Down To Earth Dad

Fall Fatherhood Goals

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As the school year gets underway, it's a good time to assess progress toward father-involvement goals. Are you getting men more involved? If not, it's time to step back and brainstorm, and come up with a fresh plan for the school year. Let this be your credo with respect to father involvement: You can always start again!

Head Start educators know the value of a father-involvement "reboot." They'll tweak (and re-tweak) their plans frequently because the children they serve are ages 3-5, so most families move on within 24 months. As new dads and grandpas emerge, so do opportunities to try new approaches.

Elementary schools, on the other hand, sometimes seek longer-term plug-and-play plans for father involvement. They'll do simple high-visibility things each year, like a Dads and Donuts day or an Ice Cream Social evening featuring dads wearing chef hats and serving ice cream and toppings to all the families. Those events are entirely valid forms of male involvement that serve schools well.

Early childhood program directors often contact me for mid-fall guidance on how to correct existing father-involvement plans or to jump-start new ones. They're aware of the increased risk for negative outcomes when fathers aren't involved, and they're eager to assuage those negatives by supplanting new ideas and approaches that maximize the benefits of father involvement. They push for enhanced male involvement all year long because they know children's lives are enriched cognitively, socially, and emotionally when fathers are around.

Are you looking for ways to kick-start father involvement anew? Try attaching a father-involvement goal to some other goal, and seek to kill two birds with one stone. This sometimes helps staff un-freeze their thinking about what father involvement should look like. For instance, I've encouraged many preschools to invite dads and grandpas to eat lunch at school and have the men read or tell stories to the children. This kills two birds with one stone: Children see (and hear) men involved, and children's early literacy is enhanced. It's that one-two punch that you're looking for.

Following are three steps to successfully combine father-involvement goals with other program goals to optimize results:

Step 1: Pick a goal that has nothing to do with father involvement, per se. Do you aspire to enhance early literacy? Do you wish to have a barbecue with lots of games to play? Do you want to put in a garden or build a shed? Gather together a few staff members and have a brainstorming session on exactly what you want to accomplish, then consider how you'll weave the men into your plans.

Step 2: Make a list of all the tasks required to bring the event to life. For example, having a barbecue for families involves setting up the grill (that takes one dad), flipping burgers (three dads), pouring water or juice during the event (one dad), picking up plates (one dad), putting ketchup on burgers (one dad), putting mustard on burgers (one dad), putting pickles on burgers (one dad), and so on. You can attach the need for the presence of a dad to each task connected to your overall event goal. This works marvelously! Write all of these tasks down.

Step 3: Attach individual dad/ grandpa names to each and every task you listed in the previous step. By giving all the men a task, you are tapping into the reality that men like to think of themselves as problem solvers, and you'll get them motivated in no time flat--helping you "solve the problems" attached to your planned event.

You have what it takes to meet your goals (or make new ones), so roll up your sleeves and get to work. Remember, when it comes to father involvement, you can always start again!

A regular contributor to Children's Voice, Patrick Mitchell publishes a monthly newsletter, The Down to Earth Dad, and facilitates the National Dads Matter!(TM) Project for child- and family-serving organizations. He provides keynote addresses and trainings, and conducts Family Storytelling Night(TM) events for programs and schools. To reserve Patrick Mitchell for speaking engagements, or to implement the National Dads Matter!(TM) Project for your families and community partners, call him toll-free at 877-282-DADS, or e-mail him at patrick@downtoearthdad.org. Website: www.DownToEarthDad.org.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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