Who is the reader in your family? The chances are it’s mum- reading bedtime stories to the kids night after night, becoming word perfect in the favourite book of the week- in our case Quentin Blake’s “Mrs. Armitage: Queen of the Road”. Why is that? In our family it’s often because bedtime happens before Dad makes it home from work (so he takes over at the weekend), but the reasons are varied for other families.
Before you have a go at me for making such a gender-biased assumption, research made by Booktrust, the UK’s leading literacy organization, found that only one out of eight UK fathers takes the lead with reading to his children. Dads might be great in other areas, like playing sports, fixing broken toys and general rough and tumbling, but 75% of dads admitted to a lack of confidence when it came to reading to their child.
Studies have shown that when fathers read to their children and share other care-giving responsibilities with mum, their children have better attachment, they have higher self-esteem, and show better social competence. The time fathers spend reading to their children does not just translate into literacy skills but also helps the child to have better impulse control and to show a greater ability to take initiative. In addition, if dad spends time with them at an early age, research has shown that they develop to become more empathetic. A fathers’ involvement in their child’s reading is proven to boost academic success and leads to improved social and emotional well-being.
Booktrust reports that reading every day to pre-school children gives them a 12-month head start by the time they arrive in the classroom. Boys who are read to by their fathers scored significantly higher in reading achievement, and, when fathers read for pleasure, their sons read more and scored higher than did those boys whose fathers did little or no recreational reading.
The benefits of dads reading to their children cannot just be measured in academic terms- important as that is- nor is it only beneficial to the child. Reading is a wonderful way for fathers to relax with their kids and focus on their children. It provides time to switch off from life’s distractions and engage fully with their child.
At some point in your child’s life you will wish that you understood them better, or knew what was going through their minds. Through reading, you can learn what your child finds funny, scary, mean, and kind and you can also learn what their child knows and what needs further explaining. You find out their interests and goals, and by encouraging story telling at the same time, you can find out what important things are happening to them that they would otherwise possibly feel uncomfortable telling you.
When you read with your kid, you’re seeing if they’re grasping key concepts, you’re answering their questions, and you’re starting discussions if they’re too hesitant to ask questions. You’re helping them filter all of this wild knowledge that the book is sharing through your unique perspective, and that helps make all that new information much more human and relatable.
There are many great reasons that dads should read to their kids. Probably the biggest reason of all is that it is a wonderful way for dads to get closer to their kids and, in turn, create a lifetime of cherished memories. But most of all, reading is a shared endeavour between all the adults in a child’s life—and a shared joy.
Here are some ideas on how dads can have fun reading with their kids:
- Reading is not only for bedtime- start the day with a breakfast book, such as “Early Bird” by Toni Yuly, or “Pancakes for Breakfast” by Tomie dePaola, (it’s a wordless book, but that’s even better for awakening the imagination). And if dad is travelling, a book shared over Skype can be digitally delightful!
- It’s extra special when dads share their favourite childhood books with their children. I love revisiting the books I read as a child with my kids, and seeing it all again through their eyes. The Richard Scarry books, “Ant and Bee”, “Meg and Mog”… oh, such great memories! If dad doesn’t remember his favourite book, then Granny probably does…
- Let Dad choose which book to read. Mums tend have their own favourites, and so will dad. Who goes to the library? Let dad go instead. A dad let loose in a library may come back with a very different book collection to introduce to their kids and, in the process, expand their book-loving horizons. A book on dragons? Mathematical problems? Or a sporting legend?
- Reading with kids doesn’t only mean reading traditional books. Comics like “Tintin”, graphic novels, non-fiction books such as National Geographic’s “Deadliest Animals” and kid magazines such as “Highlights for Children” also provide great reads.
- Start a stash of “DO” (“Daddy Only”) books—these are books your child chooses that only Daddy should read to them. This makes them extra special.
- Find books that both dad and kids like. Are both computer geeks? Like silly giggles? Prefer pirates and knights to animals and magic? Dads should read what both Dad and child enjoy—not what they think they should enjoy.
- For kids ready to stretch into longer fiction, nothing beats the anticipation of reading a book with Dad—chapter by chapter. “The Chronicles of Narnia”, “The Secret Garden”, “Treasure Island”, or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series are just those sorts of reads.
- For those of you in bilingual families, this is the ideal opportunity for dad to encourage use of his language. And the stories will be different to, which enriches your child’s knowledge and imagination.
Even if you’re not a great reader yourself, your participation in literacy activities at home can have a profound impact on your child’s academic achievement. Children react to their parents’ attitudes, and often dad’s is more highly valued. The more Dad is involved with reading on all levels, the more children associate reading with Dad, and that’s better for kids. So to encourage good reading in the next generation it’s up to us all, but especially dads, to put down the tablet, open a book and go for it!