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Why playtime with fathers improves children's school performance

A new study highlights the importance of fathers' role as active parents and how it significantly improves children’s primary school performance

Children do better at primary school if their fathers regularly engage in interactive activities such as reading and playing, a new study finds.(Pexels)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 22.09.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

When fathers care for their children, there is a tendency to call it babysitting and not parenting. It’s a way of burdening the mothers and dismissing the father’s involvement. Several studies have highlighted a myriad of ways fathers’ active parenting impacts children’s well-being and growth. Now, a new study shows that fathers reading to and playing with their children significantly improves their primary school performance.

The study, led by the University of Leeds, found that children do better at primary school if their fathers regularly engage in interactive activities with them such as reading, playing, telling stories, drawing and singing.


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For the study, researchers analysed primary school test scores for five- and seven-year-olds along with a representative sample of nearly 5,000 mother-father households in England from the Millenium Cohort Study, the press statement by the University of Leeds explains. The findings showed that fathers who regularly played and read with their three-year-olds helped them perform better in school by age five. Furthermore, having a hands-on father at age five also led to improvement in seven-year-olds scores.

“Mothers still tend to assume the primary carer role and therefore tend to do the most childcare, but if fathers actively engage in childcare too, it significantly increases the likelihood of children getting better grades in primary school," lead author Helen Norman said in the statement. The findings emphasise how supportive fathers, who share childcare responsibilities with the mother, are important in their child’s life.

Notably, fathers’ involvement had a positive impact regardless of the child’s gender, ethnicity, age in the school year and household income, according to the study. This study shows that even fathers’ small actions in the early years can have a lasting impact on children's learning. Hence, the researchers recommend that dads take out as much time as possible to engage in interactive activities with their children each week. They also said that schools should note down both parents' contact details (where possible) and implement strategies to engage fathers more.

Previously, other studies have also highlighted the importance of fathers' engagement in children’s lives. A 2019 study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, found that fathers who spend time with their children have a stronger relationship with them, according to a press statement by the University of Georgia. Specifically, play activities and helping with child-related tasks were found to be important.

Another study, published in the journal Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science in 2011, revealed that children with fathers as active parents in early and middle childhood had fewer behaviour problems and higher intellectual abilities as they grew older, as reported by Science Daily.

The new study reiterates previous findings and highlights why it’s important for fathers to be active and hands-on parents.


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