My kids just got out of school for the summer. As we embark on summer vacation, I’ve tried to reflect on the past year of my kids’ schooling and determine the steps my wife and I can take to keep them excited about learning during the summer months. A key focus of this reflection period for me is addressing what I can do specifically as a father to be involved in my kids’ ongoing journey of education and learning.
I’m always using sports analogies (to a fault probably) and I like to think of my family as a team. As dad and team co-captain (along with my wife), I need to know what position I can play to put my family/team in the best position to win. My daughters are aged 12, 8, 6 and 3, so they’re in quite different phases of their educational journeys. Therefore, I need to engage with each of my kids differently. Here’s how I personally try to add customized educational value for each of my kids.
Cora (3 years old): Cora is heading into preschool this fall. At this point, it’s simply about feeding her ever-growing curiosity. Her pace of learning new things is mind-boggling. If I’m wearing a t-shirt with words on it (which I often am), Cora wants to break down each letter and trace the letters with her finger. She wants to read certain books over and over again. She wants to discuss what’s going on in the pictures. If the words she’s hearing do not match up with the visuals, Cora wants to take the author to task. With Cora, a father’s role in education is to be a patient partner in her curiosity.
Lilian (6 years old): This fall, Lilian heads into 1st grade after a very successful kindergarten year. We’re lucky because she had a great teacher. This educator is a veteran who hasn’t lost a single ounce of enthusiasm for her classroom.
In my opinion, one of the most beautiful things in the world is watching the process of my child turning into a reader. When going through this transition, kids have a really fun swagger about them. They want to consume everything they can get their hands on and show the world their newfound way with words. It was so much fun to see my daughter Lilian go through this recently. At this stage, my role as her dad is to read, read and read some more. Going back to my sports analogies, it’s like she found her jump shot and wants to be in the gym at all hours getting up shot after shot. My job is to be her rebounder: chasing any missed shots and feeding her as many reps as possible.
Sadie (8 years old): My daughter Sadie heads into 3rd grade this fall. This is a crucial age in the educational journey – especially for girls. In our 2nd grade classroom this year, we started to get into a lot of the boy/girl stuff that springs to life at this age. With this comes some of the gender role concepts that are pushed by our society. In terms of Sadie’s educational journey, this manifested itself with some of the “I’m not good at math” rhetoric that can come at this stage. It’s even more disheartening because Sadie is wildly talented at mathematics and has been since she was a very little girl.
With Sadie, I find my role as dad is to be her most persistent and vocal cheerleader. I do my best to guide her past any dynamics that make her think she has to like certain things and not like others. I try to have a strong presence at her school and encourage her constantly about her prowess in math and science. Again, we’re lucky that Sadie’s 2nd grade teacher is the best in the business and has been a great partner.
Ella (12 years old): My first-born daughter Ella heads into 8th grade this fall. One more year before high school! Sheesh. Ella is a great student and she also has a profound love of dance. She participates in some kind of dance class nearly every day of the week. She often has weekend-long “conventions” that eat up her Saturdays and Sundays. I joke that my wife and I are “Dance Moms” but that’s probably less of a joke than I’d like to admit.
Ella is in a fantastic middle school with engaged teachers and small classes. For better or worse, we’re in a community where 8th graders are probably already starting to think about college and performance is important to them. On some weeknights, Ella comes home from dance, hasn’t eaten dinner and still has an hour or so of homework to do. On the worst of those nights, she’ll meltdown. She’s 12 and 12-year-olds are too young to be able to productively navigate dealing with stress and being overwhelmed.
At this critical stage in Ella’s educational journey, I found that I’m most helpful in trying to help her put the journey into perspective and to see the big picture. As anyone with a middle school student knows, this is easier said than done. In a world where society wants our kids to grow up fast and be specialists before they’re old enough to know what that word means, I fight to try and give her comfort in all of the madness. Dropping that extra dance class isn’t the end of the world. Telling your teacher that you’re drowning isn’t what “dumb kids” do; it’s what smart kids do.
While my kids are at different stages in their educational journeys, it is important for me to be supportive and help foster creativity along the way. After all, a father’s role in education changes and grows along with his kids. Remember, dads are Chief Education Officers (CEOs) too!
How do you help encourage your child to develop a lifestyle of learning? Tell us in the comments below!