository text more easily than boys. Parents of boys often find themselves wondering how they can engage their sons more willingly in the important habit of reading.


Here are some recommendations:

Model good reading habits

Role models play an important part in boys reading for pleasure. Family reading time, bringing a book along when there is an anticipated waiting time, or looking up information together adds value to the experience of reading. Reading aloud to a boy, even when he has the ability to read, is a great bonding activity. It is also a wonderful way to engage a boy in a book that might be outside his independent reading level.


Find what they are interested in

Boys should be encouraged to read what excites them, which often includes comics and graphic novels, informational texts, magazines/news articles, biographies, and other non-fiction texts. It is important for boys to know that they do not have to limit themselves to reading novels and fiction. It is also helpful for boys to see themselves in what they are reading, so having male characters who enjoy similar experiences or activities can often encourage boys to read.


Make books part of the conversation

Integrating books into everyday conversation reinforces reading as an important and worthwhile task. Making references to books that are being read in school, or books that family members are reading, can help raise a boy’s interest in reading, especially when he sees that it is a valued activity by important people in his life.


Read every day

Reading should be a daily routine. Reading for at least 20 minutes a day exposes children to an abundance of vocabulary and language. Reading time can take multiple forms, such as reading several short articles, reading from a website, being read to by a friend or family member, or following along with an audio file.

At The Haverford School, we begin building literacy skills in pre-kindergarten through auditory processing, visualization, and expressive language. Teachers focus on building a content-rich vocabulary and use the best-for-boys practice of sensory learning to open the world of storytelling. As boys get older, they learn how to decode increasingly complex words, higher level vocabulary and sentence structures, and non-literal and figurative language — all of which are key to reading comprehension.


By the time they leave elementary school, they can make predictions in a text, look for context clues, and debate varying perspectives. This scaffolding approach to practicing literacy is fostered through an integrated curriculum that reinforces key skills necessary for success and well-being in our innovation era: critical thinking, empathy, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration.


By modeling good reading habits, following boys’ lead on interesting topics and themes, and incorporating reading into everyday life, we can start to shift the trend in boys’ perceptions of reading. This will propel their self-confidence, their academic success, and their proclivity toward lifelong learning.


Pam Greenblatt is Director of the Enrichment Learning Center at The Haverford School. She holds a B.A. in speech and hearing science and psychology from George Washington University, an M.A. in speech language pathology from George Washington University, and a doctorate in educational and organizational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.


Reading List

Here are some titles that might help spark a love of reading. To enhance the experience, encourage younger boys to find and write down five new words they learned from reading one of the books. With older boys, you might talk through questions you would ask their favorite character if he came to dinner. Boys may also enjoy making a bookmark, drawing the setting of the book, or reinterpreting the illustrations.


• Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne
•  Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
•  My Weird School series by Dan Gutman
•  I Survived by Lauren Tarshis
•  The Lightning Thief and Lost Hero series by Rick Riordan
•  Sports-themed fiction by Mike Lupica, Tim Green or Matt Christopher
•  Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
•  The BFG by Roald Dahl
•  Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
•  My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
•  Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
•  The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
•  In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall

Save the date for The Haverford School’s next Best for Boys event!

Saturday, March 17, 9 — 10:30 am

Paul Assaiante, Trinity College squash coach

Assaiante, the winningest coach in college sports history, believes that it is only through failure that we learn what is important. Among the topics he’ll address:


• How do we raise balanced children in a pressurized society — and how are we as parents contributing to that society?

• How can our children manage their emotions in the face of adversity?


Join the community to hear from this legendary coach, mentor, and observer of human nature about the value of risks and failures in creating resilient, capable, and positive citizens. A book signing of Run to the Roar: Coaching to Overcome Fear, co-authored by James Zug of The Haverford School Class of 1987, will follow the program.

This event is free and open to the public. 


Want to know more about The Haverford School? Join Us for Look & Learns and First-Look Fridays!

Get an inside look at our campus, including roundtable discussions with our Head of Lower School and Head of Middle School, at a Look & Learn.
November 15:  Pre-K — grade 5
December 6: Pre-K — grade 5
December 7: Grades 6 — 8

Come for a personalized tour of our Upper School during First-Look Fridays.
December 18, and 15




Photographs courtesy of The Haverford School. 


The Haverford School, a nonsectarian college preparatory day school for pre-kindergarten through grade 12, provides a superior liberal arts education for qualified boys of differing backgrounds. We are committed to developing the full intellectual, artistic, athletic, and moral potential in each boy, and we aim to graduate young men with strong character who possess a passion for learning and the necessary problem-solving skills to make a difference in the world. The Haverford School prepares boys for life. www.haverford.org