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Why Learning to Read Is Easier If You’re a Girl

Photograph by Twenty20

It's no secret that boys often mature slower than girls, but according to one international study, they are also three times more likely to struggle when it comes to reading.

To explore this theory, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology used a letter test developed by educator Greta Storm Ofteland. In it, boys and girls entering first grade were tested on four components of literacy. The outcome? Girls were better than boys at recognizing letters and the sounds that correspond with them.

"We found a significant difference between girls and boys in all four variables, in favor of the girls," said Professor Hermundur Sigmundsson, of the Norwegian university's psychology department.

Children who learn to recognize the letters in a word and associate each letter with its sound before their sixth birthday typically excel when it comes to reading. But how do parents know if their child is struggling to understand and what, if anything, can be done to help them get a better handle on phonics?

Turns out, when push comes to shove, teaching a child to read—boy or girl—is all about being proactive.

Professor Sigmundsson is working to develop a method that would allow us to identify children who might eventually have trouble reading—before it becomes a problem. If early detection findings are successful, then parents and teachers will be better equipped to swoop in and act quickly, thus reducing the need for individualized attention for those students.

"One major problem is that a lot of the support efforts come too late,” Sigmundsson said. “If we could catch children earlier who are struggling and give them the right training and follow-up, we might not have to do so much remedial work with them when they get older.”

So, does this mean girls are smarter? Of course not, but according to the study, mothers tend to talk more with girls from the moment they are born and, because of this, they get more practice using letters and sounds than boys do.

The solution? Sigmundsson said to give the boys a boost early on by emphasizing letters and the sounds that correlate with them more frequently.

“We need to make sure that all children have a good command of letter-sound relationships as early as possible once they start school," he added.

The best approach to teaching a child how to read is to take it one letter at a time. Let them inspect each character as you fumble through "Goodnight Moon" and sound out each one deliberately while instructing them to do the same.

Most important, if you want your child to read—or better yet, learn to love reading—then it might be a good idea to slow down, pick a fun book and enjoy watching their little minds explore new challenges. It’s amazing how quickly they will adapt when given the proper tools.

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