Boys & Literacy


LITERACY MATTERS…One in seven American adults (approximately 32 million) has such low literacy skills that it is challenging to understand the side effects of medication as listed on a pill bottle.

Literacy matters. Reading, writing, and speaking intersect with everything in life: character development, emotional intelligence, and physical fitness. Reading is essential for successful brain development in children, and stories help build character and emotional development. There are few career areas in which literacy skills—reading, writing, critical thinking, articulation of positions in words, and even anecdotal storytelling—are not essential for success.

In 2013, BSA asked Michael Gurian to help them focus on literacy, and the result of this continuing work is the Boy Scouts of America LITERACY MATTERS campaign. Their mission to help boys be “Prepared. For Life.®” is directly correlated with the need for literacy in America and precisely why the BSA incorporates literacy skills into so much of its program.

While inadequate literacy skills are an issue for all human beings, boys in school and life need a particular focus on literacy in the same way we must focus some of our STEM trainings specifically on the most effective practices for teaching STEM subjects with girls. Diminished male literacy begins early—boys’ reading/writing skills are approximately one to one and a half years behind girls’. Throughout the United States and the industrial world, boys are behind girls in literacy testing and grades. The boys’ “literacy gap” in the U.S., as revealed by standardized testing, is two to three times larger than the girls’ gap in math/science. That is how significant this gap has become.

Michael and our GI team are proud to join with BSA in helping solve the literacy gap.

Read Michael’s interview in Scouting Magazine HERE.

Wondering about your boy’s reading skills? Access a quick Literacy Survey HERE.

About Boys and Literacy

  • Boys don’t comprehend fiction as well as girls.Boys tend to have much less interest in leisure reading than girls.

  • Boys are more inclined to read information (non-fiction) books.

  • Boys are more inclined to read magazines, newspapers, comic books, and graphic novels.

  • Boys tend to think they are bad at reading.

  • If reading is perceived as “for girls” boys will go to great lengths to avoid it.

  • 39% of boys said reading was boring and not fun

3 Tips for Promoting Literacy Among African-American Boys

1. Ban Together – Form small ‘Mom’s groups’ by which to support one another, not only in shared parenting, but also in reading and literacy development. A group like ‘Mocha Moms’ can provide easy easy to get started. Part of your group’s advocacy can focus on having more books available in churches, community centers, and schools.
2. Men, Men, Men – Dads, older boys, and elders are crucial to increasing literacy. Switch some of the reading/literacy work from mom to dad or other male role models.
3. Focus on Black Identity – Help your son find books and articles that are about black male identity – books like Barack Obama’s Dreams of My FatherRoots by Alex Haley. If needed, help your son read abridged versions of these books.

3 Tips for Promoting Literacy Among Latino and Hispanic Boys

1. Teach Both Languages – If you are a bilingual family, teach your son both languages from birth. The more he learns in any language the more literate he is likely to be in both languages, since any language learning increases the use of verbal centers in the brain.
2. Use Oral Traditions and Storytelling – Connect reading to oral traditions like singing and storytelling. Have your young son make up rhymes and rap-type poems as you and he talk and banter.
3. Ask Questions – Everywhere you go, engage your son verbally. Ask questions and wait for the answers. In the middle of a DVD, stop the action and ask your son questions about what is happening and what he thinks will happen next.

3 Tips for Promoting Literacy Among New Immigrant Boys

1. Keep High Expectations – High expectations of English language learning are crucial. If your son is having problems, sit with him and learn with him, and ask for help from others.
2. Use Subtitles – Watch movies with your son and have him read the subtitles aloud. Pause at various places to have him explain what the subtitles mean in English. If the movie is from a book, read the book with him.
3. Write in English every day – Have your son free right in English – without at first correcting grammar and spelling. Fifteen minutes each day will help him make progress!

Contact the Gurian Institute at for information on how a professional development plan can be designed to meet the needs of your organization and the families you serve.

Boys & Literacy - GURIAN INSTITUTE