Dads can do canteen duty, too
At a glance
- Kids do better at school when their dad gets involved.
- Dads can get great satisfaction from taking an active role in their child's education.
- Dads get to know their kids' friends when occasionally helping out at the school.
- The impact of a father's involvement is separate and additional to that of a mother's involvement.
- Try a stint in the canteen, stoking the barbecue on a special day or taking the occasional reading group.
Dads who get involved in their kids' school life can give them a greater chance of doing well in the classroom and socially.
James Willis* isn't the only dad to volunteer for canteen duty at his children's school, but he is the only dad who does it single-handedly.
James lives close to his kids' school in Wollongong, and his workplace is only a few minutes' drive away. Once a month, he takes an extra-long break and volunteers for canteen duty during recess, where he sells healthy snacks to students including his kids.
"I see the ladies in the school office, open the canteen, do the canteen run, do the float and then off I go back to work," he says.
"My young bloke will bring three or four mates to the canteen when he knows I'm on. It doesn't get any better than that – it's really good fun."
James also does reading with his son's class once a week.
"They do it first thing in the morning, so I start work late and work back later that day. We listen to them read and get them to do the phonics and sound out words, and report back to the teacher on how they're going with their reading," he says.
I'm a bit of a grunt - when anybody needs to hire a van and take three drum kits and 50 clarinets ... I'm the van man. School dad
"I think that's a good thing because I get to know who Sam's friends are. Whether I'm doing something at the school or picking him up in the afternoon, the kids will walk past and say, ‘How are you going?' which I think is great."
Dads are good for kids' learning
Parental involvement also encourages stronger family bonds and resilience in children – that old knack of being able to ‘bounce back' from life's setbacks.
Dr Richard Fletcher, convenor of the Australian Fatherhood Research Network and senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle's Family Action Centre, says there are good reasons for dads to be involved more with their children and their education.
"Research shows consistently that the more a father is involved and supports his kids at school, the better the academic and social success for both boys and girls," Richard says.
"The impact of father involvement on children's development is quite separate and additional to the effects of a mother's involvement," he adds.
"Schooling is a key area of child development and dads can gain enormous satisfaction from taking an active role in their children's education."
Lightening the load
Glen Frost helps out at the school his two daughters attend in Sydney's north by working with the school band.
"I'm a bit of a grunt – when anyone needs to hire a van to take three drum kits, 50 clarinets and whatever else they've got somewhere, I'm the van man," he laughs.
Glen and a few other parents also do a lot of band-related fundraising activities, which resulted in a band camp and a conductor being hired, he says.
"For a lot of parents, their child isn't interested in sport, but they still want their child to be involved in a great activity where they're in a social environment," he says.
"The band is great for that."
How you can be an involved dad at school
- Ask the boss for the morning off occasionally to walk your kids to school or to do a school-based activity.
- Manning the barbecue is not only a great help but it's a good social magnet where you can meet lots of other parents and teachers.
- If you're keen on a particular sport, you can help out with coaching a school team.
- Canteen duty is not only for mums – contact the school to see what's involved.
- Join the P&C or another school committee to get a more hands-on role in your child's education.
- Your child's school may have a library committee where you can help encourage a love of books and reading.
- If you have expertise in a particular subject area (such as science, spelling, reading or maths), see if you can help with these subjects in the classroom.
- The Fathers and Families program has resources to help fathers become more involved in their schools.
- If you have other ideas, speak to your child's teacher or principal about how you might like to be involved.
*Name has been changed
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