Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Like so much of life, parenthood and childrearing—including who engages in it, how, and how much—has evolved rapidly in recent times. In many cases, dads are taking on new and more active roles in raising kids. 

According to Scientific American, fathers in 1965 spent an average of just 2.6 hours a week on child care, compared to 6.5 hours in 2000. In 2014, a study of several hundred low-income families found that the mothers read more frequently to their toddlers, but that approximately 55 percent of fathers read at least weekly to their children.

In this article, we’ll look at what dads bring to story time—and how fathers can create a solid foundation for their children’s future through the simple act of reading to them.

When Dads Read, Babies Bloom

Babies benefit from being read to long before they can fully understand the words. And research shows that story times with multiple adults extend and broaden these benefits. For example, fathers reading to their littles ones in addition to the children’s mothers has correlated in studies with greater development down the line.

In a study of two-parent families from low-income rural communities, dads used picture books to interact with their children at six months. Compared to other babies whose fathers didn’t do that, those children had more advanced language development when they were a year old and when tested again at three years. 

Another study, which looked at fathers who read at least once a week to their two- and three-year-olds, found that the children had advanced language and cognitive skills at both age three and in kindergarten.

Dad Does Things Differently 

Captain Underpants. The Stinky Cheese Man. Walter the Farting Dog. 

Researchers have found indications that dads tend to interact in different ways with babies and children than moms—and that these varied styles each bring their own unique benefits. 

These differences can extend to reading choices, too, as dads bring their own spin, interests, and approach to sharing books with their little ones. And that can be a very good thing, offering even more opportunities and ways for kids to become engaged in books. 

This engagement, in turn, drives greater attention during story time, willingness to read, motivation to learn to read independently, and inclination to continue reading in the long term.

But whether you’re a mom, dad, uncle, grandparent, or other caregiver, you can support both boys and girls in reading by seeking out books the child finds interesting. Publisher Steve Hill created his publishing company, Flying Point Press, because he couldn’t find enough books that engaged his son. You don’t have to go that far, but exposing your child to a wide range of books and following their interests will help draw them in and keep them hooked.

Fathers Can Model Reading for Reluctant Readers

Researchers have long documented a tendency for earlier and stronger language development among girls, generally speaking, while developmental disorders affecting communication skills appear more frequently in boys. 

We should be extremely careful about such generalizations when dealing with individuals, and parents should absolutely watch out for language challenges with their daughters as well as sons. They should also scrupulously avoid assuming their sons will struggle or be reluctant to read; experienced adults know that a great many boys read well, often, and passionately. 

Still, plenty of parents complain of challenges helping their sons meet grade-level expectations for reading or learn to love books. But with support at home and school, even boys who are slower to acquire early skills can catch up and develop strong reading ability. When Dad models reading skill and book love, it’s one more example to show young boys and any hesitant reader that they can do it—and motivate them to try.

Establish the Reading Habit for Life 

Books they find interesting help both boys and girls get into the reading habit early. When children transition to adolescence, research shows that there is often a slump in achievement and motivation. 

That slump is especially pronounced among boys and even more dire among boys of color, but it can affect all kids (especially in our digital-media-driven days)—as parents frequently attest. 

If teens don’t have a strong reading foundation, their academic progress can slow or even stop. Building and reinforcing book habits early, as well as modeling that the adults in their life all read regularly, can help ensure they’ll return to reading throughout their lives.

This article has detailed a few key reasons that fathers should share books with their kids, from birth and well beyond. But the best reason of all for parents and other caregivers to read to their kids is simple: When they’re grown, they will have warm memories of those reading sessions with Mom and Dad to look back on.

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