British Educational Research Journal Vol. 35, No. 2, April 2009, pp. 167–185 Fathers’ involvement in young children’s literacy development: implications for family literacy programmes Anne Morgana, Cathy Nutbrown*b and Peter Hannonb a Centre for Education Research, Sheffield Hallam University, UK; bSchool of Education, University of Sheffield, UK Relatively few studies of family literacy programmes have investigated parents’ experiences and whilst a number of such programmes have been specifically aimed at fathers, little is known about the involvement of fathers in programmes which target both mothers and fathers. This article reports fathers’ involvement in a family literacy programme and their home literacy practices with their young children. The article provides a definition of family literacy and describes the context of the study, which was carried out in socio-economically disadvantaged communities in a northern English city. Fathers’ participation in their children’s literacy was investigated through interviews at the beginning and end of the programme (n585) and home visit records made by teachers throughout the programme. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of these data indicate that, while fathers’ participation in the family literacy programme was not easily visible, almost all fathers were involved to some extent in home literacy events with their children. During the programme, teachers shared information about literacy activities and the importance of children having opportunities to share literacy activities with their parents. Data indicate that fathers who were not mentioned by mothers as having been involved in their children’s literacy were significantly more likely to be on a low income than those who were reported as being engaged with their children in home literacy activities. Fathers in the study were involved in providing literacy opportunities, showing recognition of their children’s achievements, interacting with their children around literacy and being a model of a literacy user. Although involved in all four of these key roles, fathers tended to be less involved in providing literacy opportunities than mothers. While fathers and sons engaged in what might be described as traditionally ‘masculine’ literacy activities, fathers were more often reported to be involved with their children in less obviously gendered home literacy activities. The article concludes with discussion of implications for involving fathers in future family literacy programmes. Introduction Much research has been carried out into the relationships between parental involvement and children’s academic achievement and it is now widely accepted that *Corresponding author. University of Sheffield, 388 Glossop Road, Sheffield S10 2JA, UK. Email: [email protected] ISSN 0141-1926 (print)/ISSN 1469-3518 (online)/09/020167-19 # 2009 British Educational Research Association DOI: 10.1080/01411920802041996 168 A. Morgan et al. children whose parents are actively involved in their development are more likely to succeed in school (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003). Recently, however, it has been acknowledged that studies using the term ‘parent’ often refer only to mothers (Nichols, 2000; Fletcher & Daly, 2002; Nutbrown & Hannon, 2003) even though there is a growing body of research into fathers’ involvement which has shown that children whose fathers are involved benefit from higher academic achievement and social and emotional well-being (Nord et al., 1997; Amato, 1998; Brooks, 2002; Tamis-LeMonda & Cabrera, 2002; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2004). The long-term benefits of fathers’ involvement have also been investigated; one recent study found that fathers’ involvement in their children’s education at age seven predicted educational attainment by age 20 (Flouri & Buchanan, 2004). The extent to which fathers are involved in their children’s early development has been the subject of debate. Some contend that fathers’ involvement in housework and child care is lacking (Hochschild, 1989; Thompson & Walker, 1989; Shelton, 1990) and that fathers tend to avoid such responsibilities (Walkerdine & Lucey, 1989); much of this literature is influenced by feminist theories. Some have argued that women may be reluctant for their partners to become more involved in family work and child care, fearing that they may lose their traditional power over home activities (Polatnik, 1974; Lamb, 1997; Bonney et al., 1999). Others contend that fathers’ involvement in children’s development is increasing, focusing on the changing nature of fatherhood and the ‘new father’ image (Lamb et al., 1987; Lewis & O’Brien, 1987) which emerged during the 1980s. The ‘new father’ is more involved in family life than fathers of earlier generations; he assumes multiple roles, including not only ‘breadwinner’, but also carer and educator. More recently, the term ‘fatherhoods’ (Hobson, 2003) has been used to describe the increasingly diverse ways fathers can be involved in families. Family literacy studies of family members using literacy as part of their daily routines (Heath, 1983; Taylor, 1983; Taylor & Dorsey-Gaines, 1988) show that children’s early understanding of literacy is learned socially and culturally within their family and community, and that the types of literacy experience children encounter differ according to families’ social and cultural practices. Family literacy practices have been studied using ethnography (Heath, 1983; Taylor, 1983; Taylor & Dorsey-Gaines, 1988), interviews with parents (Weinberger, 1996; Nichols, 2000), interviews with children (Nutbrown & Hannon, 2003), observation (Teale, 1986; Minns, 1990; Purcell-Gates, 1996) and case studies of individual children (Baghban, 1984; Bissex, 1990; Schickedanz, 1990; Whitehead, 2002). Taken together, these studies provide insights into family literacy as the set of literacy practices found within families (Hannon, 2000). Family literacy programmes are educational programmes which focus on literacy, and acknowledge, and make use of, learners’ family membership. Such programmes have focused mainly on disadvantaged communities, since it is children from these communities who are thought to have most difficulties with school literacy (White, 1982; Heath, 1983). Family literacy programmes are usually evaluated in terms of literacy outcomes for children (Whitehurst et al., 1994; Wagner et al., 2002). Fathers’ involvement in literacy development 169 Participants’ views and experiences of programmes are rarely considered (Nutbrown et al., 2005; Hannon et al., 2006). The present study concerns fathers’ involvement with children’s home literacy activities. It arose out of a study of children’s perspectives of family literacy in which 148 five-year-old children were interviewed. In that study, 39% of the children said that their fathers shared some literacy activities with them at home (Nutbrown & Hannon, 2003). Building on the children’s reports, we were interested in learning more about fathers’ literacy practices with their children, from the perspective of the adults involved, especially in the light of conflicting reviews regarding the extent to which fathers participate in such activities with their children. Some studies have reported reluctance among fathers to read to their children (Solsken, 1992) and in the United States a survey found that over 40% of fathers never read to their children (National Center for Fathering, 1999). Possible explanations for this perceived reluctance have included the suggestion that fathers’ involvement in family literacy practices often involves men entering into practices that are valued and have already been established by mothers (Nichols, 2000). It has also been suggested that such practices may not hold the same value for men (Fletcher & Daly, 2002) and that mothers may have stronger beliefs than fathers in their own ability to help to improve children’s reading skills (Lynch, 2002). However, other studies have found that many fathers do engage in literacy activities with their children (Ortiz et al., 1999; Nichols, 2000; Nutbrown & Hannon, 2003, Nutbrown et al., 2005). The middle-class mothers in Nichols’s (2000) study tended to delegate story reading to fathers, a finding which challenges the assertion that mothers may be reluctant to encourage fathers to engage with their children (Polatnik, 1974; Lamb, 1997; Bonney et al., 1999). It has been suggested that fathers who engage in literacy activities with children strengthen relationships with them in the process (Ortiz et al., 1999). A number of studies have shown strong links between demographic variables and father involvement. For example, fathers with higher education levels are more likely to be involved with their school-aged children (Goldschieder & Waite, 1991; Blair et al., 1994; Nord et al., 1997). On the other hand, Ortiz (1996), who explored fathers’ involvement in pre-school literacy activities, found only a weak relationship between education and income and involvement in literacy practices. To explore further the relationships between demographic variables and father involvement in pre-school literacy activities, the study reported here investigated the extent of fathers’ involvement in socio-economically disadvantaged communities by comparing the characteristics of fathers who were mentioned by mothers as being involved in their children’s home literacy with those who were not mentioned. One of the aims of the present study was to investigate the roles adopted by fathers and to understand more about the types of home literacy activities in which they engaged. Traditionally, the types of literacy activities pursued by men have conformed to perceptions of masculinity; such as ‘Do-It-Yourself’ books, car maintenance manuals and sports magazines about such interests as football or biking. Where men’s chosen literacy activities reflect such interests they might, for example, look through car manuals or football magazines, thus acting as powerful 170 A. Morgan et al. models for their children. Fathers may also share this type of reading material with their children, particularly their sons, leading some to suggest that reading between fathers and sons may be associated with masculine bonding (Biddulph, 1994; Nichols, 2000). Fathers have also been found to engage with their children in literacy activities that are not so obviously gendered, including reading environmental print and newspapers, using dictionaries, reading maps and bedtime stories (Ortiz et al., 1999). Programmes aimed at increasing father–child involvement in children’s literacy development have been implemented in recent years with varying degrees of success (Millard & Hunter, 2001; Green, 2003; Lloyd, 2004). Most have experienced difficulties in recruitment and participation and, while some have been specifically aimed at fathers, the role of fathers in family literacy programmes aimed at both mothers and fathers remains under-researched. It remains the case that in most family literacy programmes targeting mothers and fathers, the majority of participants are women (Mace, 1998). It has been suggested that the under-representation of men in such programmes may be due to practical reasons; the fact that most are provided during the working day means they are less accessible to men (who are more likely to be in full-time employment than women) (Cairney et al., 1995). A further aim of the study reported here was to investigate the extent to which fathers participated in a flexible family literacy programme (in terms of time and location) where the primary participants were mothers and to identify and describe the types of home literacy fathers shared with their children. Setting for the research: a family literacy programme The REAL (Raising Early Achievement in Literacy) Project family literacy programme aimed to promote pre-school children’s literacy through the implementation and evaluation of a parental involvement programme. Ten teachers in a north of England city worked with 80 families for the duration of the 18-month programme. The project was based on the ORIM conceptual framework (Hannon, 1995; Nutbrown et al., 2005) in Figure 1, which views parents supporting their child’s developing literacy through four key roles. They provide opportunities for literacy: giving children pens and paper, joining the library, making a space in the home where literacy can take place, placing books and writing equipment in an accessible place. They can show recognition of the child’s achievements: displaying some writing, discussing with the child what they have achieved, e.g. ‘you found all those letters yourself didn’t you?’. Parents can share times of interaction with the child in literacy activities: reading a book together, playing an alphabet puzzle, writing a birthday card. Finally, and subtly important, parents can provide a model of a user of literacy in everyday life: reading a recipe, doing a crossword, completing a form, writing a note. Four strands of literacy formed the main focus of the REAL project programme: environmental print, books, early writing and aspects of oral language. The programme included a combination of home visiting by teachers and group meetings. Teachers kept records of contacts with parents. There was also an optional adult learning component leading to accreditation of parents’ learning. Fathers’ involvement in literacy development 171 Figure 1. The ‘ORIM’ framework used in designing the family literacy programme A sample of 160 families with three-year-olds was drawn at random from waiting lists of 10 schools in areas of social and economic disadvantage, ensuring that families were representative of their communities. All schools were in electoral wards above the national median on the Government’s index of multiple deprivation, and five were in the most deprived 2% of such areas nationally. The families whose children attended these schools were mainly white monolingual. Families agreed to participate in a University research study on the understanding that half of them, selected entirely at random, would be invited to join a family literacy programme, with the remainder serving as the control. The main outcomes of the family literacy programme for children and parents and the views of the children who participated in the project have also been reported elsewhere (Nutbrown & Hannon, 2003; Nutbrown et al., 2005, Hannon et al., 2006). The study reported here draws on data which were collected from the programme group only because a key source of data, the teachers’ records of home visits and group meetings, was not available for the control group because they did not participate in the programme. Research questions and methods The purpose of the study was to ascertain whether and to what extent fathers were involved in their children’s early literacy development. The research questions were: 1. 2. 3. What is the extent of fathers’ involvement in a family literacy programme? What is the extent of fathers’ involvement in family literacy practices? What are the characteristics of fathers who are not mentioned by mothers as involved in their children’s literacy? 172 A. Morgan et al. 4. 5. How do fathers participate in home literacy activities with their children? How do mothers and fathers perceive the father’s role in children’s literacy? There were two main sources of data: teachers’ records of home visits and group meetings, and post-programme interviews. Records of home visits and group meetings Records of each home visit and all group meetings were kept by programme teachers. The family literacy programme was designed to involve fathers as well as mothers and the term ‘parent’ was used consistently in planning and implementation. However, in practice, perhaps because fathers tended to have more daytime employment outside the home, teachers interacted more with mothers. Teachers made notes of their conversations and interactions with families when they recorded home visits. These were recorded in three parts: ‘review what parents and child have been doing’, ‘focus on a planned aspect of literacy and parent’s role’ and ‘anticipate what parent might do following the visit’. In the ‘review’ section, teachers asked parents (almost always mothers) what they had been doing with their children around literacy since the last visit. They might talk about a book which had been borrowed, or look through a page or two of a scrapbook which the parent and child had been compiling together. In the ‘focus’ part of the home visit the teacher would offer some input which paid particular attention to a strand of literacy and aspects of the parents’ role, for example, a focus on environmental print might involve a walk to the local shops with a camera, taking photographs of street and shop signs for later use. Before the teacher finished each home visit he or she would ‘anticipate’ with the parent what the parent and child might do together in the period between visits, such as, make an alphabet snap game, visit the library, go on another ‘print walk’ and so on (Nutbrown et al., 2005). Since this was a parental involvement programme, teachers did not specifically ask what fathers had been doing—the aim was to find out what experiences the child had shared with adults in the family. Information about fathers’ involvement was usually volunteered rather than solicited, and it is therefore likely that these data, if anything, underestimate the amount of literacy going on between fathers and their children. Since the home visit notes generally concerned conversations between mothers and teachers (rather than between fathers and teachers), the voices of fathers rarely appeared directly. The records do, however, provide evidence that many fathers were involved and offer valuable insights into the ways in which, according to mothers’ reports, children’s fathers were involved in their home literacy practices. Interviews At the conclusion of the programme, parents were interviewed by independent interviewers; all were early childhood professionals who had experience of working and talking with parents. They were not known to the parents and had pre-interview Fathers’ involvement in literacy development 173 training which included discussion of strategies for ensuring that parents were comfortable during the interview experience, that they knew they could stop at any time and the interviewers made it as easy as possible for parents to make negative comments if they wished to. The interviewers reported that parents appeared to be only too happy to participate in the interviews. Around 90% of the interviews were conducted with mothers only, and about 10% of interviews included fathers as well. No interviews were conducted with fathers only (Hannon et al., 2006). Family characteristics (mothers’ and fathers’ socio-economic classification, mothers’ educational level and free school meal eligibility) were ascertained and family literacy practices explored. Interviews were extensive but the study reported here focused on the following questions which gave the respondent(s) the opportunity to talk about father involvement in children’s literacy. Parents were asked: ‘Who reads with your child?’, ‘Does anyone else read with him/her?’, ‘Who writes with him/her?’, ‘Who says nursery rhymes with him/her?’, ‘Who tells stories to him/her?’ and ‘Who helps your child most with reading and writing at home?’ There were also questions as to whether parents provided a model of literacy and who provided such models. Analysis Research question 1 asked: ‘What is the extent of fathers’ involvement in a family literacy programme?’ Details of the number of fathers who visibly participated in the programme were obtained by counting the number of fathers present at home visits or centre-based meetings. To investigate research question 2, ‘What is the extent of fathers’ involvement in family literacy practices?’ the two data sets (home visit records and interview responses) were analysed in combination and separately, and reports of involvement noted. Chisquared analyses were used to investigate the significance of differences between characteristics of fathers for whom there were reports of involvement and those for whom there were few or no reports of involvement. This provided some answers to question 3, ‘What are the characteristics of fathers who appear to be minimally involved in their children’s literacy?’ Research question 4, ‘How do fathers participate in home literacy activities with their children?’ was addressed by analysing the extent to which fathers participated in aspects of the parent’s role, as conceptualised by the ORIM framework (Hannon, 1995; Nutbrown et al., 2005). The main analysis involved qualitative analysis of data sets in combination, with the aid of a software package (NVivo), although interview questions relating to interaction and modelling were also analysed quantitatively. Finally, research question 5, ‘How do mothers and fathers perceive the father’s role in children’s literacy?’ was answered using qualitative analysis, again using NVivo, of home visit records. The sample This study was concerned with resident (or actively present) fathers’ involvement in children’s literacy development. Since one of the main data sets (home visit records) was based on mothers’ reports of family literacy practices, it was not possible to 174 A. Morgan et al. include absent fathers. Male partners who lived in the family home were also included; for example, mothers typically spoke of partners, boyfriends and children’s stepfathers—these men are considered, throughout this article, as ‘fathers’. At interview, nine of the 80 families who participated in the REAL project were families with a lone parent, always the mother; these families were excluded from the analysis. Ten per cent of fathers were present at final interview with mothers; no fathers were interviewed alone. One family had moved to another city by the end of the programme; another two ‘disappeared’ and contact was lost (hence n568). Results 1. What is the extent of father involvement in a family literacy programme? Fathers’ visible participation in the programme was low. Fathers were more likely to be involved in home visits than centre-based meetings; records showed that while 16% of fathers had been present during at least one home visit only 9% had attended at least one group meeting or event. It is relevant to note, however, that in general, centre-based meetings were not as attractive to parents (mothers or fathers) as home visits; while all were happy to receive home visits, fewer parents (86%) attended one or more centre-based meeting. 2. What is the extent of father involvement in family literacy practices? Almost all fathers were reported to engage with their children around literacy to some extent. Analysis of home visit records and interview data revealed that 93% of families reported some literacy activity between fathers and children (in only five families was there no reported involvement of fathers with their children). However, this analysis does not give an indication of the extent to which fathers were involved, since it includes fathers who may have engaged only sporadically in their children’s literacy. In interviews 77% of fathers were mentioned as involved in their children’s literacy. For the remaining 23% (16) there was no mention of involvement, even though 11 of them were noted (at least once and in some cases up to three times), in home visit reports, to have had some involvement. When asked ‘Who helps [child] most with reading and writing?’ 29% of families interviewed said both mother and father helped with the same level of frequency, while two-thirds said the mother helped most. (The remaining 4% said another relative helped most, usually a grandparent or sibling. No respondents reported that the father helped most.) This finding supports the contention that, while it is typically mothers who assume primary responsibility for young children’s literacy (Nichols, 2000), many fathers also play a role. 3. What are the characteristics of fathers not mentioned in interviews as involved in their children’s literacy? While the majority of fathers were reportedly involved in their children’s literacy to some extent, we were interested in the 16 fathers (23%) for whom there was no Fathers’ involvement in literacy development 175 mention of involvement at final interview. No mention of involvement cannot be taken, uncritically, as an indication of ‘no involvement’. What can be inferred, however, is that either these fathers were not involved or that their involvement was not salient from the perspective of the mothers interviewed. We investigated the socio-economic characteristics of all the fathers in the study using the National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC) (National Statistics Online, 2004). Results are shown in Figure 2, which shows that, though the families were living in areas of social and economic disadvantage, just over half of fathers (36) were classified in the higher socio-economic groups, 1 to 5. Slightly less than half (30) were in groups 6 to 8, with the majority of fathers in the sample being in group 6 (semi-routine occupations). Data for two fathers were missing. The fathers not mentioned in interview as involved appeared twice as likely to be in groups 6 to 8, as shown in Figure 3, but the difference fell short of statistical significance, x2(1)53.52, p5.061. The characteristics of fathers mentioned as involved and those not mentioned were investigated further by exploring the relationship with children in receipt of free school meals (an indicator of low family income). Of the 21% of children who received free school meals, a high proportion had fathers who were not mentioned as involved in their children’s literacy, as shown in Figure 4. This difference was statistically significant, x2(1)54.28, p5.039, and suggests that fathers not mentioned as involved in their children’s literacy were significantly more likely to be on a low income than fathers who were reported to engage in literacy activities with their children. There were no significant differences in fathers’ involvement in relation to mothers’ educational qualifications (x2(1)50.127, p5.722) or to mothers’ socioeconomic classification (x2(1)50.253, p5.615). We were also interested in whether fathers’ likelihood of being mentioned was related to the gender of their children. Figure 2. NS-SEC profiles of resident fathers in the study sample (n566) 176 A. Morgan et al. Figure 3. Fathers’ NS-SEC groupings and whether they are mentioned as involved in children’s literacy (n566) Fathers might be more likely to engage in literacy activities with daughters than sons, since literacy is often perceived as a feminine pursuit. Although fathers who were not mentioned were over twice as likely to be fathers of boys than girls (see Figure 5), this was partly a result of there being slightly more boys in the sample than girls, and the difference was not statistically significant (x2(1)51.11, p5.292). 4. How do fathers participate in literacy activities with their children? Fathers’ involvement was analysed in relation to the ORIM conceptual framework (Hannon, 1995; Nutbrown et al., 2005) shown in Figure 1. (a) Providing literacy opportunities. Providing literacy opportunities refers to the ways parents provide permission to engage in literacy activities and access to literacy resources such as books, writing materials, literacy games and somewhere to write. Figure 4. Receipt of free school meals and mention of fathers as involved in literacy activities (n567) Fathers’ involvement in literacy development 177 Figure 5. Child’s gender and mention of fathers as involved in literacy activities (n568) While providing these opportunities might necessitate purchasing resources (books, pens, paper), many such resources can be obtained for free (borrowing books from a library, making use of print in the environment, providing envelopes from ‘junk mail’ for writing, providing somewhere for children to write and draw). In these data, there were very few explicit examples of fathers providing literacy opportunities for their children. This could be because, in these families, mothers were mostly responsible for shopping (for food, clothes, toys and educational materials) and therefore more likely to purchase such resources. There was only one explicit report, from one teacher’s home visit notes, of a father providing his daughter with writing materials, not from a shop, but from his place of work. The mother reported: [Her] dad has brought her an old diary from work which she’s enjoying writing in. The lack of examples of fathers providing opportunities for their children suggests that it was mothers who selected and provided literacy resources; thereby ‘supervising’ opportunities for literacy activities (Nichols, 2000). (b) Recognising children’s literacy achievements. This relates both to parents’ awareness of children’s literacy achievements and also to parents’ awareness that literacy activities they involve their children in can enhance literacy development. While there were few reports of fathers providing literacy opportunities for their children, fathers were frequently reported as showing recognition of their children’s literacy achievements around various strands of literacy. For example, they recognised children’s achievements with books: Mum reported how impressed Adrian’s dad is with how much he knows about books. in writing: Dad was there and was very pleased that over the summer Craig has learnt to write his name. 178 A. Morgan et al. Julian wrote a Christmas list at nursery and later that evening he recalled the list to his daddy. in phonological awareness: He has nursery rhymes in a blue file and dad observed him singing each one to himself as he turned the pages, ‘and he sang the right one on each page!’ and in ‘talk about literacy’: Mark’s dad asked him to read the numbers off the back of the book, and Mark could identify them. Dad spent most of session with us and said how they played ‘I Spy’ a lot. While these examples highlight fathers’ spoken recognition of their children’s achievements, there were also examples of fathers recognising achievements through their actions: Angela found the letters from letter templates and drew around them and cut them out. When the poster was finished Angela’s father put it up on the chimney breast. He said he would transfer it to her bedroom later. Angela’s father showed that he wanted to value his daughter’s achievement by displaying the poster she had made. The following example also demonstrates a father’s recognition through his actions, with the father using what might be described as typically ‘masculine’ skills and resources to display his daughter’s work more permanently: Karen and dad had made the letters of her first name into a plaque following the last visit and the dough we used to make her name, we had left it to go hard. Dad had varnished it and stuck it on a piece of wood (already stained); put cord at the back and it was hanging on her bedroom door! She proudly showed it to me when I went in. (c) Interacting with children around literacy. Almost two-thirds (65%) of fathers were reported to read with their children and almost half (45%) were reported to help their children with writing. Though fewer fathers were reported to engage with their children in oral language activities; almost a quarter (24%) sang nursery rhymes together and 9% were said to have told stories to their children. A number of reports of fathers and sons sharing literacy activities could be interpreted as having what might stereotypically be viewed as subject matter of ‘masculine interest’. One teacher reported on such activities: We spent a great part of the visit looking through Sheffield United programmes. Andrew and his dad are keen fans and go to all the home matches together. Mum told me Andrew recognised many of the players’ names in the programme. When he showed me the programme he went through all the names and could even read them out of sequence. He and dad sit and look through programmes together; they have quite a collection. He also recognised sponsorship logos of opposing teams! Another teacher was told of a father’s attempts to reinforce his son’s knowledge of phonological awareness by modifying the lyrics of a nursery rhyme to fit with the name of his football team’s home ground: Fathers’ involvement in literacy development 179 Dad has been singing nursery rhymes with Keith; last line of Baa baa black sheep to ‘One for the little boy who lives down Bramall Lane’ (dad is an ardent Sheffield United fan). We recorded this on the tape. There were no examples of fathers and daughters interacting around subject matter which might be considered to be typically ‘masculine’, but the two examples above suggest that some fathers may interact with their sons in ways which are compatible with their notions of masculinity. These activities may reinforce boys’ perceptions of masculine sex-role identities (Connolly, 2004). In contrast, there were no examples of mothers interacting with children (girls or boys) around literacy activities relating to their own interests, ‘feminine’ subject matter (such as fashion or home magazines) or otherwise. Instead, they tended to focus on child-oriented literacy activities that were often somewhat contrived. This is in contrast to the fathers in the examples above, who engaged with their children in real literacy activities relating to their own genuine interests. While some fathers interacted with their children in what might be considered more typically masculine ways, there were many examples of fathers interacting in activities which were less obviously gender influenced. Fathers read to both sons and daughters. For example, one mother of two girls said: Their dad reads a story every night before they go to bed. Even when he comes home from work he’s on the floor reading to them! Teachers also made observations regarding fathers reading with their children: As I left, Shaun was taking books to dad to read. There were several examples of fathers and children writing together, such as: Nancy had written a Mothers’ Day card with her dad. On holiday he drew letters in the sand with dad. They had collected small shells from holiday and there was a caption underneath: ‘Daddy and Bridget have been collecting shells at the seaside’. Also cut out pictures and put initial sound underneath. As already noted, relatively few fathers were reported to engage in oral language activities with their children. However, home visit records provided some evidence of fathers and children playing literacy games together, such as ‘alphabet snap’, which enhances children’s understanding of phoneme/grapheme relationships: Mum says that dad will enjoy playing alphabet snap with him ‘but Michael will have to let him win!’ Sarah loves alphabet snap; mum says it has really helped her with recognising letters and says she’s going to get some. Sarah has played a lot with dad. There were two reports of oral language activities occurring on car journeys with fathers, such as: Mum said they practise nursery rhymes in the car. Dad makes his own words up, she says. He changes the words to fit in with situation. 180 A. Morgan et al. Such activities increase children’s knowledge of nursery rhymes, thereby developing their understanding of onset and rime (Goswami & Bryant, 1990). Other oral language activities include storytelling; there was one report of a father telling stories to his son: Mum says she sometimes makes up stories but usually prefers to read them. She said Andrew’s dad makes stories up more than her. (d) Providing a model of a literacy user. Almost two-thirds (63%) of programme fathers in this study modelled reading behaviour at home. Reported activities included reading letters, maps, television guides, newspapers, special interest magazines (relating to, for example, astrology, electronics, snooker and football), reading library books, pop-music books and studying. Over half (54%) the fathers provided a model of writing, with reported activities including paperwork, studying, writing time-sheets, cheques, telephone messages, crosswords, letters, computing and diary writing. Most of these activities are not necessarily stereotypically ascribed to one gender or another and, generally, examples reported fathers acting as models in similar ways to mothers; for example: He’s been making photo-books of their holidays with dad—photographs with captions underneath. Mum told me dad often writes with Suzy; he’s been teaching her the alphabet and numbers. Evidence of this is in one of the books mum showed me. Dad had been writing a few sentences and Suzy had written hers underneath. Mum commented that dad sits and helps Suzy a lot. How do mothers and fathers perceive the father’s role in children’s literacy development? In the majority of families, mothers were primarily responsible for young children’s literacy, although most fathers were reported to play a significant role and, in 29% of families, were said to assume equal responsibility. However, in two cases, mothers reported reluctance on the part of fathers to become involved in literacy activities with children. One mother said that her partner viewed sharing books with their child as her role, and another implied this to be the case, saying that in her family, it was unusual for her partner to read to his children. The teachers noted: Mum commented that dad does not read; he will now spend time with Tina (although he didn’t used to), but he puts videos on. He regards reading/teaching to be mum’s job! They enjoyed the books. Dad even read ‘Alfie gets in first’ to Nancy—this is a rare event. There appeared to be a change in Tina’s father’s behaviour, however, and four months later, the teacher wrote: Mum reported that dad now reads books to Tina (previously dad regarded Tina’s education as mum’s job). Fathers’ involvement in literacy development 181 Three mothers reported that fathers’ involvement in literacy activities with their children was due to the fact that they themselves were not available, usually due to work commitments. Teachers reported: Mum said dad was doing more at night with him because she (mum) had to go out to work at tea time. Mum had been happy to read the stories and said that when she was at work and couldn’t, dad had read them and everybody had really enjoyed them. Mum is expecting her fourth child in about 5 weeks. I have told her we are having a workshop session at the end of March; she will send dad with Karen if she is unavailable! While these examples suggest that the mothers viewed themselves as primarily responsible for literacy activities, they also provide evidence of a practicality and flexible sharing of roles within families. Of the many fathers who frequently engaged in literacy activities with their children, some had special routines, usually relating to specified reading times, as in the following examples: Shared ‘Jasper’s beanstalk’ with dad. Dad read it to her because he reads her bedtime stories. Mum and dad read stories to James. They all read together when older brother Thomas reads his school book. The findings described above in relation to fathers’ involvement in children’s literacy are consistent with those reported by their children (Nutbrown & Hannon, 2003); that is, while the interviews with children indicated that their mothers played a prominent role in home literacy practices, many children also frequently mentioned their fathers’ involvement with them. Discussion and conclusions The majority of fathers are reported to be involved in their young children’s literacy development. This is a key finding of the present study; there were numerous reports of shared literacy activity between fathers and their children in the duration from one home visit to the next. Almost all fathers were reported to participate in literacy activities with their children to some extent, and just over a quarter of parents said that both mothers and fathers were equally involved in such activities. Only five (7%) were not reported to be involved. Fathers were reported to be involved in all four key aspects of the parent’s role; opportunities, recognition, interaction and modelling. These findings corroborate the reports of the children in the study, who said that they were involved with literacy activities with their fathers at home (Nutbrown & Hannon, 2003). While this study challenges findings from other research which suggests that fathers are not involved in their children’s home literacy, the amount of fathers’ involvement may be lower than that of mothers. 182 A. Morgan et al. Mention of fathers as involved in literacy activities with pre-school children is associated with socio-economic status. The second clear finding of this study is that fathers in receipt of higher incomes are more likely to be mentioned as involved in literacy activities with their children. These findings carry with them two main implications for the future development of family literacy programmes which aim to increase father participation. (i) Family literacy programmes need to acknowledge that they are building on families’ existing knowledge, skills and cultures (Auerbach, 1989; Nutbrown & Hannon, 1997; Nutbrown et al., 2005); this must include recognition of fathers’ contributions. The study indicates that fathers are often involved in family literacy practices with their children, although they are much less likely to be visible participants in family literacy programmes. Researchers and practitioners need to be aware that just because fathers’ participation is not highly visible it does not mean that it does not happen. (ii) Family literacy programmes may need to review their modes of delivery in order to increase fathers’ involvement. In this study, an emphasis on flexible home visiting was more successful than centre-based meetings for encouraging father involvement; indeed, centre-based meetings were poorly attended by fathers and mothers in comparison to home visits. Home visits were arranged to fit in with the preferences and needs of each family, with some taking place, on request, in the early evening. All group meetings took place in the daytime as this fitted with the majority preference. A flexible way of working was the key for all families involved in the programme; the majority of mothers also preferred home visits to centre-based meetings. A review of programme practices may need to examine the kinds of activities in which fathers and mothers are asked to participate. We are not suggesting that specific activities are designed ‘for fathers’; rather, we believe that in order to take account of the diversity of interests and abilities within families a range of activities and opportunities to share literacy with young children is explored with all family members in mind. Caution must be exercised in interpreting the findings of this study, which rely heavily on mothers’ reports of fathers’ involvement, rather than data which allow analysis of the fathers’ own voices; some have noted that mothers’ and fathers’ reports of their respective involvement may differ significantly (McBride & Mills, 1993; McBride & Rane, 1997). We can only speculate on how findings may differ if fathers had been interviewed; perhaps further evidence of fathers’ involvement may have been found, or it is possible that fathers may underestimate their level of involvement. A further study would be necessary to answer this question. However, the findings reported here are corroborated in a separate study of children’s perspectives (Nutbrown & Hannon, 2003) that provided an insight into fathers’ involvement in family literacy practices and highlighted the need for future research which should seek to involve fathers as informants. Although largely invisible to outsiders, in many families the fathers’ presence in their children’s literacy became apparent to teachers in the project. As one teacher commented: Whatever Beth makes or does, she likes to show dad (although I have never met him). He obviously takes a keen interest in activities she has done. 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