Using Children's Books with Dads

The creative literacy programs of Head Start have the potential to transform a child's literacy development rate.  Parents and early literacy specialists will enjoy this interview with the program manager of Mother Goose Programs, who provides an explanation of the Especially for Dads program that helps fathers connect with children through literature.  Exploring the 11 books together, having conversations, and asking questions are easy strategies for promoting early language and literacy development.  A list of the books used in this three-day program also is included.

The following is an excerpt from ...
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Adam Rosen is Program Manager of Mother Goose Programs, which is a non-profit organization affiliated with the Library of Congress. Mother Goose Programs enhance the development, self-esteem, and success of children by building the skills and confidence of parents, librarians, and educators through the use of picture books, training, and activity guides. Adam was interviewed for the Head Start Bulletin about a family literacy program, Especially for Dads, that has been implemented in early childhood programs including Head Start.

Q: What is Especially for Dads?
This is a book-based program designed to help fathers and other male caregivers connect with children. Recently, I led the program at Rutland County Head Start, VT, as part of their father involvement effort. The group met for three evenings; it was free and dinner was provided. I used the Especially for Dads father-friendly picture books and handson activities to help teach the men how to read with young children, even babies and toddlers. The emphasis was on exploring the book's ideas together, having conversations, and asking questions—all the necessary ingredients for promoting early language and literacy development. The dads were given 11 picture books to keep (see sidebar) and an activity guide.

During these sessions, the men also discussed their own childhood experiences of being read to, or not. Research shows that adults who were not read to as children are less likely to read to their own children. And there is very compelling research indicating that children who are read to are more likely to become readers.

Q: How did the Head Start dads react to the program?
They were so enthusiastic. They experienced the pleasure of reading with their children and being involved. As one father said, "Especially for Dads has not just given me lots of different ways to read the books but also has given me lots of activities related to books that my kids and I can do together." But the message the fathers came away with was even broader—they learned about the unique role they can play in their child's development. Another father said, "The book program really teaches a dad through reading that he is very important in his child's life." Of course, believing that you as a dad contribute to your child's development is a goal of male involvement efforts in Head Start programs!

One dad came to each session with his 8-year-old. In this family, the father and his oldest son share the important job of reading to the younger siblings. It was great to have both of them there, because they both wanted the practice reading the books and to talk about activities that can accompany book reading.

After the literacy program, some of the dads decided to volunteer in Head Start classrooms. They found that they really loved reading to children.

Q: How do Head Start staff react to this program?
I think the literacy program for dads, coupled with staff training, can be important ways to support the fatherhood initiative in Head Start programs.

I did a one-day workshop with the Rutland County Head Start classroom staff, which got them all very excited about engaging dads as literacy partners. One staff person planned to take the books out on home visits and show the dads how to read them and do the follow- up activities. Another staff member said, "The presentation made me think about dads and how important "Dad and Me" time is for kids."

Q: What kinds of books are used in the program?
The 11 books I used with the Head Start dads are interesting and stimulating to read. They engage the reader, just as good adult literature does. In addition, the books have these features:

  • Positive male role models
  • Ethnic and racial diversity
  • Rich illustrations
  • Familiar themes about independence, relationships, and the wide world

For example, Sam Who Never Forgets stimulates discussion about being a provider and remembering to do the important things in a child's life. We provide fiction and non-fiction books because research shows that males of all ages tend to be more interested in non-fiction. So the books include stories about animals and the night sky—topics that fathers might be interested in and discuss with their youngsters. One book, Pablo's Tree, had a special appeal for some of the Head Start dads who were either adopted themselves or had adopted children. The story is about an adopted child who plants a tree with her grandfather. Plus, the Rutland area is fairly rural, so planting is a familiar activity.

Q: Do moms and dads have different approaches to using books with their children?
The themes that fathers identify with in books are somewhat different because their styles, attitudes, and experiences are different. Dads tend to be more willing to let their children take risks and exhibit independence. They seem to encourage children to solve problems on their own, whereas mothers will step in and mediate or redirect. So the books that dads prefer may be different from the ones moms prefer. Dads also like to explain how things work and may use scientific terms and words the child has not heard before. So it's especially important in a literacy program to choose father-friendly books that will draw upon dads' experiences and strengths. Men will gain confidence as parents and as readers if the materials are a good match. As they read stories about children's adventures and problem-solving feats, dads often reminisce about their own childhood. Their children love to hear about "When I was a boy…"

Q: Any advice for Head Start programs that want to encourage dads to read to their children?
The best way to support literacy in a family is to give family members books that they can use at home. Let them know they can read the books over and over again.

When Head Start programs put books in a father's' hands, they're sending the message: "Reading to your child is important and you can do it!"

Background information was taken from the newspaper article, "A new story: Dads reading to children," by Seth Harkness, Rutland Herald, October 8, 2003.

Adam Rosen is Program Manager, Mother Goose Programs, Vermont Center for the Book, Chester, VT. T: 802-875-2751 x 109; E:



Wee Willie Winkie and Other Rhymes

Iona Opie

I Went Walking

Julie Vivas

The Adventures of Sparrowboy

Brian Pinkney

Down the Road

Alice Schertle

Sam Who Never Forgets

Eve Rice

Pablo's Tree

Pat Mora

10 Minutes till Bedtime

Peggy Rathmann

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest

Steve Jenkins

Albert's Alphabet

Leslie Tryon

How Many Stars in the Sky?

Lenny Hort

Flower Garden

Eve Bunting

Taxi, Taxi

Cari Best

"Using Children's Books with Dads." Father Involvement—Building Strong Programs for Strong Families. Head Start Bulletin #77. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2004. English.

Last Reviewed: September 2009

Last Updated: August 11, 2015