Monday, September 16, 2019

The Power of Books

My name is Kyle, I’m a librarian, a dad, and soon to be Charlee’s husband. My son (5) and her two daughters (5 & 3) blend into our family of three kids and a rascally-rescued hound named Radar. Books have played a major role in our family from the very beginning. Charlee and I met at the library. We got to know each other by discussing books we’ve read, authors we both liked, and suggesting future reads. So, it should be no surprise that we both place a high value on reading to our kids. 

I started reading to my son as soon as he was born. As an infant, he was just a captive audience who couldn’t even hold up his own head, let alone run away from me clumsily reading Maurice Sendak for the tenth time (Where the Wild Things Are is still one of my favorite books). I read to him so young because exposing kids to books, even as infants, familiarizes them with voices and even begins to build the structures for syntax in their rapidly developing brains. As he got older he loved being read to so much I became captive to his insatiable hunger to read Green Eggs and Ham by Doctor Seuss for the tenth straight night.

Story time is among the most precious moments spent with my son. It is bonding time. It is virtually the only time during the day he slows down enough to tolerate being snuggled. Throughout all of the familial transitions we faced, books and reading together at bedtime were a constant source of reassurance and comfort for both of us. Every night we read together was a lesson for both us that our relationship was stable and reliable, regardless of the changes in our family structure.

While I was getting to know my new daughters, I thought it was important to give them room and let them come to me. At first there was a lot of the discerning glances and giggling games of peek-a-boo from their hiding spot behind Charlee’s knees. Several stages followed including the you-may-give-us-candy stage; the you-may-sit-next-to-us-with-food stage; and the you-may-swing-us stage. All were positive steps, and I was delighted at each step the girls’ took with me. However, it was a huge milestone for me when they crawled into my lap clutching their favorite books and asked me to read to them. I knew this indicated a new level of trust and acceptance.

Equally monumental was the first time that the five of us sat crumpled in a pile on the floor as a family to read together before bed. Some nights the sibling conflict is just too real. On those nights we read separately, and that’s okay, but as often as possible we all get together and read at night before bed. We do it because we want to feed their curiosity about reading; we want to support their future success; and, most of all, we do it because it is time devoted to bonding our new family together. The kids get to know each other discussing each others’ favorite characters and theorizing about what will happen next. They grow closer and more comfortable with each other as they smush together and share our laps to see the illustrations.

We have also learned that books can unlock our kids from their anxieties. Our son did not adapt well to day care, so before he started kindergarten summer school we checked out The Pigeon has to Go to School! by Mo Willems from the library. Every night for three weeks it was his favorite book at our house and summer school became less of an anxiety trigger for him. 

After a particularly grueling weekend of sibling bickering, tattling, and tears, Charlee brought home Even Superheroes have Bad Days by Shelly Becker. The kids enjoy playing superheroes together, and the book illustrates superheroes have bad days too and how they process different emotions. Obviously, it wasn’t an instant panacea, but it gave us a framework in which to talk to the kids at their level about emotions like anger and sadness.

Books are a skeleton key that unlock doors and empower children to be more successful. Reading to children and having age-appropriate books in the house are the most important factors in assuring healthy language development and determining future academic success. Regularly reading to your children is also time spent nurturing and showing them affection. There is literally no downside to the time you spend with your children and books. If you don’t believe me, check out “FiftyTop Literacy Statistics” at They’ve dug through all of the child literacy studies for you and compiled a truly eye-opening list of reasons to read to your children.

Kyle Evans is dad to three and reference associate for the Springfield-Greene County Library District 

Monday, September 9, 2019

"Read Me a Story. Read Me a Story, Daddy!"

From the time they are very young, children often love nothing better than to have a parent read to them. It doesn’t matter how many times they’ve heard the same story, if they’re younger than three or four, they want to hear the same tale again, and again, and again. Some parents will tell you they’ve read the same book so many times, they could recite it by memory. Try skipping a page in an effort to hurry up bedtime and parents will tell you their child has the story memorized as well. “You skipped a part,” they’ll protest. “Don’t miss those pages.”

Perhaps it’s sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, or on daddy’s lap, that endears young children to the miracle of reading. Maybe it’s the magic of imagination as parent and child explore new worlds and funny people together. When parents use different voices and pause for dramatic effect, the mystery and enchantment is not lost on their offspring. Who doesn’t like the anxious anticipation of a scary story while cuddled up with someone bigger and stronger who will protect them and help them be brave?

Reading with young children on a regular occasion has great benefits when it becomes part of a family’s routine. Parents and children benefit from a time of calm and closeness. Memories are made and traditions are born. But other important things are also occurring when parents make the time to read with their offspring.

Reading is a foundational skill to your child’s success. With the exception of active play, nearly every other activity depends on a child’s ability to decode letters and make meaning of words and sentences. Science, history and any kind of language arts depend on it. Even math requires a child be able to read and make sense of written instructions and word problems. Simply put, children who learn to enjoy reading and do it well, usually do better in school.

What Can a Good Dad Do?
There are many things a father can do to encourage good reading habits in his child. These include the following:

Model reading for your child, i.e., let him see you reading. It doesn’t matter what—a magazine, manual or book—even something on your notebook. The important thing is they observe their dad reading. 

Take your child to a library or bookstores.  Introduce your child to the world of books.  Allow her to lead you to what she finds interesting.

Read to your child. Establish a routine that includes regular reading to or with your child.

Make reading fun. When you read to your child, use funny voices and dramatic pauses. Help them see what an enjoyable activity reading can be.

What about Dads-at-a-Distance?
Some dads travel for work and are gone from home many evenings of the week. Others are deployed. Some drive an over-the-road truck. Dads like this have an additional challenge when it comes to encouraging their child’s reading success, but today more than ever before it’s easier for them to establish helpful reading habits with their child. Consider the following:

Modeling: It may be more difficult for your child to see you read, but you can certainly talk about what you’re reading. Find out what books are being assigned at school—particularly when your child starts with chapter books in second or third grade and follow along with them. This will help them see you’re interested in what they’re learning and help you ask better questions about their homework.

In Person: When you are at home, make time to visit a library or bookstore, in addition to reading with them yourself. When dad uses his precious time at home to include 20-30 minutes of a reading-related activity, he speaks volumes to his child about its importance.

Use Social Media: Thanks to the internet, you and your child can both hear and see each other even when separated by hundreds of miles. There’s no reason a dad cannot read a book to his child via FaceTime every night, or listen to a budding reader practice his new skill while listening from afar. Consider buying two of the same book or borrowing one copy from the library. In this way, a child can follow along, while dad reads even if the internet connection doesn’t allow visual contact.

Reading is important to a child’s academic success, but it can also be the basis for many happy and positive memories between parent and child. Why not choose one new reading-related activity to create new memories for you and your child, while also strengthening the likelihood of his success at school?

"Thank you for giving us our dad back."

“If you had told me a year ago that I would have what I do today, I wouldn’t have believed it.” 

This is the way James Mincks talks about the remarkable changes in his life allowing him to be the kind of man and father he wants to be to his sons today.

James’ story is not an easy one. It contains many setbacks, including his dropping out of high school, becoming addicted to meth and serving a period of incarceration. Although he spent some time caring for his sons when they were very young and their mother was working, he admits he “was just there” and not really engaged with his children. His addiction and a number of poor choices led to his conviction as a felon and time spent in the Department of Corrections. In July 2018, he “home planned” to Victory Mission in Springfield, Missouri, where his life began to change.

At Victory Mission, James committed himself to completing the “Restoration Program.” Part of the program includes participation in New Pathways for Good Dads for all men who are fathers. It also involves an opportunity to be part of Jobs for Life. Though it wasn’t always easy to work through issues from his past, James was determined to make something different of his life. When he applied for a position at SMC Packaging in Springfield, he was one of three out of 17 applicants to be hired for the open positions. Today he speaks proudly of the promotions he has earned at SMC Packaging and the way it has changed his life. “I have vacation days, benefits and things people told me I would never have,” he says.

James also noted how his attitude changed with regard to supporting his children. “I used to resent having to pay,” he said, “because the boys’ mother made more money than me. Today I’m happy to do my part because they are my children.”

What difference does a supportive environment, a job and new confidence make for someone like James? You could ask his sons, ages 7 and 10. They would tell you that their dad planned a first ever birthday party last December, took them shoe shopping for new shoes at the beginning of summer, and financed their back-to-school shopping this fall. Following that, he arranged for family photos. One proudly features James with his boys with a sign proclaiming, “Thank you for giving us our dad back.”

Hear more of James' story in this Good Dads podcast

New Pathways for Good Dads is a Good Dads program made possible by a Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood contract through the State of Missouri's Department of Social Services, Family Support Division.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

5 Things I Learned Coaching Children's Soccer

Let me explain. I was a network administrator. Sounds much more glamorous than it was. I basically worked for 10 hours straight through the night printing reports, changing out tapes and monitoring multiple screens to make sure nothing went down.

Never quite feeling completely awake and rarely being fully asleep, led to a zombie like state that could make fathering difficult. It also gave me three days a week off and I could do stuff with my kids during the day.

After a long night of work I was reminded that my 8-year-old daughter, Abigail, was signed up for soccer at the local YMCA. Taking her to her first soccer practice sounded like something I could do even with most of my brain already at rest.

I’m not sure how it happened, but an easy trip where I got to watch my kid be coached turned into me coaching… the entire team… for the whole season.

What I learned during that one season of non-competitive, community children's soccer, with teams coached by any warm body, rivaled what years of high school sports had taught me.

In high school I suffered from a common ailment known as insecurity. Anxiety joined me on the field. As a starting defender on a large undefeated lacrosse team, I can now look back and say that I was good at it. At the time, I mostly felt like I should do better and wasn't quite sure I was ever good enough.

1. Your child's value is never in question regardless of the number of trophies they have.

Coaching kids in soccer taught me they had value before the game ever started. Their value didn't decrease or increase based on performance. Stress, anxiety, performance pressure, and ability comparison is not even a requirement to be excellent at sports. Hinting they will somehow be less of a person in my eyes if they don't out perform others creates “better” results . . . for a time. Like kids who are forced to practice piano, they often do get “better” momentarily. However, when coercive measures are not present, many never touch the instrument again wanting to avoid the unpleasantness associated with it.

2. Find a reason to celebrate your child regularly. (Actually celebrate THEM, not just their performance on the field.)

Modeling joy and celebrating participation naturally leads to great performance without manipulation or condescension. As a young man I unfortunately learned to withhold celebrating myself and others. In fact, I developed a fear of celebrating today's accomplishments. I became dependent on negative motivators that told me that being content or happy with myself and others would take away the passion needed to win. Don't believe this lie. Celebrate often. Celebrate them. Let them celebrate you. Let the simple joy of sports be the awesome motivator it is.

3. Model celebrating and learning from others, even if they are on the other team.

Let them be good at enjoying playing the sport. There are around 8 billion people in the world. If you require your child to be the “best” at anything they only have a 0.00…1% chance of living up to your expectations. (No, I didn't really do the math.) It wasn't until I was well into my adult life that I could actually appreciate the abilities of others. When I was younger I resented anyone with talent because I was supposed to be the “best.” Give your child permission to not be the “best.” You could even give them permission to celebrate others, even those on the other team. Believe it or not, this will not only make them a better person, but will help them learn new skills in their chosen sport. It helps to make them teachable.

4. Help your child discover and pursue THEIR passions. (When they want to play a position or sport different than what you want for them, build their confidence by letting them be right about their choice.)

The team I coached was a children's community league where everyone got to try every position. I once had a parent explain to me that his daughter was more of a forward than a defender and that I should put her in the game more often. He was basically telling me how much better she was than the other kids. This is a common assumption of insecure parents. I gently went to his daughter, knelt down and asked her if she would like to play. As I had suspected, she didn't even want to play. As fathers we can often be so overly concerned with our child outperforming the other kids that we lose sight of their heart, their desire. Give them permission to have passions different than yours. Let them explore sports and team positions you wouldn't have chosen for them. 

5. Your child’s safety and the safety of others is always the greatest win. (This includes not just physically safety, but also emotional, mental and social well being.)

The young YMCA youth soccer gentleman that recruited volunteers such as myself, also oversaw multiple Saturday morning games. When we ended up with too few kids for our game he decided that both teams of kids would be combined and play against the adults. For safety reasons both goalies were played by adults. We gently passed the ball to each other and cheered the kids on.

Then it happened. That young man almost lost his life! I’m 6’4” and came very close to showing him my full contact skills. He thought all the kids were out of the way and decided to treat this as a professional game. Kicking the ball as hard as he could toward the adult goalie he nailed my daughter,  Abigail, knocking her to the ground and completely knocking the wind out of her. She lay on the grass in pain and panicking to breath. I made a split second decision between introducing my recruiter to a combat sport and holding my girl.

Safety first. Be more concerned about your child's safety than their performance. Not just physically, but emotionally and socially as well. You could even demonstrate being concerned with the welfare of others over “winning.” It may seem simple to you, but for me on that field that day it was a huge “win” to keep my cool and accept that young man’s heart felt apology. He truly didn't see my daughter. He really did feel bad about hurting her. His safety was important too. Verbal and/or physical violence would have done no good. As their coach it would have only modeled really bad behavior.

Sports are a wonderful way for fathers to celebrate who their children are regardless of their skill level. It is a great environment for fathers to give their children permission to communicate THEIR heart and pursue THEIR passions. Sports are the ideal place for fathers to demonstrate that their child's safety and the safety of others is always a “win.”

And lastly, it is within the context of sports that fathers have one of the best opportunities to demonstrate the power of being kind. As a friend recently told me, “it is nice to be important, but it is even more important to be nice.”

(Raymond) Dirk Rowe is an Outreach Chaplain at Victory Mission & Ministry in Springfield, Missouri. He had the honor of hosting the first Good Dads class at Victory Mission and has greatly enjoyed seeing this amazing opportunity grow into multiple classes around Springfield.