Updated: January 3, 2013 6:14AM
Gender differences show up big time in first grade. Girls increasingly fawn over Justin Bieber, while boys roll their eyes and debate the strongest superhero. But I didn’t expect a disparity when it came to reading.
My 6-year-old son is knee-deep in learning to read. Bubba’s done remarkably well, according to his teachers and my own strict evaluation. What surprises me is that he seems to be in a hurry when reading. This causes him to stumble over simple words.
Speaking to other parents, this seemed to be common among boys. Looking for answers, I reached out to a pair of local university professors who specialize in teaching children to read. I wanted to know the difference between boys and girls when it comes to early reading.
Neither one was particularly comfortable speaking in generalities, which I can certainly understand. After all, there are probably a handful of boys at the Justin Bieber concert. And I know for certain you’ll find a few girls at the annual Chicago Comic Con (The Wife being one of them).
Ruth Rohlwing is an assistant professor at St. Xavier University’s School of Education in Chicago. She said girls were traditionally said to have an advantage over boys as a result of their increased vocabulary.
“But it could be their school readiness vocabulary,” Rohlwing said.
She went on to explain that boys and girls likely come to school knowing the same amount of words. But knowing the name of every bounty hunter in the Star Wars Trilogy isn’t particularly useful for a boy learning to read, she said.
However, the same curiosity that results in knowing all the Star Wars characters or different types of farm equipment or every player on a particular major league baseball team is helpful in other ways in the classroom, Rohlwing said.
Dr. Sandra Gandy is a professor in the Master of Arts in Reading program at Governors State University in University Park. She was also hesitant to speak in generalities but said boys are often more rowdy than girls. Though there are plenty of squirrely girls out there too.
Still, girls tend to have an advantage in the sedentary action of learning to read. Hurried boys eventually settle down and catch up in reading, usually by third grade, Gandy said.
Both professors advised playing to boys’ strengths when teaching them to read. Turning sight words into a game of flash cards or even the simple act of allowing boys to turn the page of a book turns reading into a more physically engaging activity, Gandy said.
“They (boys) will do better with a book they are really interested in,” she said, suggesting parents seek out books about Legos, superheroes, sharks or whatever their sons are into.
And with that bit of advice, Bubba and I started reading “Captain Awesome vs. Nacho Cheese Man” last week. The illustrated book follows a pair of elementary school boys who see themselves as superheroes.
We are currently on chapter 6, titled “Beware of the No-Good, Rotten, Gunky, Stink Egg, Monkey-Faced Potato, Evil Alien Robot Brain from Outer Space!” It’s a real page-turner … or at least it is for my 6-year-old boy.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business writer who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at email@example.com.