Last reviewed 7 January 2015

Fathers today spend much more time with their young children than they did 30 years ago, and yet it can be a real challenge to involve fathers and other male carers in early years provisions and services. Elizabeth Walker looks at some methods of involving them.

Research shows that fathers play a crucial role in young children’s development and that the early years are particularly important. Children whose fathers are highly involved in their upbringing from their earliest years are more likely to succeed academically, be more stable emotionally and have a good parent–child relationship in adolescence, and are less likely to become involved in crime and other antisocial behaviours.

Barriers to involvement

Due to social and economic changes, fathers are now spending much more time caring for their children than in previous generations. Practitioners report that fathers and other male carers are increasingly seen dropping off and collecting their children, but dads are still reluctant to get involved in the provision.

The main barriers to father involvement in early years provisions include:

  • early years provisions being perceived as “female” spaces, with predominately female staff and mothers present, which can be intimidating to fathers and other male carers

  • fathers’ work commitments

  • staff’s lack of confidence and skills around engaging with men/fathers

  • society’s attitudes — childcare is seen primarily as women’s work

  • lack of opportunities for fathers to participate in activities in the provision which would appeal to them

  • poor communication with fathers both in person and in more formal communications such as letters, emails, posters, etc.

Getting fathers involved

Early years provisions can be seen as an intimidating female environment by many male carers, and practitioners need to consider how they can be more welcoming and engage with fathers in the following ways.

  • Ensure fathers’ names and contact details are included on registration forms.

  • Invitations for first meetings or home visits should include fathers and flexible times should be offered if possible.

  • Ensure all verbal and printed communications addresses both parents. “Mums, dads and carers” should be used rather than “parents/carers”. Most people hear “parent” as “mother”.

  • Staff should be responsive to the different circumstances of fathers and male carers and respond to their needs.

  • Staff should try to engage with fathers if they are dropping off or collecting their child, by welcoming them into the building and talking about their child’s day.

  • Ensure all staff understand the importance of involving fathers in the provision. Some staff may not feel comfortable working with fathers and will require extra support and training.

  • Ask fathers for their input on what they would like to see from their early years provision and how they would like to be more involved.

  • If fathers do not live with their child, make an extra effort to communicate and meet with them and routinely send information to them.

  • Ensure pictures, books and posters display a positive image of men.

  • When fathers enter provisions at drop-off, staff should make an extra effort to help them participate in routines with which they may not be familiar.

  • Invite fathers to join in activities and events that would appeal to them.

Activities and events

When organising events and activities for parents to attend, early years providers need to ensure that they are all “father friendly” and inclusive for male carers as well as mothers.

Some nurseries offer a specific event around Father’s Day to honour dads but timing should be considered — holding events first thing in the day will enable more fathers to attend. Some fathers prefer family events rather than “dads-only” activities and this may be reflected in attendance.

Fathers often seem to prefer attending one-off events rather than making regular commitments so this should be considered. Activities that are more popular among male carers include sports, reading and arts and crafts but it is important to ask fathers if there are any other areas they would like to be involved in, or if they have any particular skills or knowledge that they would like to share with the children.

Some themes are more likely to appeal to fathers and this should be considered when planning activities. Outdoor events are often popular with fathers and male carers so this is another option in the summer months.

Involving dads in reading and literacy is particularly important and fathers could be invited to a storytelling session. The choice of books should be considered and staff should ensure that it is a story that might appeal to everyone involved or fathers could be invited to bring in their own choice of book to share with the children.

Often the biggest hurdle is getting fathers into the early years provision for the first time, so practitioners need to ensure that it is a positive, welcoming experience so that dads and other male carers will feel comfortable to return again.

Good practice

Father involvement in early years provisions is unlikely to happen overnight and staff need to evaluate their practice and work in partnership with dads and other male carers to ensure that they are taking the right approach. Good practice includes:

  • reviewing all practice to ensure that it is inclusive of fathers

  • keeping father involvement high on the agenda by including it in planning and policy making

  • reviewing policies and procedures such as parental involvement and equal opportunities and ensuring that they are fully inclusive of both mothers and fathers

  • ensuring staff understand the importance of involving fathers and offer training accordingly

  • ensuring all communications address fathers as well as mothers

  • consulting with fathers and requesting feedback from dads and other male carers on how they would like to be involved

  • ensuring the setting reflects positive images of men and fathers in its books, resources and displays

  • encouraging the inclusion of fathers in all activities and events.

Further information

  • The Fatherhood Institute is the UK’s fatherhood think-and-do-tank and it develops approaches to engaging with fathers mainly in the health, education and family sectors.

  • Fathers Matter is a downloadable leaflet from the Pre-school Learning Alliance featuring ideas and practical tips for involving fathers in the provision.

  • Getting the Blokes on Board is a magazine from the National Literacy Trust with ideas and case studies for professionals who work with dads.

  • PEAL provides training and resource materials to support practitioners to encourage and develop parental involvement in children’s early learning.