Note: While this article is aimed at literacy for African American boys, we at Red Apple Reading believe the tips provided can be helpful for any child, regardless of gender or race.
Guest Post by Michael Gurian
African American boys struggle with literacy in greater proportion than many other racial groups in the United States. While what works for all boys will also work for African American boys, try adding these practical steps as well.
1. Increase Physical Movement. Have him read a book while he is walking/moving around in the room and/or while he is tossing a ball or other object in his other hand. Physical movement and hand-squeezing can activate brain centers useful to reading comprehension and enjoyment.
2. Start Early in Life, Thirty Minutes a Day. Start reading to him while he is in the womb and continue in his infancy. When he is able to read, have him read aloud to you. When you are busy, have your other children or other neighbor children read with him. The more he sees words the better, and the more communal the experience is the better.
3. Band Together. Form small moms’ groups to support one another not only in shared parenting, but also in reading and literacy development. Your group also can advocate for more books to be available in churches, community centers, and schools. Organizations like “Mocha Moms” can provide information on forming such a group.
4. Men, Men, Men. Dads, older boys, and elder men are crucial to increasing literacy, especially when your son reaches pre-puberty (from about 8–9 years old). If Dad is active in the boy’s life, switch some of the reading/literacy work from Mom to Dad. If Dad is not home, enlist a male role model. The more the boy sees his father or other men reading, the more he will see reading as a part of manhood.
5. Use Technology. Let your son teach you how to use the Internet and other technologies. Read content aloud with him as you visit sites together. Don’t rush through a site if it has words to read, especially if your son takes you to a site he is very interested in. Read aloud, and let him read aloud as much as he can or wants to on that site.
6. Blogs and Writing Outreach. Ask your son to read and write blogs via sites he might be interested in. If you need a starting place, help your son blog about his lineage, including, if appropriate, all the way back to slavery. Use ancestry sites to give him material to read and write about. Have him write emails to relatives and others about this (or any other subject).
7. Focus on Black Identity. Help your son find books and articles that are about black male identity, like Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father, Roots by Alex Haley, Clarence Thomas’ My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir, or Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. If needed, help your son read abridged versions of these books.
8. Use Phonetics and Hearing. If you son needs to engage his ears as much as his eyes when he reads, use phonetics and auditory stimulants. If your son is not a visual learner, move to books on tape for a part of his reading experience.
9. Understand Your Son. Take this short assessment to help determine your son’s literacy needs.
10. Make reading cool. Find role models among rap stars and athletes who promote reading. Boys often will not read because they think it is not cool. Fathers, elder men, celebrities, and other males in the media culture can help make reading cool by example.
Boys’ Life magazine is written for them and can assist a boy’s literacy level and encourage a love of reading. To review sample articles that would interest your child, visit http://boyslife.org/literacy/ .
Copyright Michael Gurian 2013