ERIC Identifier: ED400123
Publication Date: 1996-10-00
Author: McBride, Brent A. - Rane, Thomas R.
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Father/Male Involvement in Early Childhood Programs. ERIC
Parents, educators, researchers, and policymakers all assert the value of
positive home-school partnerships. This focus on parental involvement in school
settings comes at a time when early childhood programs increasingly consist of
children from single-parent households, recombined or blended families,
foster-parent homes, extended families with relatives, or a variety of other
family situations (Epstein, 1988). A major challenge for family support
professionals working in early childhood settings is to restructure program
policies and practices aimed at increasing parent involvement to reflect the new
realities of family structure, lifestyle, and ethnic characteristics. This
effort is crucial as an increasing number of states and local public school
systems move toward offering pre-kindergarten programs for children from
economically disadvantaged and "high-risk" backgrounds (Karweit, 1993).
FATHER/MALE INVOLVEMENT IN EARLY CHILDHOOD SETTINGS
important yet often overlooked strategy in the effort to increase parent
involvement in early childhood programs is involving fathers or other
significant male role figures. The notion that all fathers of children from
low-income and high-risk backgrounds absent themselves from child rearing is a
myth that permeates program development efforts in this area. For example, in a
recent study of a pre-kindergarten at-risk program, McBride and Lin (in press)
found that a majority of the mothers surveyed reported their children had
regular and consistent interaction with a father or other male role figure
despite the high proportion of single-parent families being served by the
program. In a nationwide survey of Head Start programs serving low-income
families, Levine (1993) found that a man is present (whether the father,
mother's boyfriend, or other male relative) in approximately 60 percent of Head
Start families. Furthermore, in a similar nationwide survey of Head Start
programs, Gary et al. (1987) found that the majority of parents and staff
members felt that emphasis should be placed on getting Head Start fathers
involved in the program.
The myths and stereotypes surrounding men in low-income and high-risk
households have had a significant negative impact on policies relating to
programs that benefit disadvantaged families (Levine, 1993). Generally these
policies identify "parents" as targets for their outreach initiatives, yet
program implementation typically discourages the participation of men in parent
involvement activities. The lack of initiatives designed to encourage male
involvement in pre-kindergarten programs for children who are at risk for later
school failure does not build upon the strengths that many of these men can
bring to the parenting situation--strengths that can be utilized in the
development of effective home-school partnerships. When men become actively
involved, they can have positive impacts on many aspects of children's
development (see Lamb, in press, for a comprehensive review).
GETTING FATHERS/MALES INVOLVED
Given the support for
increased involvement of parents in their children's schooling and the positive
contributions men can make to their children's development, it is important to
reach out specifically to fathers or other significant males in parent
involvement efforts for pre-kindergarten and early childhood programs. In doing
so, however, it is important to recognize at the outset that several barriers
must be overcome in order to successfully get men more involved.
Levine (1993) has outlined four factors that constrain Head Start and
state-funded pre-kindergarten programs from encouraging father involvement: (1)
fathers' fears of exposing inadequacies; (2) ambivalence of program staff
members about father involvement; (3) gatekeeping by mothers; and (4)
inappropriate program design and delivery. Each one of these barriers must be
overcome as programs attempt to encourage and facilitate increased involvement
of fathers in their children's school experiences.
McBride and his colleagues (McBride, Obuchowski, & Rane, 1996) have
identified several key issues that need to be explored as early childhood
programs struggle to build stronger home-school partnerships through the
development and implementation of parent involvement initiatives targeted at
1. BE SPECIFIC ABOUT GOALS
Early childhood educators need to be specific in their reasons for developing
parent involvement initiatives targeted at men. Prior to developing such
initiatives, educators must ask themselves why they think such efforts are
important and how they can enhance the services being provided to children and
families. There are clear benefits to encouraging male involvement in early
childhood programs for enrolled children, their families, and the programs in
general. Focusing on male involvement because it is currently a "hot" social
issue increases the likelihood that such efforts will wane when the next big
2. ACKNOWLEDGE RESISTANCE TO INITIATIVES
Not everyone will be committed to the concept of parent involvement
initiatives targeted at fathers or other significant males. The lack of male
involvement and "responsible" fathering behaviors is often cited as a major
reason for children's later school failure, and many people will question why
resources should be targeted at these men when they are viewed as the primary
cause of the problems facing children. This resistance may come from mothers,
teachers, school administrators, and community leaders. Since support from these
groups is critical to the success of parent involvement initiatives designed for
men, educators will need to build a strong rationale for developing such
initiatives, a rationale that can be clearly articulated to these groups in
order to gain their support for such efforts.
3. IDENTIFY THE SIGNIFICANT MALE ROLE FIGURES
Educators will need to be specific about whom to target in their efforts to
encourage male involvement. Research data have indicated that children growing
up in low-income and single-parent homes often have regular and consistent
interactions with a father figure, although not necessarily their biological
father. Focusing efforts on biological fathers will exclude a large proportion
of men who play significant roles in the lives of these children. The key for
educators will be to identify who the men are in the lives of these children who
can then become targets for these efforts.
4. PROVIDE TRAINING AND SUPPORT SERVICES FOR STAFF
Most early childhood educators have received little, if any, formalized
education and training in the area of parent involvement. This is especially
true in the area of male involvement in early childhood programs. If such
efforts are to be successful, teachers will need staff development and
in-service training experiences that will allow them to develop a knowledge base
from which to develop and implement initiatives that are designed to encourage
male involvement in their programs.
5. TRAIN FEMALE FACILITATORS TO ACCEPT MALE INVOLVEMENT
Although having male staff members provide leadership to initiatives designed
to encourage male involvement in early childhood programs would be desirable,
such expectations are not always realistic because the majority of professionals
in this field are female. Women can be successful in these efforts, but they
must acknowledge and build upon the unique strengths that men bring to the
parenting realm and be sensitive to differences in the ways in which men and
women approach parenting and interacting with young children.
6. DON'T NEGLECT MOTHERS
Research has indicated that mothers tend to be the "gatekeepers" to their
children for fathers or other significant male role figures. As educators
develop initiatives to encourage male involvement, they must not do so at the
expense of efforts targeted at mothers. Mothers need to be involved in the
development of these efforts from the beginning. They need to be made aware of
why resources are being put into developing these activities and how they and
their children will benefit. Eliciting the support and involvement of mothers in
developing such initiatives can help insure the initiatives' success.
7. GO SLOWLY
As with any other initiative, early childhood educators must proceed slowly
in their efforts to encourage male involvement in their programs. The key to
success for these efforts is in building a male-friendly environment that
facilitates a culture of male involvement in the program. However, building such
a culture is a long-term process, and educators shouldn't expect too much, too
soon. They should start slowly and build upon their successes.
8. DON'T REINVENT THE WHEEL
Many early childhood programs serving children who are at risk for later
school failure already include comprehensive parent involvement components,
although they tend to be targeted primarily at mothers. When developing
initiatives for male involvement, educators should first evaluate the parent
involvement components already in place and explore how they may be adapted to
reach out to men in order to meet their unique needs.
Successful resolution of these issues will
provide early childhood programs with a solid foundation from which to develop
and implement parent involvement initiatives designed for men. Through such
initiatives, men can become valuable resources as educators struggle to build
stronger home-school partnerships aimed at strengthening family units that will
help young children achieve success as they progress through the educational
Epstein, J.L. (1988). How Do We Improve Programs
for Parent Involvement? EDUCATIONAL HORIZONS 66(2): 58-59. EJ 364 521.
Epstein, J.L. (1992). School and Family Partnerships. In M.C. Alkin (Ed.),
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH (6th ed.) (pp. 1130-1151). New York:
Gary, L., L. Beatty, and G. Weaver. (1987). INVOLVEMENT OF BLACK FATHERS IN
HEAD START. (Final report submitted to the Department of Health and Human
Services, ACYF, Grant No. 90-CD-0509). Washington, DC: Institute for Urban
Affairs and Research, Howard University. ED 309 213.
Karweit, N. (1993). Effective Preschool and Kindergarten Programs for
Students At-Risk. In B. Spodek (Ed.), HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH ON THE EDUCATION OF
YOUNG CHILDREN (pp. 385-411). New York: Macmillan. ED 361 107.
Lamb, M.E. (in press). THE ROLE OF THE FATHER IN CHIILD DEVELOPMENT (3rd ed).
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Levine, J.A. (1993). Involving Fathers in Head Start: A Framework for Public
Policy and Program Development. FAMILIES IN SOCIETY, 74(1): 4-19.
McBride, B.A., and H. Lin. (in press). Parental Involvement in
Prekindergarten At-Risk Programs: Multiple Perspectives. JOURNAL OF
EDUCATION FOR STUDENTS PLACED AT-RISK.
McBride, B.A., M. Obuchowski, and T. Rane. (1996). Father/Male Involvement in
Prekindergarten At-Risk Programs: Research Guiding Practice. Workshop presented
at the Family Resource Coalition Biennial Conference, Chicago, IL, May.