A few weeks ago I signed up to start working with a mentoring group called Teen Dads. Its a program run by the county that I live in, and it supports young fathers 18 and under to develop the skills necessary to become better dads. Over the course of 4 workshops this month and next, I get to spend a few evenings with these dads and their young children. I had my first series of workshops last week, and I’ve got to tell you it was amazing. I feel like I gained more from them, than what I imparted. They were so hungry, so desirous of improving their practice as fathers. One evening I modeled a reading strategy and I read to my two daughters. As I read, watching their eyes I could tell that they themselves were into the book. They were just as engrossed as my daughters. Everyone loves a good read-aloud!
My favorite part though was watching the dads get to practice the strategy and read to their child, even the dad who read to his 3 week old baby. Sure some dads struggled with words, and we had a conversation about how to choose a book that would be comfortable for them, and how important practicing and re-reading would be so that they gained fluency. But each of them did it, and afterwards there was a glow in the room about what could be possible if their kids grew up being read to by their dads. What message would it send about the importance of learning to read, as a step towards reading to learn?
In that moment, I could see a different future for them and their kids. One where it didn’t matter that perhaps some of these dads didn’t finish high school, they were still able to impress upon their kids the importance of education by finishing their GED and instilling in their kids a love for learning. A future where that dreaded 30 million word gap that predominately plagues kids in our communities, doesn’t impact these father’s kids because they’re read to everyday. And when their kids walk into a school at pre-k or kindergarten, they’ve already been exposed to much of what they’ll need to know to be successful. And it all started because a dad decided to read to his kid daily, and made it fun.
This week the fathers have been given money to spend on child-related supplies. Many of the dads shared that they didn’t own any books to read to their child, so many were planning on buying one of the books that I shared with the group from my daughters’ library collection. I hope that when we reconvene next week dads show up with their books and babies, ready to read again.