Dad power

The research is clear: Dad's involvement in school is a must. Here's how to make a difference.

Learning Stages

By Dr. James Levine

Father & Parenting Expert

Dr. James Levine, Director of The Fatherhood Project® at The Families and Work Institute in New York City, is the author of Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family (Harvest Books, 1998).

One of the most effective ways to boost your child's motivation to succeed in school is by actually spending time in the classroom. But if your work schedule absolutely prevents that, there are still other ways to make your presence in your child's education felt.

In the Classroom

Some dads are reluctant to visit the classroom because they're not sure what to do there. Fear not. Here are some easy ways to get involved that both your child—and the teacher—will appreciate:

Bring Your Skills to School

With the teacher's help, use a skill that you have to benefit your child's class. If you're a handyman, help the kids build a hutch for their pet rabbit. If you're a weekend gardener, get each child started on planting and caring for a seedling.

Be a Read-Aloud Dad

Reading's not just a mom thing. After all, it was a dad, Jim Trelease, whose book The Read-Aloud Handbook inspired parents all across the country to read to their kids. You can read to the whole class or, if you're uncomfortable being on display like that, to a smaller group of kids at a table or in the reading corner—whatever the teacher and you work out.

Go on Class Trips

With more parents in the paid workforce, schools don't have the same pool of parents to help out on trips. But if you accompany your child's class to the zoo or to the art museum, you'll find out why more dads are repeatedly signing up for such trips. They mean a lot to your child, and you'll learn a lot about things you might not have been exposed to.

Outside the Classroom

If work just doesn't give you the latitude to visit the classroom, you can still be involved in several simple but powerful ways:

Be the Drop-off or Pick-up Parent

If you can spare a few extra minutes to watch your child in action and chat with the teacher or other parents at day care or school, you'll get new insights into how your child fits in and what the teacher is really like.

Walk Your Child to the Bus Stop

You'll be amazed at how much kids can spontaneously divulge during this routine activity. It can start the day on the right foot for both of you.

Attend and Speak Up at Parent-Teacher Conferences

If the conference is scheduled at a time that you can't attend, ask that it be rescheduled so that you can. And once you're there, don't assume it's mom's role to do all the talking with the teacher. When our son's first-grade teacher expressed concern that he was overly quiet in the classroom, I advised her not to worry too much. I had been quiet myself in the first few grades and had grown out of it.