Fathers and Children

Ages 5-8

Why I Built This Kit:

Curator Josia L.

Curator Josia L.

Why Read and Talk About Fathers?

As a work-from-home dad, I’m lucky enough to be involved in the small details of my daughter’s days – the sandwich making, grocery-store adventuring, dead-insect investigating moments that make her life so interesting and our relationship so intimate. Likewise, I like to think that she’s getting an open, honest look at me and my daily trials (they mostly involve her), and that therefore “Dad” is a less mysterious character to her than he would have been a couple of generations ago, back in the era of the “home-at-six, go-ask-your-mother, emotions-aint-my-strong-suit,” father figure. (On the other hand, dads wore much better hats back then. Win some, lose some.) It’s cool with me if Lola gets to see me struggle with the expanded role of the “modern dad.” Hopefully, she’ll grasp that being a father isn’t a skill we wake up with one morning – it’s something to work at, practice, and get better at over time. And we should be assuring our kids that, since fatherhood is a project that they’re a part of, their opinions and ideas about it are important to us.

With that in mind, children’s books and media offer some great, concrete depictions of the many faces of the contemporary dad, and are a perfect way to start a conversation with your kid about what being a “real Dad” really means.

 


Storytime Suggestions

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  1. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
    • Here is Dad in the role of Mystic: the guide to awe and wonder in his child’s world. A father takes his daughter owling in the dark of night, and the experience is a rite of passage for her. Here, the father is at once a teacher, a protector, and a fellow witness to the magic and mystery of the forest.
  2. Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall
    • Speaking of evolving family roles, this book is a terrific illustration of the American family of two centuries ago, carving out an existence defined by the land, the seasons, and collective (and near-constant) labor. A fine starting point for discussions about how family dynamics, and family goals, have shifted over the decades. Plus, you get to point out how much easier kids today have it. Kids love that.
  3. In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall (Anthology)
    • An excellent collection of poems about fathers and children, by African-American authors, varying in complexity for a wide range of young readers. Fathers of color face a unique set of challenges, from reconciling their own cultural traditions about fatherhood with those of the American mainstream, to having to confront ugly stereotypes about non-white dads. This is a good jumping-off point for any father to talk to his kids about the role race plays in how we think of ourselves, our families, and our identities.
  4. Many Moons by James Thurber
    • A humorous look at Dad in the flawed role of Over-Doting Santa, as a King’s dogged determination to give his little princess anything she desires leads to a lot of consternation and very little satisfaction. Unlike the classic fairy tale King, whose main goal is usually to pass off his daughter to any worthy suitor, this monarch loves his daughter enough to (eventually) listen to her own advice about what will make her happy.
  5. Gorilla by Anthony Browne
    • Single fathers have to play the role of Superdad, balancing both the breadwinning and breadbaking duties. Dads who work away from home full-time are in the unenviable position of knowing that they will inevitably miss a lot of quality moments with their children. Here, a single, working father struggles to find the time he wants to devote to his lonely daughter. The book doesn’t soft-pedal the difficulties they face, but it shows how even small doses of focused, loving time together can be enough to make a child feel happy and cared-for.
  6. Papa and Me by Arthur Dorros
    • We all develop rituals with our kids, from how we wake them up in the morning to how we handle bathtime and bedtime at night. Those habits build a framework of reliability and security that children can depend on. This book, describing a single day’s activities between a father and son, is great for conversations about rituals in your own family. Ask your child to think of some habits you do together, or to describe your own ritualistic behaviors to you – their observations about you can be surprisingly astute.
  7. Always My Dad  by Sharon Wyeth
    • A sensitive look at live-away fathers, told from the perspective of a child, this book illustrates how much joy and excitement can come out of even a few visits a year together. For those dads who have to spend time away from their families, this is a good story to encourage your child to talk about their range of feelings regarding your time apart and your time together.
  8. Pale Male by Janet Schulman
    • For years, the defense of strict, gender-divided family roles often invoked the argument that those roles were natural and innate (Dad the hunter procuring food, Mom the nurturing nest-maker staying home). Of course, nature is nowhere near so simple – and there are plenty of examples in the animal kingdom to demonstrate that. Here, the true story of a New York City hawk shows how varied the roles of an animal father can be – and gives some good food for thought about whether there are universal, or at least fundamental, principles of fatherhood.
  9. Lakas and the Manilatown Fish by Anthony Robles
    • Like Papa and Me, a book about a father and son’s day around town. This one, however, focuses more on how a dad can encourage whimsy and imagination in his child’s life. An excellent look at how a father can expand and shape his kid’s perceptions of the world while remaining receptive and accommodating to the child’s own feelings and ideas.
 

Picture Books For Older Siblings (9-12)

  1. Crow Call by Lois Lowry
    • A more detailed, mature depiction of a military family and the difficulties both father and daughter face after dad’s long absence.
  2. Tibet: Through the Red Box by Peter Sis
    • A semi-magical, philosophical exploration of fathers’ own histories and stories, from the perspective of a child now grown.
  3. Drawing from Memory by Allen Say
    • A brilliant graphic-novel autobiography that deals extensively with the theme of surrogate father figures.
  4. Brooklyn Bridge by Lynn Curlee
    • Though it is the factual account of the famous bridge’s construction, it’s also the fascinating story of an intense father who handed off his creative heritage (and his bridge project) to his son, and how the son handled them both.

Movie Night

Danny the Champion of the World

The movie version of the classic Roald Dahl story, featuring one of the coolest single dads in literary history. Somehow Danny’s father teaches him honesty, morality, and pride of craftsmanship – using pheasant poaching as a classroom. See if your kids can recognize Robby Coltrane (Hagrid from Harry Potter) in the role of the wealthy villain.

Fiddler on the Roof

Kids love it for the music and dancing, but they’ll also identify with the clash of wills between father and daughters. A fine depiction of fatherhood as a constant work-in-progress, and of how parents can learn from their children just as well as the other way around.

The Secret Garden

Another film version of a classic book – this one describing the struggles of a widower and his son as they try to deal with grief and build a relationship with each other. There have been several film versions, but if you can find it, the 1975 tv series is excellent.

 

Movies for older siblings (9 and up)

Back to the Future

An 80s classic that also happens to be a perceptive look at the father-son generation gap, and how both sides can find common ground by understanding more about each other (also, time-traveling Deloreans help). Bonus points for being one of the rare father-child movies that’s not about a single dad.

Paper Moon

A Depression-era con man and a girl who may be his daughter travel the country, and it’s unclear which of them has more to learn from the other. Real-life father-daughter duo Ryan and Tatum O’Neal play the lead roles.

 


Suggested App

Fraction Calculator Plus

What does a calculator that handles fractions have to do with fatherhood? This app was developed jointly by 12-yr-old Isabel Hughes and her father Aidan, after she pointed out that there were no good fraction apps available. They then went on to develop the current #1 calculator app for Kindle Fire. If your daughter needs help with her homework, or maybe an example of a girl excelling in math or programming, this app provides both. A good reminder of the power of father-child teamwork.

Fatherhood Fun Facts

To share with your little protégés.

  • Jacques Cousteau, inventor of the SCUBA system, used his seven-year-old son, Jean-Michel, to test the device underwater.

  • US President John Tyler had fifteen children.

  • Laila Ali, daughter of boxer Muhammed Ali, and Jackie Frazier Lyde, daughter of boxer Joe Frazier, both became professional boxers, too – and they fought each other just like their fathers did. Laila Ali won by decision.

  • The cost of raising an American kid to age 18 is currently $181,480.

  • The number-one Father’s Day gift dads said they’d like to receive: spending the day with their kids.


Activities

You’re a modern father, which means you must be the master of every domain, within the house and without (it’s ok, it’s a work-in-progress). Here are some projects you can tackle together with your children, so they can enjoy working with you, instead of just watching you.

In the Workshop

Sons and daughters will be equally enthralled by banging away next to you in your garage or backyard. Here are some simple ideas for introducing them to the joy and pride of building with their hands.

  • Drywall Screw Practice: Start some screws in a scrap of drywall and let the kids screw them in with a screwdriver or a kid-size cordless screwdriver. Drywall is a lot easier to screw into than wood.

  • Bubble-wrap Hammering: To a kid who’s not quite ready to drive nails, nothing feels better than whap, crackle and pop. Supply a kid-size hammer or a rubber mallet.

  • Foam Core Lumberyard: Clamp some foam core to a workbench and let kids saw it into strips. Foam core is easier to saw through than wood, and a keyhole saw is perfect for small hands. You can buy foam core at craft, art and office supply stores.

Dad tips:

  • Introduce tools one or two at a time. Kids are easily frustrated. Be careful not to go too fast. Let kids handle a tool, see how it works and feel a sense of accomplishment with it before moving on to another one.

  • Work at their height. You don’t like a work surface that’s too high, low or wobbly, and neither do kids. The workbench top should be at least 2 x 4 ft. and stand 24 in. high for preschoolers and 27 in. high for elementary-age kids.

  • Don’t do it for themThe biggest lesson a young builder can learn from you is patience. It’s very easy for an adult to take over and just do things for their child, but you have to let kids learn by doing, not watching.

From Joe Kelly’s fatherhood blog “The Dad Man”

On the Job

Any work you’re interested in will be interesting to your children, whether it’s a career or a hobby. Don’t wait for “Bring Your Child to Work Day” if you don’t have to.

  • Give younger children a digital camera or old phone camera and let them spend an hour snapping pictures of you, your desk, your co-workers, and your workplace.

  • Set them up in a workstation like yours and ask them to lend you a hand for a few minutes. If you can, find them a real task to do – they’ll know the difference from how you use their finished products. Make sure to take a few pictures of them “on the job.”

  • Back at home, help them create a slide show of your shared workday. There are numerous editing apps that will allow you to add music or narration from your child.

  • For kids over 7 or so, let them shoot video instead of still shots. Together you can edit a movie about “What My Papa Does.” Some examples:

On A Visit to Grandpa

Older relatives are a gold mine of stories – just give kids a theme and an assignment to help them slow down long enough to listen. Sit down with the elders in your lives (or visit a senior home) and try one of these:

  • Muckraking: Have your child gather some dirt on you by asking your relatives about any horrible things you did when you were your child’s age. They can follow up by writing a “report card” about you, from the perspective of a teacher, coach, etc. It’s fun for kids to find out you weren’t always so perfect in every way.
  • Forefathers Documentary: Have your child interview Grandpa on video (you can help with the technical setup). Starter questions: What chores did dads do when you were my age? What games did you play with your dad? Did he ever take you out after school or on weekends? Where? What did you talk about together? Did you ever work together? What is one thing he taught you? Was any of that different when you had a son? What was Dad like when he was my age? Work together on editing the footage into a short movie you can share with the family.
  • The Grandpa Times: Using some stories from older family members, work with your child to make a one-page newspaper, reporting on household events as they happened years ago. Some simple layout tools are available online.

At the Zoo

A zoo visit is a great opportunity to talk about the amazing array of father roles in nature – especially because there are informational signs to help you sound wise. (This is a good follow-up field trip after reading Pale Male.)

  • At each animal enclosure, ask your kids to locate the father. How do they know which one he is (size, feathers, activity, etc)? What might they say are the distinguishing characteristics of human fathers?

  • Emperor penguin males are famous for hatching eggs in the midst of Antarctic winter. Can your children find some other animal fathers that play unexpected roles in their families? Wolves, seahorses, marmosets, lions, bonobos, and horned owls are all good bets.

  • Which animal dads do your kids think act most like you? On your snack break together, ask them to draw a picture of you in the home, doing whatever they think of you doing there, but with the head of that animal. Feel free to return the favor, as well.

  • Choose one animal family that you can observe together for a while, and ask your kids to take notes (either aloud, or written “field notes”) on how the family acts. Who does the feeding, and where? Who makes what noises? Who sleeps and who shows off? Then, when you get home, reenact the life of that animal family for an hour (dinnertime can get messy, but is always entertaining).

  • Back at Home: For older kids, ask them to play naturalist, writing field notes while observing your own household for an afternoon as if they were observing a new species in the wild. They can shoot photos of their subjects as well. Feel free to insist that they refer to you as “the alpha male.”

In the Kitchen

Even with short time and limited ingredients, you can impress any kid with this can’t-miss recipe:

Ziploc Instant Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup half and half (whole milk works, too)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 cap vanilla
  • Food coloring
  • 2 Ziploc bags -- one sandwich size and one freezer bag in gallon or two-gallon size
  • Ice -- lots!
  • Salt -- lots!
  • 1 dish towel

Here’s What You Do:

  1. Mix the milk, sugar, flavoring, and food coloring in the small Ziploc bag and seal with as little air as possible in bag.
  2. Fill the big Ziploc bag with ice and salt. The more the merrier.
  3. Put the small bag in the large bag, seal, and then start shaking like you mean it. This is where the dish towel comes into play, as your hands will get pretty cold. Try leaving a bit of air in the big bag before you seal it, so that the ice and salt can move around and coat the smaller bag inside.
  4. After about ten minutes, take out the small bag and ... enjoy. You’re done. That’s it. Kitchen magician, that’s what you are. Or at least what the kids will think anyway: “My dad, the Harry Potter of the kitchen.” Every dude’s dream.

Dad Tip:

That's the basic recipe, but you can tinker with the milk or ice cream before you put it in the bag. For instance, try simmering ginger or cinnamon sticks with the milk over the stove for about ten minutes. Then strain, cool and use that milk to make the ice cream.  You can also alter the sugar amount to make it less cloying, although more sugar means a smoother texture. Have fun with it and experiment with a lot of batches. You can't really go wrong.

From Dad’s Book of Awesome Projects, by Mike Adamick

In the Workshop

Sons and daughters will be equally enthralled by banging away next to you in your garage or backyard. Here are some simple ideas for introducing them to the joy and pride of building with their hands.

  • Drywall Screw Practice: Start some screws in a scrap of drywall and let the kids screw them in with a screwdriver or a kid-size cordless screwdriver. Drywall is a lot easier to screw into than wood.

  • Bubble-wrap Hammering: To a kid who’s not quite ready to drive nails, nothing feels better than whap, crackle and pop. Supply a kid-size hammer or a rubber mallet.

  • Foam Core Lumberyard: Clamp some foam core to a workbench and let kids saw it into strips. Foam core is easier to saw through than wood, and a keyhole saw is perfect for small hands. You can buy foam core at craft, art and office supply stores.

Dad tips:

  • Introduce tools one or two at a time. Kids are easily frustrated. Be careful not to go too fast. Let kids handle a tool, see how it works and feel a sense of accomplishment with it before moving on to another one.

  • Work at their height. You don’t like a work surface that’s too high, low or wobbly, and neither do kids. The workbench top should be at least 2 x 4 ft. and stand 24 in. high for preschoolers and 27 in. high for elementary-age kids.

  • Don’t do it for themThe biggest lesson a young builder can learn from you is patience. It’s very easy for an adult to take over and just do things for their child, but you have to let kids learn by doing, not watching.

From Joe Kelly’s fatherhood blog “The Dad Man”



About Josia L. 

Lead curator Josia is a renaissance man, and though he’d rather we didn’t mention it, he’s also kind of a genius. His resume defies categorization: 8th-Grade English/ESL Teacher, Dunkin' Donuts graveyard shift clerk, Matlock extra, high-end pants designer (which earned him the 2006 CFDA/Vogue Award for menswear design), historical re-enactor, nightclub salsa instructor, pirate-themed Ebay retailer, rock drummer, and tall-ship crew member are only a handful of the positions he’s occupied, which surely fortified his stint as a resume consultant. Josia now resides in Durham, NC with his wife Maria and is a stay-home dad to their 2 year old daughter.

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