Children do better at school if their fathers read and play with them
Fathers can give their children an educational advantage at primary school by reading, drawing and playing with them, according to a new report published today.
Research including Professors Mark Elliot and Colette Fagan from The University of Manchester found that 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 singing.
Analysing primary school test scores for five and seven year olds, the researchers used a representative sample of nearly 5,000 mother-father households in England from the Millennium Cohort Study, which collected data on children born from 2000-02 as they grew up.
According to the research - which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council - fathers who regularly drew, played and read with their three-year-olds helped their children do better at school by age five. Dads being involved at age five also helped improve scores in Key Stage Assessments at age seven.
“Mothers still tend to assume the primary carer role and therefore tend to do the most childcare, 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,” said Dr Helen Norman from The University of Leeds, who led the research.
Dads’ involvement impacted positively on their children’s school achievement regardless of the child’s gender, ethnicity, age in the school year and household income, according to the report.
There were different effects when mums and dads took part in the same activities – the data showed that mums had more of an impact on young children’s emotional and social behaviours than educational achievement.
The researchers recommend that dads carve out as much time as they can to engage in interactive activities with their children each week. For busy, working dads, even just ten minutes a day could potentially have educational benefits.
They also recommend that schools and early years education providers routinely take both parents' contact details (where possible) and develop strategies to engage fathers – and that Ofsted take explicit account of father-engagement in their inspections.
Our analysis has shown that fathers have an important, direct impact on their children’s learning - we should be recognising this and actively finding ways to support dads to play their part, rather than engaging only with mothers, or taking a gender-neutral approach.
“This study shows that even small changes in what fathers do, and in how schools and early years settings engage with parents, can have a lasting impact on children's learning,” said Andrew Gwynne MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood. “It's absolutely crucial that that fathers aren't treated as an afterthought.”