As new research shows one in three dads don't encourage their kids to read, the National Literacy Trust tells Lisa Salmon why it's so important that more fathers enjoy books with their children

By Lisa Salmon

Reading with children can be a positive experience for both parents and kids - yet it seems to be a job that many dads delegate to mums.

New research from the National Literacy Trust has found that far fewer dads than mums encourage their children to read (66.3% compared to 82.6%), and one in three fathers gives no reading encouragement to their children at all.

What's more, results from the charity's annual survey showed that while children who see their parents reading think more positively about reading than those who don't, a third of dads (32.9%) are never seen with a book in their hand, compared with one in seven mums (14.9%).

This is a worsening trend, as two years ago only one in four dads (24.9%) was never seen reading by their children.

The Trust's campaign for parents, Words for Life, is calling for more dads to get involved with their children's reading, as the research also found that children who are encouraged to read by their parents achieve higher reading levels at school.

Conversely, below average readers are four times more likely to say their dad doesn't encourage them to read.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, says: "It's old-fashioned to think that encouraging reading is just down to mothers.

"Children learn behaviours from both parents, and boys in particular benefit from male role models."

He points out that the role of fathers in encouraging communication and literacy development in their babies and young children is set to become even more important under the new system of flexible parental leave being introduced in 2015. New mothers will be able to return to work two weeks after childbirth and share the rest of their maternity leave with their partner.

"With the forthcoming changes to parental leave, a father's role in their child's communication and literacy development is set to become of even greater importance," stresses Douglas.

Clare Bolton, Words for Life's campaign manager, acknowledges that many dads have such busy working lives that it can seem daunting to fit yet another thing in.

But she points out that if dads try to set aside a regular time to read with their children, or to listen to them read, it can help fit book time into the daily routine.

"Fathers can seize opportunities to read when they are out and about too," she says, "by asking their child to tick items off a shopping list at the supermarket, or to read road names as they pass by."

And it's not just reading with children, it's making sure the kids see their dad reading too, she stresses.

"Male role models are especially important for boys to develop good reading habits, and dads can play their part by letting their sons - and daughters - see them reading.

"It doesn't have to be a novel, it can be the newspaper or a magazine, but in copying their father's reading behaviour, children will gain confidence and enjoy reading too."

She adds: "Our research shows that children whose fathers are involved with their lives from early on are more likely to do well at school and be happier, more secure and have fewer behaviour problems.

"There are benefits for the dads too, in that not only will they improve their own literacy skills, but best of all they'll build a closer, warmer relationship with their children."

TV presenter Richard Madeley is supporting the call by Words for Life for dads to get involved with their children's reading, and he suggests that dads step up to the mark by reading a chapter a night to their kids, reading school books together, or even putting up their feet and making sure the kids see them reading a book or the newspaper.

"Dads can make a huge difference to their children's reading development, and there are lots of easy ways for them to get involved," he stresses.

"I started reading to my children when they were just babies, putting on the different voices and having fun with the stories. My kids have grown up to be big book fans and I think this was partly down to me enjoying books with them from an early age."

:: Dads can find ideas for simple activities they can do with their children to help them develop better literacy skills at Ask the expert Q: "My seven-year-old son doesn't drink very much at home, and I'm not sure he drinks anything while he's at school. Do I need to encourage him to drink more even if he's not thirsty, and if so, why?"

A: Dr Caroline Edmonds, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of East London, has just led a study into how water supplementation affects schoolchildren's ability in key classroom activities.

She says: "The short answer to your question is yes, it probably is a good idea to encourage your son to drink more.

"Our studies have shown that drinking water helps children to perform better on tasks that use attention, memory and motor skills. Other studies have shown that dehydration in children is bad for memory. These processes are important for learning, therefore it's important that children are well hydrated at school.

"Guidelines from the European Food Safety Authority suggest that four- to eight-year-old children should drink around a litre and a half of liquid a day.

"However, it seems that many British schoolchildren might not be meeting these targets. A recent study found that 60% of nine- to 11-year-olds arrive at school dehydrated.

"Scientists from the British Nutrition Foundation have got together with the Natural Hydration Council to develop a Children's Healthy Hydration Glass to help parents work out what's best for children to drink. Water tops the list, because it's calorie-free and sugar-free."

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