Parenting Vivian | 30 Mar 2010 11:31 pm

Dads, Sons, and Books – Secrets to Making Reading Time Fun

When you conjure up images of those great father/son bonding moments, you think of baseballs being thrown back and forth, big fish being dragged into the boat via grandpa’s lure, and the old standard car-driving-when-feet-can’t-reach-the-pedals, immortalized by every Americana artist who ever had a plate commissioned by the Franklin Mint.

What you won’t find on that list of precious memories is the first time dad pulled out his edition of The Norton Anthology of Literature and started reading his boy the first stanzas of Paradise Lost or a poem by Robert Frost. The “father/son reading moment” is not a part of our shared family rituals and therefore is often bypassed in the name of more physical pursuits.

But what does this mean to young boys as they grow up and become adults?

It is a known fact that, sadly, boys lag well behind girls when it comes to reading skills. Couple that fact with a society that does not do a good enough job of encouraging its boys to read and you’ve got a recipe for educational disaster. Indeed, as a result, we see lower grades in English for boys, and, frighteningly, a much higher high school dropout rate.

But there is some good news. Leading education experts and psychologists agree that a boy who has a male “reading role model” will stand a much better chance in developing a life-long love of reading.

It’s a simple theory, really: if a young boy sees his father or older brothers reading regularly, he’ll be that much more likely to pick it up himself. There’s no substitute for a home environment where the child’s role models are seen as avid readers.

Of course, the most obvious responsibility of fathers-as-reading-role-models is to read to their sons every chance they get. Study after study illustrates the positive correlation between reading comprehension and being read to. With the high-risk situation that faces young boys throughout the early portion of their school lives, this becomes even more crucial.

Reading to your son is the single most effective way to build a love of books. Set aside time to read with him. Make it a regular occurrence at a given time every day. It’s good for you and even better for him! Boys respond better to books when they are read aloud.

When a father settles in to read with his son, the key to success is making the experience FUN for EVERYONE. Here are some sure-fire tips to making your reading time together his favorite part of the day!

Act out the stories: Boys acquire knowledge more effectively when stimulated by interaction and movement. So remember, the play’s the thing to capture the attention of your little king.

Go beyond the page: Why should the story stop with what’s actually written in the book? Create additional scenarios where you and your son take on the lead roles. Craft a little user-generated fiction and you’ll see one book last for years!

Sing a song or two: So what if you can’t carry a tune with a handle? To your child you’re Pavarotti and Prince all rolled up into one. Sing out the words when the situation calls for it. It will increase enjoyment and retention!

Make a contest out of it: Boys love competitive endeavors, so keep track of how many books you read each month, then come up with a father/son activity (go out to dinner at his favorite restaurant, see a movie together with popcorn and treats, etc.) as a reward for beating that number the next month.

So you’ve dedicated yourself to reading more with your son…now comes the fun part: choosing the coolest books that will have the child “literally” begging for more!

While many books end up being a natural fit for men who want to read to their sons, some authors are taking a more proactive approach – developing content specifically geared towards the father-son-reading relationship. Try googling “father and son read aloud books” to see what’s out there.

Look for subject matter that no young boy can resist: tales of high adventure, nail-biting suspense and rollicking humor. Find books with great illustrations to really engage your child. Research has shown that books with realistic “photo illustrations” are very effective in capturing a boy’s imagination time and time again. “Pop-up” books are great fun for pre-readers.

Developing a life-long love of reading in a young boy is an achievement made up of many moving parts. Check out these additional ideas for inspiration:

Be that role model: Next chance you get, turn off the TV and sit down with a book you’ve been meaning to read yourself. Your son will see the behavior and, because he looks up to you, emulate it.

Take him to the BOOKSTORE instead of the toy store: If you’re going to pick up a special treat for your son, why not make it at the local bookstore instead of Toys ‘R’ Us or Best Buy? Wander back to the children’s section and set him free to browse, with you by his side, of course! If he has special interests like dinosaurs, pirates, knights, trucks, tractors, etc., ask the manager of that department to point out specific areas where those books can be found. And if there’s a coffee shop attached, grab a book or two, some hot chocolate and a pastry and spend a half an hour just soaking in the experience. These are precious times that memories are made of – for both of you!

Make a spectacle of yourself: As mentioned earlier, the more you sing, act, play and create, the more likely your son will be to “participate” and get excited about coming back for more. Heck, it’s in the privacy of your own home – so go nuts and have some fun!

Get involved at his school or public library: Whether it’s coming in to read to the kids or just helping to organize the stacks, your son will see your level of commitment to the library and say, “Hmm. This place MUST be cool if Dad is getting involved here!” And don’t forget to ask Junior for his “help.” It will make him feel important to know he’s doing “big guy” stuff.

Your mission is to provide your son with a future filled with limitless possibilities. And for that, you’re going to want to make reading fun for him. Commit to read to him every day, make the books come to life with movement and interactive storytelling, and, of course, choose books that really engage your child’s interest. The result will be an intellectually curious child who does well in school and will pass on his love of reading to his own children someday.

Robert Gould is a children’s literacy advocate and the Creator/Author of 19 books for boys, including the popular new “movie-style” Time Soldiers?adventure books and “Father and Son Read Aloud Stories.” You can find more information on books and reading for boys at

For a FREE dinosaur book to get your reluctant reader jump started on a life-long love of reading, go to

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