When it’s time for your child to go to sleep at night, who reads the bedtime story? When teaching children to read, who does the teaching? Right. It usually IS the mothers who introduce children to books and reading. It doesn’t have to be an activity limited to mothers only. Fathers have a place and part to play here too. In fact there are many benefits from fathers reading to and with their children.
Reading is an essential activity that is linked to children’s cognitive development, academic skills and future employment opportunities. Children become interested in reading by watching and mimicking their parents, and although mothers have a big role to play, research shows that fathers are especially important to children’s literacy and language development.
Reading together and other activities such as telling stories are things that fathers can do to model positive parenting and improve developmental outcomes. It is not just good for the children, but fathers benefit also. In fact, fathers who engage more often in play and reading, are warm and nurturing with their children, report not only improvements in their own literacy but better outcomes than those who are less involved.
Research tells us that when fathers engage with their toddlers by reading to them, being warm and nurturing during play, their children read better, have more advanced vocabulary and communication skills and are more prepared to begin school than less involved fathers.
One reason why reading with young children benefits language development is because it’s interactive. Older children can interact effectively with screens, while infants and toddlers do not learn from such interactions. They learn best through in-person interactions. Fathers can hold their attention through gestures like pointing to pictures, which facilitates learning.
Fathers often engage with their children through play. This is significant because young children develop through new experiences and exploration-key components of play. Literacy and language skills develop as children hear language, hearing more varied words during play or other activities, like reading books improves their vocabulary.
Research has shown that fathers and mothers are likely to engage in literacy activities more frequently with girls than boys. When parents are interested in reading they are more likely to read to their children. It benefits children’s language and literacy development that fathers are encouraged to engage in these activities and improve their own literacy skills.
So what can we do to encourage you fathers to read with your children?
- Don’t forget about the boys. Read to your boys and girls from the earliest ages. Some believe that infants can’t understand or sit through reading books, but research shows that reading is more effective if beginning from between 4-6 month old babies. Make it a routine.
- Dads can make it fun and exciting for their infants and toddlers by being animated, acting out characters and pointing to pictures in books.
- Visit bookstores or the local library to find age-appropriate books for children. For infants and toddlers, look for books with vivid images, pictures with objects to name. If you have more than one child, make it a group activity. Take turns reading, pointing out objects, etc…. Ask your older child to talk about what is happening in the story, and your younger child can point out and name objects, if vocabulary has developed.
- If you are uncertain of your own literacy skills, you can still read and introduce books to your child. Look for picture books and make up your own story from the pictures. Remember that when reading with your child, be animated and excited. Your child will feel your excitement and you both will feed off of each other’s energy.
- Dads, if you still feel uncomfortable or lack confidence in your own literacy skills, choose a book and read it on your own before sharing it with your child. Ultimately, your own skills aren’t the most important factor in encouraging your child to be a young reader who loves books. What is important is that you still surround yourself with books and that your level of excitement is felt by your child.
- If you are very artistic and creative, create your own picture books and share them with your child. The younger the child, the brighter and more simple the images. You may discover that illustration or creating stories is your special hidden talent. Share it with your child. One day, you might just share your gifts with the world.
- Read to your child every day. It doesn’t matter what you read[books, magazines, newspapers]. Read what you find interesting, and your child will be interested. Let your child pick out books he or she finds interesting, too.
- Even if you don’t live with your children, read and share books or ‘book time’ with your child. It’s fun, educational, and you bond with each other.
- Last, if you don’t have a PC at home or a laptop, you have a smartphone. That phone can connect you to apps with literacy building skills as a platform Give your child access to these types of apps, and you can enjoy them together.
Fathers, there is so much you can do to help build your child’s literacy skills, brush up on yours and encourage a life-long love for reading books. So, relax, be creative and anytime you feel uncertain about how to bond with your child and make the most of time you spend together, grab a book in one hand and your child in the other. Then start reading!