What do you mean by reading

Families, babies and multicultural groups

What can mothers and fathers do to make their sons enjoy reading and useful? Dr. Bruno Köhler, head of the “Boy Reading List” project of the gender-political initiative MANNdat e.V., advises parents to accept the interests of their sons and not to urge them to read something they do not like.

Boy reading promotion for parents

In the first PISA study in 2000, the promotion of boy reading was already described as an "educational policy challenge". Nine years later, the 2009 PISA study showed that the proportion of boys in the highest reading proficiency level - in contrast to girls - has even decreased compared to 2000. If you take into account that at the beginning of 2013, 13 years after the first PISA study, only four projects promoting boy reading were set up nationwide with state support, it is clear that educational policy in Germany is not facing this "educational challenge" promoting boy reading. That is fatal, because reading competence is an important basic school competence, i.e. it has a decisive impact on school performance in all subjects. Just think about math. Good arithmetic skills are of no use to a very good calculator if, for example, he is not able to read the information that is important for the calculation from a word problem or even the task in a class test. So the parents have to work again. What can you do?


From the 1st to the 2nd grade, the basics and the tools of reading are taught in school. During this time, the focus is on acquiring the written language. During this time, children are usually very well motivated to learn to read, because by “being able to read” they penetrate into an adult world that was previously withheld from them. That motivates. If the children then basically "can" read, i.e. can also translate all written words into language, "learning to read" and with it reading lose some of its appeal for the children. This does not mean, however, that “learning to read” ends there.

From the 2nd to the 6th grade, the basics of reading must be consolidated and expanded. This is about the development of reading fluency, the automation of the reading processes up to the effortless reading of even extensive texts, the learning of meaningful diagonal reading and finally the development of autonomous, enjoyable reading. This means, which is often underestimated, that even in the 5th and 6th grade at the grammar school, work on "learning to read" still has to be done.

The key to encouraging reading by boys is to be motivated to read. This was already pointed out in the first PISA study. Compare this to an athlete. Anyone who enjoys doing sport will do so often and extensively and thus will be able to achieve their individual, maximum athletic performance more easily than someone who does not like to exercise. Unfortunately, reading is not one of boys' favorite leisure activities.

As parents, what can you do to encourage reading by boys?

Read out
You can promote reading before children even start reading. Read out loud. It doesn't have to be long, but regular - better five to ten minutes a day than 30 minutes once a week. Choose books that your children want. This has several effects: Reading aloud makes reading something pleasant for the children. In addition, you automatically train hearing and expression skills and grammatical understanding in the children. Ask questions (what do you think ... why did he do this, ... what kind of person he is - the hero of the story, ... what's next?). Reading aloud does not exclude cuddling (this applies to all ages, by the way). When you read aloud, take your child in your arms, let them look at the book with you - and they can find comfort with it when things get really exciting.

There is no age limit up to which you can read to your children. Read aloud until the children say they no longer want to.

Let read and not let read
Accept your child's interests. Every child has their own personality, their own interests and will choose the literature that suits them. Accept this and show your child that you also respect their personality. If the boy becomes interested in reading, he may later find his way to higher literature himself. However, if we prevent him from reading because we force him to read literature that is boring for him, we will permanently lose him as a reader.

Even if one or the other might not like it, there are marked differences in the genre preferences between boys and girls. If we want to promote gender-specific reading, we must not ignore these facts just because they may not suit us. The school must also face these facts if it is serious about its promise of individual support. This is not about confirming old role models. It is only about the motivation to read, the desire to read.

The following graphic shows the gender-typical differences in reading interests for newspaper and magazine articles.

Does your son prefer to watch television? Well, there are now books for many films, series, etc. Does he prefer to play computer games? Here, too, there is a lot in book form. Or what if computer games became a reality? Does your son like to play soccer? How about the book series “Die wilden Kerle” or one of the many non-fiction football books. Is your son a keen comic book reader? Use it, support it.

This may not necessarily be what you like or think is desirable, but it can make reading easier for your child and help them deepen their interests and apply what they have read.

Never force your child to read. Reading shouldn't be a punishment, not a must either. Sometimes there are phases in which a child or adolescent does not want to read - be it in protest or because they have other things on their mind. Be patient. It doesn't matter, once you've discovered a love for stories, sooner or later you will return to it.

Boys too have the right not to finish reading a book. If it gets boring after ten pages, or maybe even halfway through the book, you don't need to read any further.

Use the library near you
Buying new books for the children all the time is a lot of money in the long run. You should therefore use the library offers in your city or municipality. Even the smallest community usually has a small community library. However, the opening times of smaller community libraries are short. In return, however, we have made the experience that they are also very happy to respond to new procurement suggestions within the scope of their budget.

Go with it yourself and show in the library where the boys can find the books, magazines or comics that interest them. While you are choosing books for yourself, the boys can take their time to browse and look around.

Roam the flea markets - and don't forget to rummage through the book boxes.

Deepen what you have read
Immerse yourself in your boy's world. Does your son enjoy reading books about dinosaurs? Why don't you take him to the museum? Are you interested in books about technology? Take him apart a radio, explain your car to him, let him take a look under the bonnet. Stars, extraterrestrials, science fiction - a planetarium, an observatory, a night hike lead to the application of the knowledge read. Chivalric novels - a castle ruin, a medieval market can be the next destination. Unfortunately, it is only too ingrained a prejudice that children who read become couch potatoes. The opposite is often the case.

Or the other way around ... After visiting the zoo, take another look at an animal book, look through the news together in the newspaper or in an encyclopedia (what exactly is a tsunami?). This shows your child how to get knowledge from books and deepen it, how to answer open questions independently.

Help children understand that computers and books are not competitors, but complementary media. A computer freak does not have to be a reading grudge. On the contrary. Using the computer can also train reading skills. Using a search engine to find information for a school lecture requires a very high level of reading skills. Which keywords outline the topic in question as precisely as possible? And if you want to find the texts that are most useful to you from the proposed texts, you have to be able to read the text quickly and comprehensively in order to be able to quickly decide whether the document brings new knowledge for the lecture or not. This requires a high level of reading skills.

Create reading opportunities
Books need space, so allow it. A bookshelf in the children's room and one in the living room show that books have their natural place in your life. Equip these with interesting picture books (about the pictures to the text), which invite you to browse if you have nothing to do for a few minutes.

Reading doesn't have to mean isolation, however. Several readers on a couch, in one room, can be comfortable and always give each other the opportunity to tell each other about the stories. So create a cozy reading corner where reading can become a shared experience. Or read a story together, perhaps with roles assigned. Create rituals. During Advent, Christmas stories can be read in turn in the evenings.

Do not be discouraged
Even if a politician in the Bundestag claimed this, boys are no more stupid than girls and they cannot read any worse than them. But not all boys like to read or like to read. Some of them may never make you enjoy reading. That has to be accepted. But we can help and support boys to the best of our ability to create their own useful reading culture for themselves. Not by coercion, but by love.
Dr. Bruno Koehler
2nd chairman of MANNdat - Gender Political Initiative e.V. to represent the civil rights of boys and men.

First publication on "Reading in Germany - Projects and Initiatives to Promote Reading"
(August 29, 2013, www.lesen-in-deutschland.de)
Translation and publication courtesy of the author

Goethe Institute Mexico
May 2014