Dads’ reading and play boost kids’ school performance

Fathers boost kids in school through play and reading.


Kids do better in primary school when their dads do fun and interactive things with them, like reading, playing, telling stories, drawing, and singing.

Researchers from the University of Leeds examined test scores of five- and seven-year-olds in England. They found that dads who did these activities with their kids when they were three helped them perform better in school at ages five and seven. The study used data from about 5,000 families with both moms and dads.

Dr. Helen Norman, Research Fellow at Leeds University Business School, who led the research, said: “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.”

A new report found that dads’ involvement in their children’s school activities, regardless of the child’s gender, ethnicity, age, or household income, positively impacts their academic performance. On the other hand, moms have a more significant influence on children’s emotional and social development than their school achievements.

The researchers suggest that dads should spend time doing interactive activities with their kids every week. Even if they’re busy with work, just ten minutes a day can benefit their child’s education.

They also recommend that schools and early education providers try to involve both parents and encourage fathers to participate. Furthermore, inspection agencies like Ofsted should consider a school’s efforts to engage fathers in their evaluations.

Dr. Helen Norman, a Research Fellow at Leeds University Business School, led the study, supported by funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Dr. Jeremy Davies, the Head of Impact and Communications at the Fatherhood Institute, collaborated as a co-author. The research also involved co-investigators from the University of Manchester.

Dr Jeremy Davies, Head of Impact and Communications at the Fatherhood Institute, who co-authored the report, said: “Our analysis has shown that fathers have an important, direct impact on their children’s learning. We should recognize this and actively find ways to support dads to play their part, rather than engaging only with mothers or taking a gender-neutral approach.”

Andrew Gwynne MP, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood, emphasized the significance of the study. He highlighted that even minor changes in fathers’ involvement and how schools engage with parents can have a long-lasting positive effect on children’s education. Gwynne stressed the importance of giving fathers proper attention and not treating them as secondary figures in their children’s lives.

The study’s final report was unveiled during an online webinar on Wednesday, September 20. Dr. Helen Norman and Dr. Jeremy Davies were joined by a panel of experts in parental engagement and fathers to discuss the study’s findings.

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