Calling all dads: Be your child’s favorite superhero

Batman, the Caped Crusader, wanted goodness and justice to prevail. Spider-Man could react to danger quickly through his strength and agility. Superman, born on another planet, used his strong moral compass to help right terrible wrongs.

A basic Wikipedia definition suggests superheroes possess “extraordinary talents, supernatural phenomena, or superhuman powers and [are] dedicated to protecting the public.” But just watch any 5-year-old’s face light up when daddy walks through the door, and you know that he rivals any action figure in that child’s idea of “extraordinary.” He is the one who will slay imaginary dragons, protect from real-life harm, and make an afternoon in the park an amazing adventure.

That’s why dads can also be instrumental in a child’s learning. “Dad Stats,” provided by the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, suggest that “When fathers are involved in the lives of their children, especially their education, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior.”

The same source reports recent U.S. census data showed in 2013 an estimated 214,000 stay-at-home dads in the U.S. In 2011, 18% of preschoolers were cared for by dads during their moms’ work hours.

But the old saying about quality vs. quantity really is true. Not every dad can be with little ones throughout the day, but every dad can turn shared moments into pure gold. The American Humane Association (not to be confused with the animal-protective Humane Society) lists dozens of terrific ideas for “What Dads Can Do with Their Kids,” breaking them out by age group from newborn to 18. In virtually every age category is at least one tip related to reading and storytelling, including:

(Babies)

  • “Read to your baby, even the day you bring him home from the hospital. Choose simple hardboard books with bright pictures. Point out objects and name them. Tell a story from the pictures. As your baby gets closer to 1 year old, he will start developing language skills, and reading is one of the best ways to promote this.” (Take a look at Fuzzy Farmyard Friends and Fuzzy Animal Friends Clever Baby Cards.)

(Toddlers)

  • “Encourage your toddler to ask questions. Answer them with short, simple answers using words she can understand.”
  • “Read to your toddler every day. Read books, magazines and signs you see on the street. It is important for her to be close to you, listen to you speak and see that words go with pictures and make a story.” (Here are some nifty toddler books  that combine creativity with activities that build early language and numbers skills.)
  • “Teach your toddler that being kind, polite, and honest are some of the most important things in the world.”

(4- to 6-Year-Olds)

  • “During meals, ask your child what the best thing about his day was. Answer the question yourself in return.”
  • “Ask your child about things he would like to learn and then make plans to learn them together.”
  • “Read to your child every day. Help him learn that reading is a normal and natural part of life.” (Check out the first level of the Start to Read! series that also includes sing-along CDs that are super for bedtime and road trips.)
  • “Tell your child stories about when you were little. Let him know about mistakes you made and things you did right.”
  • “Help build your child’s imagination by making up creative stories with him. Start a story and let him add in key parts: ‘Once upon a time…’”

Kids are only little for a short time. But dads can be superheroes forever!