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Strategies for Getting Fathers Involved with Preschool

By Sylvia Cochran

It is a well known fact that parental involvement at the high school level spells the difference between keeping kids in school and having them drop out. However, it is just as important for parents to be involved in their child's education from an early age; and Dads are just as important as Moms.

The Call for Parental Involvement

There is no shortness of opportunities when it comes to parental involvement in the schools. Moms are routinely tapped on the shoulders during fundraisers, which must be balanced to avoid parents who actually take over. Parent involvement in education at the high school level is frequently fostered through workable suggestions for the mom or dad, who understands the need for involvement -- but at the same time wants to give the kids some space.

That being said, getting parents into preschool – and fathers, in particular – is less often discussed. Although there, too, are copious opportunities for involvement, they are not that often addressed with parents. If they are, they are usually addressed to the moms, who might be the primary contact for the teacher simply because they are the ones dropping off and picking up the kids. Is it possible that this develops into a hands-off involvement trend, which dads follow throughout their children’s school careers?

Father Involvement

Strategies to get dads involved must identify the barriers that thus far separate them from the experience. At this stage, there are three likely reasons why more moms, rather than dads, get involved:

  1. Teachers communicate with the “visible” parent rather than seeking to communicate with both parents
  2. Tasks oftentimes focus on supposed gender specific tasks, such as baking, cleaning, or assistance with children’s snack times
  3. Dads, who fail to attend informative meetings scheduled during working hours, are automatically disqualified in favor of the parents, usually moms, who attended

In his text “Getting Men Involved: Strategies for Early Childhood Programs,” author James Levine suggests that dads’ parental participation in the preschool process may be heightened by moving away from gender stereotyping done by teachers and school administrators. This enables teachers and dads to work together in the kind of classroom environment that is still traditionally considered the woman’s teaching domain.

It is interesting to note that teachers must learn sensitivity when it comes to ferreting out a dad’s fears of helping out with the children at this level, and also making the volunteer opportunities father friendly to such an extent that dads serve side by side with other dads, which in turn creates a natural environment that furthers men’s involvement in the school setting.

In her paper on heightening the professional status of early childhood teachers, author Rena Shimoni unwittingly names the singular most important practical strategy to get dads involved: humility. Rather than recognizing that by virtue of professional training the teacher is equipped to “know better” than the parent, it is a wise choice to partner with the parent. This requires preschool teachers to get to know their children’s parents, especially the dads, and learn how to draw them in on an individual basis.

Setting up “dads only” days or luring dads into the kitchens by asking the children to have a special daddy & me bake-off are only two suggestions, but they are an excellent starting point to help dads recognize the importance of parents in preschool. With determination and a bit of luck, these dads will remain involved in their children’s education all the way through elementary, middle, and high school.

Sources

  • Getting Men Involved: Strategies for Early Childhood Programs: http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED388399&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED388399 (accessed May 30, 2011)
  • Professionalization and Parent Involvement in Early Childhood Education: Complementary or Conflicting Strategies: http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED335111&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED335111 (accessed May 30, 2011)