Fathers and Public Schools

Next Sunday is Father’s Day – the day we celebrate fathers and the important role they play in their children’s lives.

One of the most important areas where dads can make a difference is education.  Research shows that when fathers are interested in their children’s education and participate in school activities, the kids get better grades, are less likely to be retained in grade, behave more appropriately, are more likely to participate in extra-curricular activities, and are more engaged in school overall.

This is especially true for girls!  The academic expectations that a father has for his daughters are very important to their academic achievement.  Active involved fathers often do a great job of promoting achievement motivation, self-confidence, assertiveness, and the ability to compete – all things that don’t come easily to many girls in our culture.

Fathers and mothers often have different ways of viewing the world and different perspectives on how to raise their children.  This isn’t bad or good – it’s just different.  When fathers are involved in their children’s lives and their children’s education, their particular approach to life often stimulates greater curiosity and stronger problem-solving skills.  Fathers encourage exploration of the world and that gives their kids a sense of confidence.

What are some specific ways that fathers can be effectively involved in their children’s schools?  They can make an intentional effort to be in the school building at least once a week.  It may be to bring the kids to school, eat lunch in the school cafeteria, chaperone a field trip, attend a parent/teacher conference, volunteer, or attend a school program or event.  Whatever the reason, fathers who spend time at school and make an effort to get to know the school staff are making a positive difference in their children’s education.

Children love it when their fathers volunteer at school, and all the kids enjoy having a man around – especially in elementary school, which is a heavily female environment.  Helping in classrooms, going on field trips, participating in Career Day, and yes, bringing refreshments to the class parties, are all activities that are as appropriate for fathers as they are for mothers.

Very often, fathers are not directly involved at school until and unless there is a problem with one of their children.  Showing up to take care of the problem is much more effective when relationships and lines of communication have been in place since the beginning of the school year.  And it’s much easier to come up with a reasonable solution when everyone involved knows the context and has been monitoring the issues.

Homework is a major ordeal for many children and their families, and fathers are often able to effectively take charge of the homework battles.  And when dads have worked with their children to set goals and expectations for school, monitoring homework is the perfect way to assess progress towards those goals and make sure that expectations are appropriate.

Asking parents to read with children at home for 20-30 minutes a night is an almost universal expectation in elementary school.  What a great opportunity for fathers to interact with their kids in a warm and relaxed way!

Many fathers become more involved in school activities as their kids get older and become involved in sports and clubs at school.  In fact, fathers are often more visible at the high school level than mothers!  Being active in their children’s school life from the earliest grades sets the stage for high-quality, effective involvement in later grades.

But at the preschool and elementary level, many fathers are uncomfortable in the school environment.  How can schools help welcome fathers and encourage their active involvement?

Teachers can make an intentional effort to welcome fathers, get their contact information if it’s different, and specifically invite them to parent/teacher conferences and school events.  Fathers can make great contributions to PTA projects and school committees – but they often have to be asked and encouraged to participate.  Fathers make wonderful classroom volunteers, but it helps to have specific tasks for them to accomplish.  And success will breed success – as more fathers are visible at the elementary level, more fathers will feel comfortable with an active volunteer role.

Doughnuts for Dads is a great opportunity to get fathers to school in the morning to do a little bit of meeting and greeting with school staff while sharing doughnuts with their kids and other fathers.

There are a couple of school volunteer programs that are specifically geared towards fathers.  One of these is Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), a program designed and run by the National Center for Fathering.  Fathers volunteer to spend at least one day a year in their child’s school, monitoring hallways and lunch rooms and participating in any other assigned activities.  The goal is to provide positive male role models and enhance school security.

All Pro Dad’s Day is a school-based program that has partnered with the National PTA and the NFL to bring fathers together with their kids at school. Dads gather monthly with their children at an hour-long breakfast before school to discuss relevant topics and enjoy activities together.

Fathers have an important role to play in their children’s education.  Their interest, participation, and expectations set the stage for success in school.    Happy Father’s Day!

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