Why Fathers Who Read to Their Children Are the Coolest
Dads who read have children who read.
Posted Dec 17, 2020 | Reviewed by Matt Huston
The best gift you can give to your child this Christmas is some unhurried time spent on reading a book together. The time you invest in sharing stories with your child(ren) will keep paying you back. You might notice quick and lasting improvements in children’s language and build a stronger bond with them over time.
Although there are some enthusiastic accounts of the mood- and self-image boost connected to reading with their child, data indicate that considerably fewer men than women read to their children. Young boys and girls may be losing out on an important experience.
Research shows that fathers who read to young children have, on average, more education and children with better language skills. Researchers have documented that on average, fathers are more likely to read with their daughters, and mothers with their sons. Yet, fathers and father figures can make a unique contribution to all children’s reading. Reading books together promotes positive parent-child interactions. It reduces parenting stress and increases parental warmth, which can improve the parent-child relationship over time.
Given the potential benefits, researchers actively design interventions that engage fathers in reading books at home. There are no age restrictions on the benefits of joint reading—fathers can read to their children from birth until adult age. There are no specific time periods either—the mantra “Read to Your Child” should not be reserved for Father’s Day headlines. The tips from reading charities and family organisations promoting fathers’ reading with children can be useful throughout the year. Here are some recommendations based on our recent research.
Make it your own
In our recent study we found that parents and children often have different expectations about what a good story is. So, don’t feel you need to find the perfect match between your child's and your own interests. Different families follow different reading routines and it is best to listen to your child's preferences. It might be that instead of reading a story, you decide to make up your own story. Perhaps you create it digitally—there are many free apps with which you can blend texts, images and sounds, such as the Our Story app.
Those with a creative bent may feel tempted to rewrite a familiar story with a funny ending. Or perhaps you will draw your own book cover. Or perhaps you co-author a story with your child, which you will read to each other by taking turns.
Combine digital and analogue reading experiences
If you and your reading buddy are not in the same location, co-reading on screen is a suitable alternative (see some helpful tips here). You can use a video-conferencing platform (like Zoom) or messaging service (like WhatsApp) and share a story across the screen. While your little one won’t be able to sit in your lap or touch the book, you will still be able to discover the magic world of stories together and experience a shared joy of reading. You can involve other family members too—perhaps the grandparents could read to the child one day via Zoom or perhaps you could read to other children in your friends’ network. Technologies can usefully expand not only the network of readers but also the reading activities. A favourite book can be extended with a game or app on the same topic. Also, a game or an app can spark interest in a printed classic.
Involve the child
Choosing the story to share or book to read is part of the shared reading experience. Involve your child in this process and explore, in dialogue with them, what they like and engage with. Whether it is dinosaurs, Minecraft or football—any toy, activity or popular topic counts and can be a great way to extend your child’s interests to the world of fiction. Stories, especially fictional stories based on unknown characters and realities different from the child’s own, are particularly beneficial for extending your child’s horizons. Poetry, comics and non-fiction books are great choices too.
Parents who participated in our study told us that they get tips on books and e-books from various places, including school and the local library, but they trust most the recommendations of other parents. Asking your friends about books they have read or enjoyed reading with their children is a good idea. If you are unsure about which book would be appropriate for your child’s age or needs, check out this helpful Bookfinder. There are also many supportive communities online where parents and teachers exchange tips on children’s literature. If you are not a member of any online community yet, search on Twitter for the hashtag #RfP, which stands for ReadingForPleasure.
If you don’t have (m)any children’s books at home, try your local library, or ask friends. Perhaps there is a book-exchange initiative happening in your neighbourhood that offers free books. Or you can support an independent book shop by purchasing a new book. At any rate, do not feel limited by the availability of print books—there are many books available digitally, so you can share a story with your child that you read on a tablet, smartphone or PC.
To reiterate: Fathers can be an important source of strength and inspiration for their children’s reading. If you are a father, or a male figure in a child's life, take the time to tell, read or make a story with them. You will be amazed by the magic that follows.
Vasalou, A., Kalantari, S., Kucirkova, N., & Vezzoli, Y. (2020). Designing for oral storytelling practices at home: A parental perspective. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, 26, 100214.
Kucirkova, N., & Flewitt, R. (2020). Understanding parents’ conflicting beliefs about children’s digital book reading. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 1468798420930361.