“You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.” Gillian Strickland
The poem “The Reading Mother” by Gillian Strickland highlights a central theme of Family Literacy Month — reading aloud to one’s child. Studies by the U.S. Department of Education analysis found that children who were read to at least three times a week by a family member were almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading than children who were read to less than three times a week. But while this poem focuses on mothers reading aloud to children, there is a newer body of research that also highlights the importance and benefits of fathers reading aloud to their children.
Recent research indicates that fathers who are actively involved in child rearing have the potential to make a powerful impact in their children’s academic success. Researchers have proven in many studies that fathers who are engaged in their children’s education, for example by attending meetings, volunteering and helping with homework, raised children who earned higher grades, had a stronger sense of self confidence, participated in extracurricular activities and went on to earn college degrees.
One no-cost activity in which fathers can engage with their children that has been consistently linked with higher student achievement is reading. Based on this premise, the Fathers Reading Every Day (FRED) program was developed to encourage fathers to become active in their children’s early literacy development.
FRED is a family literacy program designed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service designed to improve the early literacy development of children, specifically targeted to fathers and other male caregivers. During the FRED program, male participants are given research-based, yet user-friendly, guides that enable them to begin daily reading activities with their children. Since the FRED program began 2002, over 20,000 fathers and children all over the world have participated.
Yet fathers do not need to enroll in any program, nor receive any specific training, to reap similar benefits for their children and for themselves. The simple act of reading a book to one’s child can begin today. Fathers can take a book from their child’s bookshelf or have their child choose one for them. Fathers and children can visit the library together to select a number of books at once. And the dividends will start paying out almost immediately.
The bottom line is that regardless of who is reading aloud to children at home, be it mothers, fathers, grandparents or other caregivers, the research is conclusive. Reading aloud stimulates the imagination, boosts vocabulary, introduces children to concepts of print and provides them with information about the world around them. In all, reading together is a child-centered activity which allows for positive, nurturing interactions between all caregivers and children.
Maureen Manning is the Director of Family and Community Engagement in Wareham, MA. She is also a Mass Literacy Champion.