NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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The Power of Fathers and Play

fathers, fathers playing with children, children's learning

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Having recently celebrated Father’s Day, it seems appropriate to share with readers the important role fathers have in the lives of their children.

Fathers are great play companions for children.  Dads like to tickle, make faces, play games, wrestle, and engage kids in all kinds of play.  This is what children need.  In fact, play is perhaps the most important way that children explore and learn about the world around them.  Play is fundamental to a child’s growth and development.

Sometimes men have been challenged as too often being the “play” parent, but “play time” is actually learning time for parents and children.  Children enjoy toys like trucks, blocks, dolls, balls, dress-up clothes, and puzzles, the tools of play.  Toys and play activities provide children with opportunities for learning.  It has been said that “play is a child’s work.”  Fathers who play often with children are doing one of the most important things a parent can do to help growth and learning.

Research on children’s learning shows that play is not just the way children entertain themselves.  Instead, play is the primary way that kids learn about themselves, others, and the world around them.  Play helps to develop physical, mental, social and creative abilities in children.

Most fathers naturally make good play partners for children.  Fathers tend to focus on play interaction more than mothers or other caregivers.  Children often prefer fathers as play companions because fathers are usually more active and stimulating in their play activity. 

Young children whose fathers are involved with them in play regularly tend to perform better in areas of problem solving, cognitive skills, and exploration of the world around them.

Fathers feel most connected to children through play.  This happens as they engage in interactive activities such as playing tag or ball, recreational time such as sports activities or going to the park, and educational activities such as games or puzzles.

Play with fathers is great practice for play with peers.  Fathers who engage in high levels of physical play with their children, especially if their kids are having fun, tend to have children who are more popular with their peers.  Why?  Because it helps children to learn the give-and-take of interaction in different play activities. 

Children also learn a lot from fathers and father figures about their own emotions and the feelings of others through play.  Research shows that because there is a lot of excitement and emotional ups and downs during play, children become more aware of their own and others’ emotions.  Fathers engaged in play with children can help kids to recognize if someone is getting upset or angry.

“Play time” is learning time for children, and fathers are often the parent who can help such learning take place.  So, break out the toys dad, and be reminded of the power of fathers and play.

Source: Sean Brotherson, Extension Family Science Specialist, North Dakota State University, (701) 231-6143, sean.brotherson@ndsu.edu


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