Are you a dad who reads with your child? If so, three cheers! If not, today is the day to start. Don’t delay any longer. And if you think there are plenty of other people to read with your child, that your role isn’t important, or you don’t know what to do … please, read this column.
Some men are less likely to read with their children because of work issues, cultural expectations, a perception that women are better at it, a lack of enjoyment reading, or not knowing what they can do. If more men knew how much impact their interactions with their children had on their children’s development, I might not be writing this article.
Fathers who are active in their child’s literacy experiences are giving their children a huge leg up in life. A few of the many benefits for children include higher cognitive skills, stronger peer relationships, greater self-confidence and self-esteem, more proficient reading, and commendable behavior at school. All of this from you reading with them? You bet.
There are certainly plenty of men who get involved in their children’s literacy, and I’m happy to know many. Jonah Maidoff is one. Teacher, actor, and dad to a teenager and college student, he says, “We talk about what we’re reading. We listen to NPR together when cooking and driving to school. There’s a strong language component there, so the level of discussion is more nuanced, and they’ve always asked about the meanings of words heard.”
Calder Martin is another. A calculus teacher and dad of a first grader, he says, “I need books to be more interesting than easy stories, otherwise I get bored. I read more advanced books to my daughter, like Greek mythology, where I can animate the reading because the words make an impression on your mind.” These men, and many others, can serve as role models and supports to male friends who are reading this and wondering how in the world to get involved. Hear that, reader dads? Talk to your buddies. Invite them and their kids on a weekly or monthly library trip with you and your kids. Camp out in your backyard and tell stories while the kids huddle around the fire. Invite a friend and his kids to make a movie with you and your kids.
If you’re a dad with teen children, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s too late to get involved. As much as their words and actions can say otherwise, teenagers are seeking your guidance in much of what they do and how they are as individuals in the world. They need you in all aspects of their life, including literacy. What might that look like with teens? Find out what they’re reading. Get the same book (audiobooks are a great option, too, especially if you don’t love to read), and talk about it at dinner or in the car. While discussing literature, you’re also showing your children that what they are interested in matters to you and has value. Tell them stories about your childhood. Choose a project to make together (e.g. a robot, go-cart, trebuchet), and read a manual or tips online about it. Create a Jeopardy game on a topic you both enjoy — sports, movies, art, etc. Design a web site or blog together.
Choose your ideal time — early morning, evenings, or weekends — and set it aside each day or week to get involved. If you’re not with your child every day, consider a weekly phone call, Skype or FaceTime for reading aloud, or record yourself on a podcast and send the link. Choose joke books, the sports page, magazines, poetry, road signs, ingredients lists, web sites, science fiction, and more. Our children are only young once. This is our chance to make the biggest impact.
Check out Jim Trelease’s well-known Read-Aloud Handbook, now in its seventh edition, and guysread.com/books/, both terrific resources, chock-full of ideas and book lists.
Let’s hear it for the men!
Deb Dunn is the literacy coordinator at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.