In 2009, the National Head Start Association held its 36th Annual National Training Conference in Orlando. In line with the theme, “Beyond the Boundaries: New Approaches and New Strategies,” the conference highlighted various ways to improve the quality of early childhood education for the families they serve. One of the suggested ideas was to get fathers more involved.
Randy Turner, of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, is leading the discussion about how to get fathers more involved at Head Start facilities. He’s encouraging coordinators to change the culture of their programs so that fathers feel more welcome. They can do that by, first, simply inviting fathers to play a more active role in their children’s early education, and second, by making the site more father-friendly.
As Randy says, it isn’t about making the dads feel good (though that would be a side benefit), but rather improving outcomes for kids because they have the benefit of more involved fathers. A great first step, Randy believes, is to have dads volunteer as WATCH D.O.G.S. at early childhood learning centers even for one day a week.
Dad, great things will happen when you take your involvement in your children’s lives to where they are—and we encourage you not to wait. Go next week! Right now, even if no formal programs are in place, you could contact your child’s Head Start site or school and ask about a good time for you to come and help out. During the school year there are many opportunities to plug in. And it could be that your presence there will help make things friendlier for other fathers.
When you do get involved in your child’s world outside your home—whether at school, in sports, music lessons, or a special-interest club—do your best to cooperate with the existing routine at that activity. In most cases, it’s your role to watch and learn what your child does and be a helper, not tell your child what to do or press your agenda on the situation. Just enjoy the time, and help your child and other kids with what they’re doing that day.
- Find out about events, performances, and functions at your child’s school so you can attend. Volunteer to help, if you’re available.
- Choose a day to serve as a WatchDOG at your child’s school this month. You can help bring the program to the school (or keep it going) for next year.
- When you are interacting with your child and his or her peers, keep your eyes open for kids who don’t have a dad, and go out of your way to encourage them.
- What can you do to help create a more father-friendly culture at your workplace? Start a dialogue with someone and come up with some win-win solutions.
- Schedule a monthly date with each of your children—whether it’s lunch with them at school or at a restaurant, attending an event on their college campus, going for ice cream and a movie, or hanging out at a baseball game.
- Read the articles Randy Turner has written for fathers.com: “Teens and the ‘Terrible Toos’” and “The Hug That Changed My Life”—for divorced dads.