Dr. Dad


Educating Our Children

As September approaches and summer draws to an end, parents begin to prepare their children (and themselves) for school. I can still remember my son's first day at kindergarten, nine years ago. Taking him to school, my wife and I were nervous as we reassured him that school would be fun. We often referred to Sesame Street and how Big Bird was afraid on the first day of school, too. We were proud as well as anxious about this important beginning and transition. All the parents escorted their children to the class, which would be in session from eight to twelve o'clock. The room was brightly decorated with craft projects, a large alphabet around the top of the ceiling, art easels, a box of puppets and dress-up clothes. It really felt upbeat and fun! Then the parents went for coffee and tea with the principal in an assigned room. The principal reassured us that in his fifteen years of being the principal of this school, every single parent had made it through the first day just fine.

Participating in school activities with my children, escorting field trips, being a room parent, being a helper in the class and assisting with school fairs and fund raising have been rich experiences for me as a father. They have helped me to feel as though I were a part of a community and have introduced me to many new friends I would not have met otherwise.

Aside from my eighth grade, high school and college graduations, I never saw my father or any other father that I can remember at school activities. I think that helping out with my own children has helped me to heal some of my own loneliness and my longing for my father to show an interest in my activities. I also believe that my children have benefitted enormously from my participation. School and all the activities associated with it take up an enormous amount of every child's life. The interest that you show in what is a major part of their lives and which also causes them worry and fear, comforts them by showing them that you care.

Participating in my children's school has let them know that I value their education, that school is important and that I make it a priority in my life. It has been reassuring for them to have a father who is familiar with the children in their class, and I believe that it has allowed them to feel more comfortable in school. I feel that my involvement in the early years helped my children to feel more confident in school. Research in the field of child development shows that there is a correlation between fathers' involvement in their children's education and their children's academic and social development.

I have been very fortunate to have had the experience of being able to play an active role in my children's education. Many other fathers I know would like to be more involved but are prevented from doing so. For various reasons, fathers cannot always do all the things that they would like to do for their children. Many questions arise: where can sacrifices be made, what tradeoffs can be made and how much money can be given up for the time that can be gained? If parents work less and participate more in their children's early years, how does that affect their ability to save for their children's college years or provide their own needs later in life?

I have found that it is simple to say that fathers should be more involved in their children's education, but many people have difficulty arranging this. I am sure that all of the men who attend my programs for fathers would like to be able to spend more time with their children, especially in terms of involvement with their children's education. It appears to me that parents' economic classes determine how much or how little they can be involved directly with their children. Self-employed professionals seem to have more flexibility than blue collar workers or company employees. Parents in management or ownership positions seem to be able to create more flexible hours. Society in general tends to discount fathers' interest in their children and to pay little attention to the difficulties that they may have in balancing their work lives and their home lives.

As parents get ready to send their children off to their various schools, they should look for ways to get involved with their children's education. Perhaps the limited definition of education in this society should be expanded. In all daily interactions there are opportunities for children to learn many of the important lessons of life. I believe in this principle on a very personal level. Fairness and patience are themes that we stress at our house. Honesty and respect are not just values that my wife and I believe in, but values we practice through actions and discussion with our family and friends.

Parents today have many opportunities to participate in their children's education. Supporting children in their school work and formal education is certainly an important area. There are many opportunities in day-to-day life for parents to share their knowledge and to educate their children. Reading to your child at night, going to movies and plays, looking at the newspaper together are always to bring stimulating discussions into you and your child's relationship. Parents have many unique experiences and interests, all of which can enrich their children's lives. No matter how busy their schedules are, parents need to rearrange them to allow some time each day to be with their children and to be their children's guides and mentors. Time can pass very quickly. Tomorrow goes by too soon, and toddlers are teens in the blink of an eye. Today is when parents have to start, and now is the best time of all. One of the most important things that parents can teach their children is how valuable they are, by making time for them each day, and this lesson is something that they will pass on to their children.

For Further self-reflection and discussion:

1. How do you help prepare your child "emotionally" for school?
2. What will you do so "learning" takes place at home and school?
3. How can you make learning "fun," an enjoyable experience for your child no matter what their age?

© 2008 Dr. Bruce Linton

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The kind of man who thinks that heping with the dishes is beneath him will also think that helping with the baby is beneath him, and then he certainly is not going to be a very successful father. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Dr. Bruce Linton is the founder and director of the Fathers' Forum in Berkeley, CA. In his weekly columns he share his expereinces and insights gained from his work with fathers in his groups, classes and clinical work. He explores how parenting and fatherhood effects us as men. Bruce is a Marriage and Family Therapists and recieved his doctorate for his research into men's development as fathers. He is the father of two children. Dr. Linton is the author of Finding Time for Fatherhood: Men's concerns as parents. Visit Fathers' Forum

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