Tag Archives: boys and reading

can't sit still

If they’re squirming, they’re learning



From kindergarten to second grade, Budlong’s teachers required him to read aloud to us for 20-30 minutes each night.  Here’s what a typical reading session sounded like in our house:

Stop bending the pages! Set the book down so I can see what you’re reading.

Put your toy down and focus on the book.

Get your hands out of your mouth.

Stop tapping the pencil while you read. It’s distracting.

Do you have to pee? No? Then stop writhing in that chair!

Are you sick? No? Then sit up straight!

You can get a drink of water when you’re done.

Can you just not. touch. anything. within 5 feet of us???

For the love of god, SIT STILL AND READ!!!

Kids can’t sit still, but should they have to?

Do you have squirmy bookworms, too?  Please humor me and tell me you’ve been there. I was pretty sure I had every right to lose my patience over this until I read Michael Sullivan’s book Raising Boy Readers. And then I realized that my gender has a lot to do with what I think reading should look like. Citing brain research, Sullivan explains that the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that controls communication between both hemispheres, is less developed in a male than in a female. Consequently, girls have an advantage when it comes to language because it’s a task that requires both halves of the brain. To overcome this disadvantage, boys seek out stimuli to “wake up the brain” to prepare it for reading. These stimuli can be in the form of sound, color, motion, or physical activity. Translation? Budlong’s constant fidgeting and wiggling is not an attempt to avoid reading but an attempt to get better at it. It’s not a distraction to him; it’s a learning strategy.

Shortly after this epiphany, I came across an NEA article that corroborates this idea:

“A 2008 study found that children actually need to move to focus during a complicated mental task. The children in the study—especially those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—fidgeted more when a task required them to store and process information rather than just hold it. This is why students are often restless while doing math or reading, but not while watching a movie, explained Dr. Mark Rapport, the supervisor of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Not only do boys need to move during a learning activity such as reading or math, they can also benefit from increased physical activity throughout their day. An article recently published in Time magazine reports the results of a 2016 Finnish study:

“Boys whose days were more sedentary when they were in first grade (a crucial year for learning to read) made fewer gains in reading in second and third grade. They also did worse at math for that year.”  

BTW, Budlong just cited this article in his third-grade persuasive paper about needing more gym time!

Get them moving!

If you think your child could benefit from auditory or physical stimuli while reading, consider these ideas the next time you need to rally for reading homework. He could read while

  • standing or pacing
  • listening to music
  • holding a fidget toy (squish ball, soft piece of fabric)
  • riding a stationary bike

Acting out a book after reading can also improve comprehension. What other ideas do you have for incorporating movement into your child’s reading/learning? I’d love to hear about them!

Day 7 Book Giving

Book Giving Day 7: Make Way for the Makers


This post contains affiliate links.

It’s day 7 of “The 12 Days of Book Giving“!  Carolers, take a deep breath and sing with me…

6 Award-Winning Books


4 Children’s Book Clubs

3 Gift of Nothing’s

2 Homemade Audiobooks

and an Almost Empty Box!


Book Giving Idea #7

After putting the last ornaments on our Christmas tree Sunday night, Ashman and I cozied up by our fireplace. “Budlong, do you want to read How the Grinch Stole Christmas with us?” I asked.

And Budlong replied, “No thanks. I already know how he did it.”

HA! If that’s not indicative of why and how boys read, I don’t know what is! Michael Sullivan, author of Raising Boy Readers, explains that boys take “the Home Depot approach to life… Help me understand how the world works, why the problem exists in the first place, and how I can manipulate things to make them better.”  Sounds like Budlong. And his dad. Why not appeal to this interest by giving a how-to book this holiday season?

Luckily, a huge “maker” movement is happening right now.  More and more publishers are supporting budding engineers, scientists, inventors, and artists with how-to books. Here are just a few book/gift combos for the mini-makers in your life:

Wrap up the book Recycled Science by Tammy Enz with a grab bag of craft sticks, cardboard tubes, plastic jugs, wooden clothespins, corks, and rubber bands. The Dollar Store or local craft store is your best bet for some of these, but you can also start saving your recyclables from now until Christmas!  Some of the experiments require use of heat or sharp objects, so plan on supervising your maker. (Ages 9-15)

Maker How-to Book

Bridges!: Amazing Structures to Design, Build and Test by Carol A. Johmann,Elizabeth J. Rieth, Michael Kline Kline –Another book to pair with your recyclables for a budget-friendly gift. Craft sticks and straws will also be handy. This one is for the kid who’s truly interested in the why and how of bridge design(Ages 7-14)

How-to book Bridges

Kids’ Paper Airplane Book by Ken Blackburn and Jeff Lammers –Imagine the look on your future aerospace engineer’s face when he gets this book AND an entire ream of printer paper. The sky’s the limit! (Ages 5 and up)

Maker How-to Books

Fun with Fingerprints Series (Animals, Bugs, Characters, and Vehicles) by Bobbie Nuytten –Give a washable ink pad and one of these books of stamp-by-stamp directions for creating works of art. Labeled preK-1 reading level, but the outlining that makes these designs come to life requires a little more dexterity than my kindergartner has! (Ages 5 and up)

How-to book Fingerprint Animals

Mix It Up! by Hervé Tullet (ok, not quite a how-to book, but experiential nonetheless). By interacting with the book, young readers learn the how-to of color mixing.  Wrap up the book with a set of finger paints or food coloring droppers. You could follow this up with the fictional Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh. (Ages 3-6)

Maker How-to Books

I hope you’ve been inspired by at least one book giving idea this past week.  What will your true love get from you on the eighth day of book giving? Come back tomorrow to find out!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0

When We Let Books Do the Talking: tricky parenting moments navigated with reading


Recently Ashman and Budlong  had the honor of walking in our town parade to represent their martial arts school. My little ninjas had to show up an hour before the parade started to line up in teams and practice their moves. It was hot. Too hot to be in a belted uniform. Ashman’s student leader was an over-zealous drill sergeant in a twelve-year-old body, bless his heart.  During practice Ashman’s tongue wagged with such concentration I thought he was going to bite it off.  After the twentieth rehearsal of “front kick combo, bow and wave to the crowd,” Ashman got cold feet.  I should not have been surprised.  Asking a five-year-old to perform in front of his whole town is kind of a big, over-stimulating deal. I realized that I didn’t do a good job of mentally preparing him for this moment. If I could rewind, I would’ve read Donald Crews’s Parade with him. Or anything about parades. Because that’s what I do. When I don’t know how to talk to my kids about a scary, first-time situation, I let books do the talking for me. I think it works for three reasons:

  1. Books make an abstract topic concrete.

    Kids live in theParade by Donald Crews here and now. Asking a child to imagine being in a parade when he’s only seen a parade a few times is expecting a lot. But read him a book on parades, and suddenly you’ve got actual scenarios to compare to your upcoming event.

  2. It’s easier to talk about someone else’s problems.

    Doesn’t it feel so much safer to talk about a made-up character who feels scared and anxious on the first day of kindergarten than it does to talk about how sad you are that your best friend is in another class?  Seeing a problem from another perspective can also help us think more creatively about solutions.

  3. Boys talk more freely when they’re doing something.

    Boys aren’t known for opening up about their feelings…or even their school days.  However, I’ve noticed that Budlong’s responses tend to go from mono-syllabic to actual sentences when he’s engaged in a task and the focus is not completely on him. William S. Pollack, author of Real Boys’ Voices, calls this “action talk”—talking and relating to a boy while you are participating in an activity with him.  Reading a book is a great shared activity to promote conversation because the focus is on the book, and it has a definite beginning and end.

    Here are some of the tricky topics I’ve been able to better navigate by reading books.  If you’re looking for titles that deal with these topics, the links will take you to book lists compiled by other wonderful bloggers I read:

Are there other situations you’ve read your way through as a parent?  We would love to hear about them in the comments below!

And in case you’re wondering, Ashman did indeed participate in the parade.  I convinced him to try it just until he saw his dad (who was waiting a few blocks away), and then he could duck out if he wanted to. But he had so much fun he made it all the way to the end!Ashman performs karate in parade



Jedi Mind Tricks: How to get kids to read and think it was their idea all along


I don’t know how it is at your house, but for us, summer sometimes creates a disturbance in the force. Perhaps it’s the heat, the lack of routine, or the 24/7 sibling contact, but by mid-July it starts to feel like a “me against them” situation. Among the battles I have lost this summer are

  • The no black socks with Crocs and shorts battle
  • The clean up your damn Legos battle
  • The eat this dinner I harvested, prepared, and served you battle
  • The go outside, it’s good for you battle

The temptation to slip on over to the dark side is great, but in the parent vs. children battle of wills, I’m winning in one area and they don’t even know it:

It’s July and they’re still choosing to read.

Luck? “In my experience there is no such thing as luck,” says Obi-wan Kenobi. I use the force. Here are six Jedi mind tricks my husband and I employ regularly to get our kids to read and think it was their idea all along.   Continue reading

It Looked Like Spilt Milk activitiy

Boys and Reading: When Acting Out is a Good Thing


When my parents gave Ashman a Lego City car transporter set as an early fifth birthday present, he was not allowed to open it until we got home from Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  We’ve had a strict “no Legos out of the house” policy ever since Budlong’s Batman minifig was snatched right out of his school cubby in kindergarten.  I know, talk about a hard life lesson.  So Ashman contented himself with sitting on the couch with his grandpa, looking at the pictures on the box, and “talking about Legos.”

“When I build this car transporter, I can act out a book I have,” I heard him say to Grandpa.

“Oh really?  Which book?” I interjected, stunned that “acting out a book” was a thing he was aware he did and was in fact making plans to do.  The boys do it all the time with TV shows.  At our house, watching a couple episodes of Wild Kratts or Jake and the Neverland Pirates can spontaneously morph into hours of animal role play or treasure hunting, but it’s a rare and beautiful occasion when books inspire children’s play.  And here’s why and how I try to encourage it whenever I can.

Continue reading