Picture a fourth grader completely immersed in a book or scribbling in a journal. Was the bookworm you imagined male or female? Odds are, you pictured a girl – and the odds are, your guess was right.
A recent study conducted by Progress in International Reading Literacy showed that fourth grade girls in over thirty countries scored higher than boys on reading tests. According to the most recent scores from the United States National Assessment of Education Progress, only 21% of American boys are proficient or advanced writers, as opposed to 39% of girls.
If your son is struggling with reading and writing, but you’ve ruled out learning disabilities, then listen up:
  • Just because your son doesn't like the books he's given to read, it doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't like reading. Since most elementary school teachers are female, the books they select in class often appeal more to girls than boys. But reading is reading, whether the text is “Charlotte’s Web” or the handbook to a computer game. Boys often prefer non-fiction to stories, especially if you can find something on a subject they’re passionate about. Make family trips to the library a regular event and let him seek out books that catch his fancy, even if they don’t seem as educational as you’d like – practice is important! Visual dictionaries can be helpful, too.
  • Boys have a harder time writing neatly than girls, so they can become discouraged when teachers grade on neatness rather than content. If that’s the case with your son, either help him rewrite, type up his essays, or speak to the teacher. Most important, give him lots of practice at home. 
  • Many boys are intrigued by the subject of violence, which has become an increasingly sensitive subject in school essays since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. While there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed, telling a fourth grade boy that he can’t write about explosions, car chases or guns is sort of like telling Shakespeare not to write about love. 
  • Remind your son that there’s a point to all this reading and writing – even if he doesn’t become an author, it’s hard to drive a big rig, fight fires or work construction if you can’t read an instruction manual.
None of this means that if you have a daughter, you’re off the hook. Buy her a journal, seek out books and magazines with positive role models and read, read, read to all your children!
Further Reading:
Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices by Ralph Fletcher
How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell