* Photo: Rebecca Lupton (www.rebeccalupton.co.uk)
I can remember the words to this day.
Aged seven-years old, sat with my grandfather in his front room, he would sip his tea and recite the poems he learnt at school to me.
Rudyard Kipling’s If was Granddad Harry’s particular favourite:
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run …”
I may have preferred Tiswas to Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade at the time, but it clearly had an impact.
I was lucky. Harry had a love of words and shared his passion with me from an early age – a tradition I now try to maintain with my own two daughters, aged four and eight respectively.
The fourth annual Fathers’ Story Week, starting today and running until Father’s Day this weekend, highlights the importance of male role models in getting kids to read.
So are dads (or granddads) better at story time than mums?
Dr Emyr Williams, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Glyndwr University in North Wales, believes that fathers can have more impact on a child’s fledgling grasp of literacy.
In a preschool world dominated by female figures, dads are different – hence they exert more potential to influence social learning. He explains:
“One of the ways in which children learn and develop is through mimicking and copying their role models.”
The role of father figures is, he says, particularly important to encourage boys to read independently, a group that traditionally looses interest in reading faster than girls.
“Fathers, grandfathers and other male relatives have the opportunity to change the path of literacy for young boys by encouraging a deep appreciation of literature established within a well-developed internal working model of seeing their hero read,” adds Dr Williams.
The importance of reading to young children has been well documented in recent years. Less well established, however, is how crucial the role of dads can be.
Recently, on Telegraph Men, Harry de Quetteville described story time as, “a humdrum yet powerful moment of communion between father and child, a moment when a bond of learning and trust is built.”
Michael Rosen, the former Children’s Laureate and campaigner for children’s literacy, used a recent appearance at the Hay Festival to slam Government education policy for a fixation with the mechanics of reading, rather than fostering the enjoyment of reading for pleasure.
He said: “We constantly live with governments who concentrate on all these narrow aspects of reading, and not of interpretation and understanding.”
It’s a subject on which The Fatherhood Institute, a fatherhood think-tank focused on policy, research and practice, goes further.
“Evidence suggests that when dads do bedtime stories well, they can have more impact,” says Joint CEO Adrienne Burgess.
“Mums tend to stick to the script but dads talks round the story, respond to the child and ask more questions.”
“Mums could reflect and learn from that,” she adds.
Recent research compiled by the Fatherhood Institute highlights the importance of fathers to their children’s learning and development. It found, for example, that preschoolers whose dads read to them a lot behave and concentrate better at nursery, and do better in maths.
At age five, these children know and use more words, can pick out letters more accurately, and are better at problem solving. By age ten, their vocabulary is wider and their numeracy skills are better, too.
“Dads tend to have higher aspirations for their children. If they can harness that forward aspiration for reading, by demonstrating a passion for words, or being a more theatrical story teller, they set a very strong example,” says Burgess.
As a single dad, bedtime stories have always been a special bonding time for my children and myself.
At bedtime this week we’ll be turning pages as usual. We’ve polished off a couple of Roald Dahl books in the last month. Charlotte’s Web was a big hit. And, while The Secret Garden is slow going, an iPad poetry app featuring Kipling and Edward Lear is proving a grower.
I may not be necessarily better at story time, but I’d like to think I’m more passionate about it.
And that, Granddad Harry would be proud of that.
Do you agree with the ideas in this article? Post your views below.
* More from more from www.fathersstoryweek.org
* This story was first published at Telegraph Men under the headline, Are Fathers Better at Bedtime Stories than Mothers?