Ask DadPad, Parenting Advice

Ask DadPad: Why should dads read with their children every day?

Posted on 14th April 2023

Our most recent blog post – Why should I read books to my baby and child? – looked at three key reasons why dads reading together with their little ones from an early stage is such an important thing to do. As identified by The Book Trust, these were:

  • Reading together is great for bonding and building a strong and loving relationship with your child;
  • The routine of sharing stories and rhymes helps your child to communicate and will support their wellbeing; and
  • Children who are read to from an early age do better when they get to school – learning rhymes and stories together will give them a flying start!

You can find out more on each of these points by reading our earlier blog.  Today, though, we’re going to focus in more detail on the latter point – on the ways in which dads’ positive involvement with their children during their formative years, including reading together, can have a real, positive and measurable impact on their children’s academic attainment at school.

The FRED Programme

FRED – which stands for ‘Fathers Reading Every Day’ – is “a simple, effective and sustainable intervention” from the Fatherhood Institute that aims to get dads reading to their children in order to help improve the educational outcomes and wellbeing of those children.  It’s a “reading-for-pleasure programme” that originated in the US and which encourages dads to spend 15 minutes a day reading with their children in the first two weeks, and then 30 minutes reading together in the second two weeks. The hope is that, after the completion of those four weeks, the family will have learnt new positive habits around reading together, which will continue throughout childhood and beyond.

The Fatherhood Institute team are training people in schools, early years settings, libraries and other places on how to engage effectively with dads and to run the FRED Programme.

Why does this matter?

To find out a bit more about the FRED Programme, we spoke with Dr Jeremy Davies, Head of Impact and Communications at the Fatherhood Institute. He told us:

We know that fathers tend to be less involved than mothers in providing educational support, and schools and early years services tend not to include fathers in support aimed at creating positive home-learning environments… 

[However,] fathers’ involvement has uniquely important impacts on children’s attainment at age 5 (and beyond), and reading is one of the key activities through which this impact flows.

Jeremy, and the team at the Fatherhood Institute, are also involved as co-investigators in the PIECE Study, which is examining Parental Involvement and its Effects on Children’s Education.  The study group is currently in the final stages of looking at “the relationship between fathers’ childcare involvement and their children’s attainment at primary school… [exploring] whether, how and at what stage fathers’ childcare involvement affects children’s attainment at primary school.” We’ll have more about the final outcomes of the research paper later in the year but, for now, it’s useful to look at some of the key findings that have been published in their interim blog posts, including that:

  • fathers have a unique impact on their children’s academic achievements in the early stages of school;
  • fathers’ childcare engagement had a positive effect on children’s overall attainment in the EYSFP at age five – over and above the mothers’ childcare engagement;
  • that positive effect occurred regardless of the child’s gender, ethnicity or age in the school year, whether or not they had attended a formal pre-school childcare setting, their parents’ employment status and/or their household income; and
  • mothers’ childcare engagement supports the child in different ways (including improving their prosocial behaviour – that is, the child’s ability to help others, demonstrate an awareness of others’ needs, etc – and reducing emotional behaviour and hyperactivity), so the involvement of both parents does matter, but in different ways.

The barriers which dads face

Parentkind – an organisation which aims to support parents in education, and PTAs (Parent-Teacher Associations in schools) – carries out annual parent surveys and, in 2021, discovered that 85% of parents want to have an active role in the education of their children, which is great news in the light of the above findings.

However, the survey also identified the main barriers which parents identify as preventing them from getting as involved as they might want to, including:

  • not having the time;
  • not being sure of the skills and knowledge that they can offer;
  • not being asked; and
  • feeling intimidated.

Other parents facing barriers to their involvement include those who work long and inflexible hours (and this will, of course, include many dads), those from low-income households where financial and logistical limitations might prevent them from being able to travel to events and activities, and those who are not living in the same household as their children and might not be included in school-to-home communications. Add to this the still all-too-common gender role preconceptions, which mean that many schools are still treating mum as the main or even sole point of contact, and it’s not surprising that the Millennium Cohort Study found that “about double the proportion of mums participated in school activities when the child was aged 7 compared to dads.”

This is all also potentially a further, extended example of the effect of having traditionally excluding dads and men from the perinatal period, with mums-to-be and new mums traditionally expected to take the lead in terms of all things baby- and child-care related. We know, though, that the majority of men today no longer want to be excluded from hands-on involvement in raising their babies, toddlers and children to adulthood, and we also know that, for those who are able to get actively involved and bonded, the outcomes for all are incredibly positive.

The PIECE study has also found really positive results from dads getting involved with reading with their children. Jeremy Davies explained:

Three-fifths (60%) of children whose fathers read to them regularly reached a good level of overall achievement in the EYFSP [Early Years Foundation Stage Profile – a series of assessments of children’s development and learning which takes place at the end of the reception year (their first year) at primary school], compared to just two-fifths (38%) of children whose dads rarely did this…

So there’s a lot more we could be doing to help improve children’s outcomes, by doing more to get dads involved and help them understand how vital their involvement is.

That’s where FRED comes in, offering schools/settings a model for engaging effectively with fathers and father-figures… [which helps] plug this ‘father gap’ in schools’/settings’ parental engagement – harnessing fathers’ potential to collaborate in developing their children’s school readiness.

The impact of FRED

The good news is that an early evaluation of the Programme in 2016 found some really positive outcomes with regard to children in the FRED cohort (i.e. children whose fathers had signed up to take part in the Programme in one of the participating settings) in 2013/14, including that:

  • More than 90% of the FRED children exceeded or achieved expected levels of attainment in the four outcome measures considered – i.e. reading/literacy, listening and attention, managing feelings and behaviours, and making relationships – exceeding national and local authority averages for their gender on all occasions;
  • Gender differences between the achievements of the FRED children were minimal, unlike the national and local authority averages, where girls are significantly outperforming boys;
  • Boys from the FRED cohort actually outperformed girls in two outcome measures: reading/literacy and making relationships; and
  • Boys from the FRED cohort significantly outperformed their local authority average and the national average in all four outcome measures:
    • Reading/literacy – with 91.67% achieving or exceeding their expected progress, compared with a local authority average of 59.5% and a national average of 65%;
    • Listening and attention – 90.2% compared with a local authority average of 73.5% and a national average of 74%;
    • Managing feelings and behaviour – 92.15% compared with a local authority average of 73.5% and a national average of 77%; and
    • Making relationships – 94.12% average compared with a local authority average of 78.5% and a national average of 80%.

With results such as these – plus all the other research evidence over the years which shows all the ‘good stuff’ that flows from having a positively-involved, securely-attached and hands-on dad – the case seems clear that schools and early years settings should be seeking as many opportunities as they can (just as we continue to encourage perinatal professionals to do the same) to build positive relationships with the fathers of the children that they care for and to actively engage them in all aspects of the children’s education and wellbeing.

As commented by Norman et al:

…this is not just a case of being nice to dads.  It is about recognising fathers’ unique impact, maximising the benefits this can bring and truly involving fathers in the education of their children. Not only might that take some of the pressure off mothers, but the evidence shows that our young people and their life chances could see a real boost.

Get reading every day!

Aside from all of this, though, the evidence remains clear that – as a new dad yourself – the more time that you put in to interacting with your child(ren), the better the outcome will be for them.  We’ll end with a quote from another PIECE Study blog, where they note their finding that:

…a higher proportion of children reached a good level of overall achievement in the EYFSP when dads engaged regularly in activities such as drawing and painting, playing games and reading with their children.

So what’s stopping you? Grab a book (check out our list of recommendations if you’re lacking in inspiration) from your local library, charity shop or book store and set aside some time this evening to read it with your little one.  Fifteen minutes a day is all it takes…


References and further reading:

The Book Trust (undated). Reading with your child: 0-12 months. [downloadable online]

Fatherhood Institute (undated). Fathers Reading Every Day Training. [online]

Fatherhood Institute (2016). Fathers Reading Every Day: an outcome evaluation. [online]

Norman, H et al (undated). “What difference does ‘time with dad’ make to children’s learning?”, via [online]

Norman, H et al (2022). “What a difference a dad makes: engaging with fathers as well as mothers”, via [online]

Children & Young People Now (2014). Dads’ reading programme boosts children’s literacy and numeracy. 11-24 Nov 2014. pp30-31. [online]


And, if you want to learn more about some of the topics touched on in this blog, you might like to check out some of our other DadPad blogs:

Reading with your baby and child:

Dads’ unique role as a parent:

How better engaging dads brings benefits to mums: