Can you teach literacy activities with men?
He was about 25 years old and had a four-year-old daughter. Young Dad’s question, asked to me in a low whisper, was a universal “Dad” question. Most Dads end up asking me this question in one of its many forms.
I had just finished a presentation for young college students who were studying to be teachers. We talked briefly about work in helping Dads to talk with their kids, to put the storybooks down, look their kids in the eye and tell stories.
In the session, most everyone else asked some type of question except Young Dad. When we were done and the group was leaving, Young Dad pulls me aside and says, “I have bought tons of books for my daughter and we read every night. And I already do some of the no-book storytelling. She loves it and will tell me some stories sometimes. But I still have this question in my mind, ‘What If I Do It Wrong?”
WIIDIW- the question dads always want to know. Men worry that if they don’t get it right something terrible and awful will happen. Or, they worried that they will be laughed at. He’s worried about being judged by his spouse. He’s worried that his kid will not like his storytelling because it’s not as energetic as what the child sees on TV. Alternatively, his own inner critic beats him up for every word stumble or verbal typo. WIIDIW looms in his brain and keeps him from doing the best with his kid. WIIDIW is the enemy of connecting cads to literacy.
So, if you are in a position in a school, Title 1 program or some other Early Childhood Education situation, here are a three tips to help Dads connect to literacy and get past the WIIDIW block.
1. Your program must have a clear, observable, measurable objective.
Do you want Dads to mentally check out of your program? If so, then advertise something ambiguous such as “Our program will discuss the research and history of literacy education and how it might effect the modern family.” Your program and outreach will do much better if you take a hint from marketers. “Our program on Wednesday will show Fathers three easy ways to help their kids get better grades in school – starting at bedtime that night.” You could try “Tonight’s Family Meeting program gives Dads three no-fail ways to be a hero in the eyes of their children.”
2. Your program must be fun for the participants.
Do you really want to reach men? I have sat in on my share of dry, lecturing, power-pointing family presentations given by poorly trained speakers. Yawn. The average guy wants a program that is not too heavy and lets him laugh off his nervousness. Be funny, genuine, succinct and focused if you want to talk to men about their families.
2. You must provided chances for Dads to succeed.
If you want dads to embrace your ideas, then give them ways to do some hands-on experience of storytelling stories and literacy. In my programs teaching dads my DaddyTeller process, fathers get to practice one story from my book. I tell (demonstrate) a short story, teach them to instantly learn the story and then practice telling it to each other in small groups. There will be lots of laughter and at times it will appear even a bit unfocused. But, after 30 minutes of this process, Dads have a story that they can then tell to their little ones that very evening. Give Dads success and immediate application. Just one “Daddy, I love that story you tell me about the mouse” will get him coming back to you for more help and information.
3. You must allow chances for Dads to ask questions privately.
For some men, information is power. They learned this skill back in their boyhood pack days. To ask you questions in front of a large group, tacitly admitting they don’t have information, can intimidate them. So, be sure you clearly state that questions can be answered afterwards- and then take the time to answer questions. Just like my experience I mentioned to you at the start of this article, you may have your own Young Dad lurking in your audience.
Men want to be good fathers and they want their kids to be successful readers, writers and problem solvers. Don’t give up on the fathers in your school, group or organization. Learning to speak to dads and breaking through the WIIDIW blocks will create new opportunities for promoting literacy in your community.
Sean Buvala (contact him) is the author of “DaddyTeller: How to Be a Hero to Your Kids….By One Simple Story at a Time.” He is a nationally experienced workshop presenter (25 years!) who would be glad to come teach your teachers and staff how to connect dads to the literacy process. He will even come do a workshop for your dads, too. His man-size bedtime-stories nightgown is worth the fun.