Study shows fathers can help their children achieve in school by spending time with them

Study shows fathers can help their children achieve in school by spending time with them

A British study shows that fathers’ involvement has a positive influence on their children’s school achievement regardless of the child’s sex, ethnicity, age in the school year, and household name.

Research carried out at the University of Leeds has found that fathers can give their children an educational advantage at primary school by reading, singing, drawing, and playing with them on a regular basis, according to the U.K. study published on September 20.

The father-focused study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and led by Dr. Helen Norman, Research Fellow at Leeds University Business School, in collaboration with co-author Dr. Jeremy Davies, Head of Impact and Communications at the Fatherhood Institute, and co-investigators at the University of Manchester.

The longitudinal analysis in England explored the relationship between fathers’ childcare involvement and their children’s attainment at primary school.

Analyzing primary school test scores for five-, seven-, and eleven-year-olds, the researchers used a representative sample of nearly 5,000 mother-father households in England from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS). The MCS collected data on children born in 2000-02.

Quoted on the UK Data Service website, Professor Emla Fitzsimons, director of the MCS, said, “The Millennium Cohort Study has been tracking the lives of thousands of people since they were babies and is uniquely placed to help researchers better understand Gen Z and the influences on different spheres of their lives now, including their mental and physical health, their intellectual development, and relationships.”

Dr. Helen Norman said, “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. This is why encouraging and supporting fathers to share childcare with the mother, from an early stage in the child’s life, is critical. Dads’ involvement impacted positively on their children’s school achievement regardless of the child’s gender, ethnicity, age in the school year and household income.”

“Our analysis has shown that fathers have an important, direct impact on their children’s learning. We should be recognizing this and actively finding ways to support dads to play their part, rather than engaging only with mothers, or taking a gender-neutral approach,” said Dr. Jeremy Davies.

According to data from the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS), “one in nine [fathers] report their job as being a stay-at-home dad – a rise of 34 per cent in just three years.”

In a similar study in Japan, researchers from Doshisha University and Kyoto University found that children with highly involved fathers had a lower risk of developmental delays and thus fathers positively influenced a child’s physical and cognitive development.

The findings, published in Pediatric Research on July 8, 2023, analyzed birth cohort data from the Japan Environment and Children’s Study, an ongoing project examining how the environment impacts children’s health. Out of a sample size of 28,050 children, the Japanese researchers looked at the level of a father’s involvement in childcare when the children were six months old and the risk of developmental delays at the age of three years.

According to Asian Scientist Magazine: “For all indicators tested, children with highly involved fathers were less likely to be developmentally delayed. These indicators included communication, social skills, and motor skills. The biggest difference was noticed in the case of gross motor skills which involves actions like jumping in place or pedalling a tricycle. This shows that the father-child relationship plays a significant role in physical development.”

“Our research findings indicate that increased paternal engagement in childcare could yield advantages for both children and mothers alike,” said Tsuguhiko Kato, a public health researcher and the study’s author.

The research led by University of Leeds recommended that dads should carve out as much time as they can to engage in interactive activities with their children each week. For busy, working dads, even just ten minutes a day could potentially have educational benefits.