Traditionally, moms are the ones who build the connection between home and school. Moms are more likely to take part in school activities. Classroom volunteers tend to be moms. And moms typically join the PTO or PTA. In fact, the National PTA was originally known as the Congress of Mothers.
But these days, dads are taking more of a role in their children’s education. It’s a good thing, too. Research shows that even when Mom is highly involved, Dad can make a real difference in his children’s success at school.
According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, children are more likely to get mostly A’s if their fathers are involved at school. They are less likely to repeat a grade or to be suspended or expelled. When dads get involved, children also are more likely to enjoy school and take part in extracurricular activities. In short, the evidence offers some pretty compelling reasons why dads should take an active role in their children’s education.
There are lots of ways for a dad to be involved regardless of his schedule or his abilities. Here are some tips and advice for getting started.
Help your child get organized. Make sure all homework, studying, and projects get completed daily and on time.
Keep in touch. Read all notices sent from the school and check the school’s website for happenings and calendar updates. Talk to your child’s teacher if you have questions about your child’s behavior in class or need to discuss struggles he is having with tests or homework.
Attend open houses and parent-teacher conferences. You’ll become more familiar with the staff and the school, and you’ll stay informed about activities, the curriculum, and discipline policies. You’ll also have more opportunities for conversation with other parents, teachers, and the principal.
Offer your help. Do you have a hobby or talent you can share? Schools need a wide range of help, from putting together the newsletter to talking about your job on career day. Helping out doesn’t have to be a yearlong commitment; even an hour or two can make a difference. Talk to the parent group president or the principal about how you might help. Let them know your time constraints. Make some suggestions for how and when you see yourself fitting in.
Join the club. If you’re a dad who finds safety in numbers, consider teaming up with your school’s dads club. (If your school doesn’t have one, perhaps you can talk to your principal about starting one!) Dads clubs typically coordinate volunteer events at school and outings for fathers and kids. The dads club at Mary Farmar Elementary in Benicia, Calif., organizes Saturday fishing trips, “walk your dog” nights, and board game nights.
Fill in the gaps. Is your school’s building showing its age? Does it need some TLC? Consider offering your time and abilities to make needed updates at school. A group of dads at the Sacred Heart of Mary School in Louisville, Ohio, recently warmed up their school by building removable insulators for the school’s drafty, 40-year-old windows.
Spruce up the place. Help out with landscaping or beautification projects on your school’s campus. Any help a dad can give to improve the outside of a school is equally important to assistance offered in the classroom, says Mary Farmar principal Susan Sullivan. “The school is a community, and we are here to make this the best and safest place to learn, and we need to have pride in our buildings and grounds,” she says. Her dads club recently installed a sprinkler system in the school garden; next, they’ll replace the garden’s picket fence.
Attend functions for fathers. Take advantage of dad-centric events such as father-daughter dances and “doughnuts with dad” breakfasts. Each year at its Dad Volunteer Day, the Solvang (Calif.) Elementary PTO invites dozens of dads, uncles, and grandfathers to assist students in the classroom, work on Mother’s Day projects, grade papers, serve pizza, and even jump rope at recess. The preK-8 Old Trail School in Bath, Ohio, hosts an annual “dads dinner,” an evening to socialize over a meal and learn about ways to get involved at school. Many fathers even sign up at the event to assist with the school’s annual golf outing, which supports a financial aid fund for needy students.
Get your feet wet. Seek out opportunities to volunteer for school-related activities that you and your child can enjoy together. For Phil Ostrom, a dad at Old Trail, that meant getting into the school pool and helping out with son Duncan’s swimming lessons.
Assist in the classroom. If you want to appreciate the challenges that teachers have on a daily basis, Dean Carmichael, another Old Trail dad, recommends going into the trenches—even if only for a day. Carmichael helps out in his daughter’s kindergarten class every Tuesday, doing everything from cutting and pasting to assisting with math projects to tearing down bulletin boards.
Any role you take on or time you invest to become more involved in your child’s education is time well-spent. And even if it doesn’t always occur directly alongside your child or within his classroom, Phil Ostrom will tell you from experience that it matters just the same; your child is watching and learning from you. For the past four years, Ostrom has volunteered at his school’s spring fling, grilling hamburgers and hot dogs. “Duncan does not do that with me,” he says, “but this year he said, ‘Dad, are we grilling again this year?’ ”