Fathers can play an important role in promoting early learning and literacy. Unfortunately, as some colleagues and I discussed in a recent NRFC webinar, not all dads realize this or know how to go about it. Fatherhood programs can help fathers understand the benefits of early literacy skills for their children, demonstrate ways to make reading fun, and show how engaging in literacy-related activities together can cement bonds between fathers and their children.
Here are five tips to help fathers enjoy reading with their children and find other creative ways to support early literacy development through daily activities:
- Help fathers understand their importance in promoting early literacy development
Provide examples of fathers interacting with children and how children look up to them as models for behavior. Children look to their fathers for approval of their interests and activities. When fathers listen and pay attention to their children’s interests they can explore these interests together by reading or looking up information to help answer questions. A children’s book like Night Driving is a wonderful example of how a father can support literacy during a long car ride.
- Share information about typical development of early literacy skills in young children
Provide information about how young children learn to talk, read, and write through interactive experiences. Examples of this type of information are available from the Centers for Disease Control Child Development website, Zero to Three (Early Literacy), and Iowa Library Services (Six Early Literacy Skills).
- Talk with dads about ways to make reading fun and instructive
Programs can share general tips or create tip sheets for specific books. For example, the Dads and Kids Book Club in Minnesota created a tip sheet that dads could refer to before reading the book Night Driving with their children. Tip sheets like this can help fathers focus on four important goals related to early literacy: enjoying reading; following the story sequence of events; understanding the story; and, learning new words through reading.
- Introduce fathers to good books for young children
This can be done in a variety of ways. Programs can share books with dads as part of a regular group session, display examples of picture books at parent events, give away books at father-child events, or provide a list of books appropriate for different age and ability levels. For a list of books to consider, see Minnesota Humanities Council’s A Book List for Reading With Dad, which was developed by a group of librarians, early childhood teachers, and fatherhood practitioners to highlight positive father involvement. Additionally, program staff can model reading aloud and encourage dads to follow their example. Some programs have invited professional story-tellers to participate in father-child or family events to provide additional examples and encouragement.
- Introduce the idea of simple, everyday activities that support literacy skills and are related to father’s interests
Help fathers identify everyday activities that provide opportunities for boosting literacy skills. For example, reading newspapers and talking about the cartoons, following sports teams by looking at pictures and talking about specific players, telling stories in the car or at bedtime, fixing something around the house, preparing a meal or snack together, playing games with letters, or talking about signs while walking in the neighborhood.
Glen Palm, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Child and Family Studies, St. Cloud State University