4. Learning

Fathers and father-figures have been shown to have a significant impact on academic achievement as well as the social and emotional wellbeing of children.

Children’s attitudes toward learning and school are also strongly influenced by their father. If you model and encourage a love of learning you will be setting your child up with the same attitude throughout their lives.

Your job as a parent is not to teach your children everything you know, but rather to encourage them to discover things for themselves. If you can instil in them the mindset that learning is fun, they will grow up to be a lifelong learner who thrives on a challenge.

Within ‘Learning’, the Fathering Fundamental:

  • Play is a game changer
  • A growth mindset
  • Mistakes and learning
  • Partnering with the school
  • Positive attitudes towards school
  • Supporting learning at home
  • Get involved in the school

Play is a game changer

Play is a fun way to connect with your children and has huge benefits for them. Father playtime is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.

Play encourages children to explore, discover, negotiate, take risks, and problem-solve which supports the development of cognitive, social, emotional and physical skills. Even as they get older, they will still crave time with you and love to play.

There is merit to the saying “the family that plays together, stays together.” Strong lifelong bonds are developed between you and your children when you create positive memories of playing together.

Play is important because:

  • Children who play with their fathers do better in school.
  • Fathers are more likely to engage children in the physical activity they need for good health.
  • Children who play with their fathers regularly have been shown to be more confident and better at coping with challenges, setbacks, or problems.
  • When fathers regularly engage with their children through play, they are more likely to have improved thinking skills, test scores and general results in school.
  • When you spend time in stimulating and playful interactions, your children learn how to regulate their feelings and behaviour2.
  • When your children are outside getting active and learning how to play independently, they are more likely to be active as they grow older.
  • Playing with fathers can help reduce children’s screen time.

Top tips

  • Get back to your inner child and play with your children.
  • Play doesn’t need to be formal, just go out and play with your children in the backyard.
  • Use play as an opportunity to engage fully with your children in a fun and relaxed way.
  • Don’t stop play once your children reach adolescence. Engage with adolescents in recreation activities that are fun, playful and allow them to explore their abilities and skills in a safe environment.

A growth mindset

  • Understanding mindsets. We all have beliefs about our own abilities and potential. These beliefs are part of our mindset which is a powerful tool that shapes our everyday lives.
  • A growth mindset is the belief that abilities can be developed through effort and practice. Children with a growth mindset believe that they work hard, they can get improved results. They have a more positive attitude towards learning, are more willing to face challenges and see failure as part of the process of learning.
  • A fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence or abilities can’t be changed. When children have a fixed mindset, they tend to give up easily when they meet challenges because they believe that they don’t have what it takes to learn hard things. As a result, mistakes are often seen as failures rather than opportunities to grow and learn.

Research shows that praising the process—children’s effort or strategies—creates an eagerness for challenges, persistence in the face of difficulty, and enhanced performance.

Tip tips for developing a growth mindset

  • Let your children know that our brains are always learning, even when we are adults.
  • Help children understand that the brain works like a muscle. You have to put it to work and give it lots of practice.
  • Explain that when you practice this helps your brain to remember, so the next time you try that task is a bit easier. Each time you try it will become easier.
  • Listen to what your children say. Think about the messages you are sending them about mindsets. For example, if they said “I can’t do this” you could encourage a change in mindset by saying “you can’t do this yet, you are learning how to do this”.
  • Instead of praising children’s intelligence or talent, focus on the processes they used. For example, “That homework was so long and difficult. You did such a good job of concentrating and finishing it”.
  • Let your children know that we are all learning all the time. Tell them about something that you have learnt or are learning now.

Mistakes and learning

Understanding mistakes and learning

Children are on a journey towards managing themselves. In the meantime, they will make some mistakes. Emotional mistakes, social mistakes, behavioural mistakes, relationship mistakes and learning mistakes. Our role is to be there to teach and support them as they learn to manage themselves.

Ask yourself whether you are providing the necessary support that your child needs instead of focussing on the negative. When your child makes a mistake, try to handle the situation positively by helping them understand what went wrong. This way, they will know what to do when a similar situation arises. Provide words of encouragement that will help your child learn and emerge stronger.

Top tips

  • Give your children the freedom to make mistakes.
  • Let your children know that they don’t have to be perfect.
  • Let your children know that your love is unconditional, regardless of their mistakes or lapses in judgment.
  • Tell your children that making mistakes is part of learning. We don’t always get things right the first time round and that is okay when we try to learn from our mistakes.
  • Don’t rescue children from their mistakes. Instead, focus on the solution.
  • Tell your children about some of your own mistakes, the consequences, and how you learned from them.
  • Encourage children to take responsibility for their mistakes and not blame others.
  • Praise children for their efforts and courage to overcome setbacks.

Partnering with the school

As a parent, you are the first educator of your child. When your child begins school, you become a partner with the teachers in your child’s education. By developing a good relationship with the school and your child’s teachers, you send powerful messages to your child about school and learning.

Why is this important?

  • Fathers’ involvement has a stronger influence on children getting high grades as well as on the child’s attitude to learning2,3.
  • Children whose fathers participate in school activities, meetings and events also enjoy school more and are less likely to have behaviour issues4,5.
  • Children do better in school when their fathers are involved in their school, regardless of whether their fathers live with them or live apart6.
  • Fathers have a significant impact on the social, cognitive, emotional, and physical wellbeing of children from infancy to adolescence, with lasting influences into their adult life7,18.
  • A partnership with your child’s school helps you and their teachers learn more about your child.
  • Together, you and the teacher can connect what’s happening at school with what’s happening at home.
  • Knowing more about their students helps teachers personalise instruction for the students.
  • When your child sees you and their teacher working in partnership, they become more engaged in learning and as result their education improves.

Top tips

  • Introduce yourself and your family to your child’s teacher at the beginning of the year.
  • Make sure the school has information about your contact details.
  • Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s teacher.
  • At the beginning of each term, after the teacher and students have had a chance to settle in, make an appointment to see the teacher to discuss how your child has settled in.
  • Attend the class parent meeting at the beginning of the year to find out about the teacher’s goals, expectations, rules, and limits (if there is no arranged meeting, arrange to see the teacher yourself).
  • If your child is struggling with their schoolwork or friendships, work together with the teachers or the school.
  • Create or join a Dads Group within your school.

Positive attitude towards school

Everyone has different memories of their time in school. Some are very positive, and others are less so. Your own personal experiences and memories can affect your attitude towards school in general.

Your attitudes towards school will be picked up by your children. If these attitudes are positive, your children will most likely begin school with a happy and positive attitude and be open to the whole new experience.

Top tips

  • Show respect for your child’s teachers through your words and actions.
  • Read the school newsletter with your child and discuss articles and events.
  • Focus on the positive. Praise your child’s school for the good things that it does. Send a note to the teacher when you are pleased with what he/she is doing.
  • If your child has been in trouble don’t take this personally. All children will make mistakes and misbehave at some time and discipline is a normal procedure within the school.
  • If you are called into the school about a problem, be open to the situation and try to work together with the teacher for a common solution that is best for your child.
  • Remember you and the school both want the best for your child, so you need to work together to find the best strategies and actions.

Supporting learning at home

When fathers support learning from the school at home this demonstrates to your child that you truly value education and learning.

Top tips

  • Read with your child from an early age.
  • Be willing to help with homework (even if that just means asking them questions).
  • Support your child with his/her homework. Discuss what they have to do and how they are going to do it.
  • Promote a positive mindset in your children to focus on continued learning and improvement.
  • Don’t put pressure on your child – encourage them to be as good as they can be and help them plan how to improve.
  • If your child is having trouble with homework and it is causing stress or arguments, put it aside, take some time away from it and try again later. If there are still problems, contact the teacher to discuss solutions.

Get involved in the school

When fathers get involved with their child’s school, they help to build school community and connectedness. Engaging with the school has significant benefits on the academic achievement and social and emotional wellbeing of your child.

Top tips

  • Join the school Dads group.
  • Become an active participant at the school or in school organisations. Join the P&C or volunteer to help in the classroom.
  • If work or other commitments prevent you from making regular plans to volunteer, let the teacher or P&C know that you are happy to help out when you can.
  • Check school planners and newsletters so you are aware of activities at the school e.g. orientation days, excursions, sports carnivals and busy bees.
  • Lock in appointments in your diary for school activities, just like a work appointment.
  • Support school activities such as parent evenings, busy bees, fundraising events.
  • Attend some of your child’s school camps if parent help/ attendance is requested.
  • Attend school assemblies so you have ongoing knowledge of what is happening in the school.


  1. St George, Jennifer & Freeman, Emily. (2017). Fathers’ physical play and children’s development. 10.13140/RG.2.2.33199.84649.
  2. Why Mindset Matters – retrieved from https://medium.com/stanford-magazine/carol-dweck-mindset-research-eb80831095b5
  3. Ewell Fostera, C, Horwitza, A (2017). Connectedness to family, school, peers, and community in socially vulnerable adolescents. Children and Youth Services Review. 81. 10.1016/j.childyouth.2017.08.011
  4. Pleck, J.H. (2010). Paternal involvement: revised conceptualization and theoretical linkages with child outcomes. In M.E. Lamb (ed.), The Role of the Father in Child Development (5th ed.). Hoboken NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  5. Panter-Brick, C., Burgess, A., Eggerman, M., McAllister, F., Pruett, K., & Leckman, J. F. (2014). Practitioner Review: Engaging fathers – recommendations for a game change in parenting