The gender gap: how to encourage boys to learn

Save the Children’s 2016 report The Lost Boys revealed that, in England, boys are almost twice as likely as girls to have fallen behind in language and communication skills at the age of five, putting their opportunities for long-term success at risk.

Once again, this year’s KS2 SATs results showed the gender gap between boys and girls is still in place as children move from primary to secondary school. Girls outperformed boys at the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics, with the biggest gender gap apparent in writing where girls outperform boys by 12%.

An important factor in a child’s success at school is what they learn and do at home. There are lots of simple things you can do to help your child do well in reading and writing. Here are just a few ideas …

1. Talk, talk, talk …

… and then talk some more. Speaking and listening skills are vital for when children begin to learn to read and write. Take any opportunity to talk together to help your child develop communication skills. Ask him questions and encourage him to tell you what he is doing during play and when he’s out in the garden or at the park. Talk together when you’re catching the bus or going shopping or doing chores at home. Answer his questions too and if you don’t know the answer, look it up together later.

As they get older, chat together about stories in the news and topical events. This will provide lots of opportunities for discussion and the development of ideas and opinions. You could watch BBC Newsround together, or take out a subscription for a children’s news magazine like The Week Junior or First News. Encourage him to chat with you – and other family members, friends or relatives – about the things he is interested in. Perhaps he likes to keep track of the football scores or loves music. Ask him about a film he might have just seen, games he plays with his friends or favourite toys and television programmes.

2. Give plenty of praise and encouragement

We all respond well to public approval and giving boys positive attention for their achievements can boost confidence and motivation. Perhaps display a piece of work on your kitchen wall, talk to his grandparents or family friends about the excellent writing, reading or spelling test he’s done in front of him, or encourage him to show his work to them himself.

3. Lead by example

Regular reading often falls to Mum at home, but it’s important to show that boys (brothers, dads, grandfathers, uncles) enjoy reading too. Recent research shows that there are many benefits for children who read regularly with Dad (or a male guardian), including improved language development.

If Dad’s pushed for time, could Grandpa Skype or Facetime? An older brother could read to, or with, a younger one, and recommend new books or magazines to the younger sibling. Perhaps they could visit the library together and choose books for each other.

4. Find a space to enjoy books

Create a reading den – a special place to share books together. Let your child take the lead in deciding what’s going to go in it – cushions, cuddly toys, a torch? Then snuggle down and enjoy a story.

5. Get them hooked on reading

If your son is a reluctant reader, there are lots of different ways to get them interested in reading. Children love the excitement of getting a comic through the post every week or fortnight. Series of books appeal to many readers and with so many varied options – comedy (Stinkbomb & Ketchup Face), adventure (Dinosaur Cove), horror (The Creeper Files) – there really is something for everyone. Graphic novels, too, are a brilliant, visually-appealing way to hook boys into reading.

6. Get them writing – or authoring – their own texts

It doesn’t have to be War and Peace … If he’s particularly interested in football, or space exploration, encourage him to do some research and create his own set of Top Trumps. Comics and graphic novels are great for getting boys to engage with stories … perhaps he’d like to make his own.

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