With the COVID-19 global pandemic putting more parents in the work-at-home category – and more children in the school-at-home category – the trend of dads becoming more actively engaged with the day-to-day parenting of their children has been accelerated.
According to DaddiLife’s Dads in Lockdown survey, 76% of dads said they were more involved in their children’s care than before the pandemic hit, and I consider myself included in this trend.
It should be noted that this isn’t some self-congratulatory proclamation that dads are now the primary caregivers. Various studies have also indicated that mums have also increased their workloads throughout the pandemic, often bearing the brunt of more housework and virtual schooling. But the results of the survey are a reflection of a wider societal trend in recent years.
While I already considered myself to be a modern, engaged dad before the pandemic, being placed on furlough at the end of March for three months while my (five months pregnant) wife continued to work full-time from home allowed me to take it up another level. It forced me to spend more time with our son than I ever had before, playing with him and doing my best to help him grow.
The importance of an engaged father
There is an ever-growing body of evidence showing an involved father has a positive impact on a child’s life in so many ways.
One study found that children whose father is engaged in their care and upbringing are better behaved at school, achieve stronger educational performance, and have a greater enjoyment of school. The impact stretches beyond education as well. Studies have shown an engaged father to have a dramatically positive effect on their child’s emotional development – they show less psychological distress, lower criminality, greater feelings of self-worth – and develop stronger and healthier relationships in the future.
Where does playtime come into it?
Interestingly, the Dads in Lockdown survey showed that playtime was where most dads increased time with their children (83%), followed by time spent cleaning (70%), cooking (67%), doing the bath routine (46%) and bedtime routine (45%).
The cynical viewpoint could easily be that these dads were taking the easy, fun option to do more. However, playtime too has been proven to have wonderful benefits on a child’s life.
In addition to the skill-based development, another study from Lancaster University found that higher quality play (more engaged and more involved) between a father and child positively impacts the child’s sense of self-worth as a teenager. While it has also been shown that a father’s sensitivity while playing with their two-year-old predicated their security at the age of 10 and led to stronger adjustment to life at age 16.
Homeschooling and learning through play
Schools closing at various stages of the pandemic has led to parents taking on a hybrid role of parent-teacher-employee. Naturally, some kids have struggled to cope and haven’t taken well to learning at home. Parents, therefore, have had to get creative to minimize the impact on their education.
UNICEF describes play as an essential strategy for learning. It enhances the development of cognitive skills, emotional wellbeing, social skills, and physical health. While ‘play’ can take many forms, UNICEF describes learning through play as something that is meaningful, joyful, engaging, iterative and socially interactive.
Whether overtly or sub-consciously, play time with dad is a wonderful alternative to desk-learning through the pandemic and beyond.
Some examples of play
As a dad who has spent more time playing with his son than ever before over the past 10 months, here are some of the ways we’ve been learning through play.
My son was about two years and 4 months old when we went into the first lockdown, but these examples definitely have developmental benefits for older children, too.
Yes, it was a huge nostalgia trip for me when my mum brought my old Scalextric set just before lockdown. But it really helped my son in a number of ways. The track itself helped him to recognize unconventional shapes, determining bends and straights. The cars helped him to understand different colors on one object - he was now able to identify that a car was black, red and white, not just the black that occupied the majority of the body. And he soon learned that the cars would come flying off the track if they were going too fast into a corner, building on his cause-and-effect skills.
For older kids, however, games such as this offer an excellent way to learn and understand electrical circuits, the physics of velocity, momentum, and aerodynamics. The learning can easily scale with a child’s age.
While he may not have been able to play properly, I also busted out my old Beyblade toys in the early weeks of lockdown. And it too had a noticeable effect on him.
He quickly developed an understanding of spinning and different motions, and a stronger understanding of speed. Again, the different parts of the Bey helped with understanding that objects aren’t just one color and typical shapes.
Older kids will be able to learn about strengths and weaknesses, weight distribution, motion physics, and more.
Over the course of lockdown, Disney Cars has become my boy’s obsession. Now, I’m not saying you all need to go out and buy a load of Disney Cars - a lot of the practices and benefits are transferable to any sort of character-based, object toy or game.
His memory skills have seen the greatest benefit. Over the past 10 months, he’s gone from being able to identify a few different cars by their color to being able to name each and every one and their race number. He’s also able to identify their most prominent features, like a spoiler or particular design on the side, without looking at it. And it has also introduced different countries, too.
It’s done wonders for his numeracy and sorting skills. It has introduced bigger numbers and built on his sorting play. With some help, he can sort all the cars by their race number, by size or by color.
Additionally, it has enabled him to engage deeply in pretend play, creating different scenarios and imaginary tracks around the living room (including dad tunnels and dad mountains!), all while repeating characters’ lines from the films and making up his own.
It has also helped his social skills. He’s much more accepting of sharing his cars and other toys, especially with a baby sister now learning to hold small objects. And the various tracks and launchers have helped to develop the concept of taking turns.
These specifically illustrate how the concept of play quickly becomes a very real and very important part of learning for children of all ages, with varying degrees of difficulty.
Combined with the benefits of greater involvement from a father, playtime can become a huge part of shaping your child for years to come.
Jonathan Davies is a father of two - a three-year old boy and six-month old daughter - and writer for DaddiLife, a site for modern-day dads with a community of over 150,000 across the US and UK. He is a passionate believer that fathers should take the most active and engaged role possible in their children’s lives.
A note from ThinkFun
At ThinkFun, we love it when learning and fun collide. It’s why we do what we do. Every game, puzzle and brainteaser we create is aimed at igniting a spark in a young mind. Still curious? Check us out on the web, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube or Instagram.
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