Kids do better at school when fathers read to them, study finds

Dad’s the word: Children do better at school if their fathers read and play with them, study finds

  • Fathers can give their children an educational advantage at primary school
  • But often they’re prevented from doing this due to the demands of work

For some dads, it can be tempting to crash on the sofa rather than playing with their child after a hard day at work. 

But fathers who spend time doing fun and interactive activities with their son or daughter give them an educational advantage at school, a new study shows. 

Data from nearly 5,000 households revealed that reading, playing games, drawing and even singing to children as young as three all helped to improve their academic performance by the age of five. 

And although mums can also boost their child’s academic skills, overall they have more of an impact on young children’s emotional and social behaviours. 

Fathers can have a ‘unique effect’ on their children’s development, the Leeds University researchers said, but often they feel less able to do so due to the demands of their job. 

Children do better at primary school if their fathers regularly spend time with them on interactive engagement activities like reading, playing, telling stories, drawing and even singing or making music (file photo)

Dads get involved! Ideal activities with your kids

– Reading 

– Telling stories (not from a book) 

– Playing or listening to music, singing, or doing other musical activities 

– Drawing, painting or making things 

– Playing with toys or games indoors

– Playing sports or physically active games outdoors or indoors 

– Taking the child to the park or outdoor playground 

The new study was led by Dr Helen Norman, Research Fellow at Leeds University Business School.

‘Mothers still tend to assume the primary carer role and therefore tend to do the most childcare,’ she said. 

‘But if fathers actively engage in childcare too, it significantly increases the likelihood of children getting better grades in primary school. 

‘This is why encouraging and supporting fathers to share childcare with the mother, from an early stage in the child’s life, is critical.’

The team’s results are not only due to the fact that ‘two heads are better than one’ when it comes to bringing up a child.

‘Fathers bring something different’ to the child’s development as they tend to interact with their children in different ways to mothers, the study claims.

For example, fathers are more likely to engage in greater physical engagement and activity, which helps develop risk-taking and problem-solving behaviour in children.

This could be building a fort out of the furniture, kicking a football around outside or having a pillow fight. 

For the study, the team analysed a sample of 4,966 two-parent households in England – all with one mother and one father both still in a relationship. 

The study did not account for single parent families, children of divorcees living in different households or same-sex couples with children.

Dads contribute to their child’s development when they set aside time to do any fun activity with them, even if it’s a kickabout outdoors (file photo)

READ MORE Hands-on dads are ‘less likely to suffer baby blues’

Experts call for paid paternal leave policies to avoid depression in fathers 

Data was taken from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), which collected information on children born between 2000 and 2002 as they grew up. 

Each parent’s involvement with their child was measured in the same way when the children were aged five and seven. 

Both parents were asked how often they engaged in various activities with the child, such as singing, paining, reading and telling stories, playing with toys or games and taking them to an outdoor playground. 

Parents responded to each on a six-point scale from ‘not at all’ (1) to ‘every day’ (6) and the researchers added up and compared the scores. 

Overall, the team found a father’s pre-school involvement (when the child is aged three) helped to increase their performance at school when aged five, in areas such as maths, literacy and motor skills. 

Dads being involved at age five also helped improve scores in seven-year-olds’ key stage assessments (commonly referred to as SATs). 

Meanwhile, the mothers’ involvement had a particularly strong association with reduced conduct problems in children and better pro-social behaviour – such as good social skills and the ability to share easily. 

The positive impact of a dad’s involvement was regardless of the child’s gender, ethnicity, age in the school year and household income, according to the findings. 

Graph shows the proportion of children who achieved a good level of achievement at age five according to how often fathers read to them at home

For busy, working dads, just 10 minutes per day could have educational benefits, according to the team, but more than this is ideal. 

Researchers recommend that dads set aside out as much time as they can to engage in interactive activities with their kids. 

They acknowledge that fathers are likely to be hampered by work demands, but this is partly due to outdated ‘societal expectations’.  

Unfortunately, the expectation that mothers should take the main responsibility for children’s care and education ‘continues to dominate’ in modern society – and employers are to blame. 

Dads are less likely to be at home, due to shorter parental and paternity leave, and because the mother is made to assume the role of primary caregiver. 

Researchers say a ‘societal expectation’ that mothers should take the main responsibility for children’s care and education ‘continues to dominate’. This graph shows which parent a child’s school/nursery/pre-school will contact most frequently about various subjects (dad = yellow; mum = light blue; both = dark blue) according to the fathers

Authors say: ‘The traditional ideal that mothers take primary responsibility for the care of their children is perpetuated by many schools and childcare providers, who often position the mother as the first point of contact in communications about the child.’ 

The experts call on all employers to offer more generous paternity and parental leave for fathers, which ‘may also help to increase employee commitment and productivity’. 

They also recommend schools and nurseries routinely take both parents’ contact details if possible and develop strategies to engage fathers. 

The research paper, entitled ‘What a difference a dad makes’, can be read in full on the University of Leeds website. 

Why ‘Dad jokes’ are GOOD for you: Cringeworthy gags teach children to survive embarrassment, study finds 

Try not to roll your eyes at dad jokes – they may be an example of good parenting.

Dad jokes are important in helping children learn to be embarrassed by their parents, expert Marc Hye-Knudsen at Aarhus University argues.

This toughens them up because they survive the embarrassment of their dad making a terrible pun and realise embarrassment is not that bad.

Dad jokes are typically simple puns presented as a one-liner, either told with sincere humorous intent or to intentionally provoke a reaction. 

Hye-Knudsen said: ‘By teasingly striking at their children’s egos and emotions without teetering over into bullying, fathers build their children’s resilience…’

‘[They] train them to withstand minor attacks and bouts of negative emotion without getting worked up or acting out, teaching them impulse control and emotional regulation.’ 

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