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How Dads Can Make Reading Rock

SuePalmer.jpgIn Year of the Dad, SUE PALMER, literacy specialist and author of Toxic Childhood, salutes dads who inspire their children’s reading - and invites more to join them in this rewarding and nurturing activity. 

WHEN I researched dads’ role in parenting for my book Toxic Childhood, it was clear that effective fathers engage in many fun activities with their children – joking, teasing, tickling, rough-and-tumble play, outdoor stuff like football and camping.

But strangely, when I do talks on literacy for parents, my audiences are around 95% female. Learning to read and write is definitely important - there’s no doubt it’s fundamental to educational success. But a barrel of laughs? Seemingly not for some dads.

But the great news is that there are plenty of fun ways to develop children’s reading skills. Fathers Network Scotland recently published a handy list of tips with their partners in the Dads Read initiative. And here are some more from my own experience:

  • lusty singing with toddlers – preferably with lots of actions – of nursery rhymes and songs develops all sorts of literacy subskills (The Grand Old Duke of York is excellent)
  • great bedtime books, like The Gruffalo and The Enormous Crocodile, are a renowned way of developing interest in reading (children tell me they love it when dad reads because he ‘does the voices’)
  • dramatising favourite stories deepens children’s understanding (but beware: my granddaughter and I recently broke the coffee table, while walking the plank during a dramatisation of Peter Pan)
  • reading outdoors is always a hit – spooky tales go down brilliantly round a campfire or twilight barbecue and it’s good to have a story-book in your pocket when you stop for a breather during a country walk
  • if your child develops an interest in something (dinosaurs? ballet? soccer? cooking?) a visit to the local library is a great – and free – way to while away an hour or so, burrowing together in the Children’s Non-Fiction section.


Nowadays, of course, there are many other, much easier ways to access entertainment and information: TV, DVD, computer games, internet sites, YouTube ... the list is endless. I also have to admit that learning to read and write isn’t particularly easy for most children – it takes a fair bit of focused attention and commitment.

If kids get all the kicks they need via screen-based devices in the early stages, the chances of their summoning up that attention and commitment are minimal. And the danger then is that they miss out on some of the essential developmental foundations that each stage of reading can bring – as you’ll see in my downloadable research information panel here.

I know there are lots of dads out there doing wonderful work inspiring their children to read. For example, Douglas Guest wrote a great blog about overcoming his own dyslexia to start the reading journey with his children - and I'd like to hear from the rest of your too.

So please share your suggestions and experiences so we can all join together in inspiring our children to read (and write). The children of Scotland need your help, dads. Because you rock! 

AUTHOR BIOG: Sue Palmer is a former primary headteacher in the Scottish Borders and is an independent writer and consultant on primary education, particularly literacy. Her many books include Toxic Childhood, Detoxing Childhood, and of Upstart (