Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 October 2019

Real Men Read UAE initiative encourages men to be role models and read to children

According to a Harvard University 2015 study on parents’ reading patterns to determine their effect on language, children were challenged more by their fathers who created an environment for imaginative discussions during reading time.
Fahad Abdelkareem Elnawaisah reads a story in his son’s class at Al Maaref Private School. Antonie Robertson / The National
Fahad Abdelkareem Elnawaisah reads a story in his son’s class at Al Maaref Private School. Antonie Robertson / The National

At bedtime, Fahad Abdelkareem Elnawaisah becomes anything his 4-year-old son wants him to be. Some nights he is a ferocious man-eater on prowl, while on others he is a hero from a favourite bedtime story. 

“Reading to him is part of the attention I give to my children after a long day at work,” says ­Elnawaisah, a businessman based in Dubai.

“I work all day and the time I get with them is so little that I want to make every minute count. Reading to them is a good way of doing that.”

This isn’t just an unstructured bonding ritual for the Jordanian father of two, but also a time to inculcate the practice of reading and imparting life lessons. 

According to a Harvard University 2015 study on parents’ reading patterns to determine their effect on language, children were challenged more by their fathers who created an environment for imaginative discussions during reading time. “Reading is seen as a female activity and kids seem to be more tuned in when their dad reads to them – it’s special,” head researcher Elisabeth Duursma said in a recent interview.

To spread the word, Elnawaisah cancelled his meetings earlier this week to get involved in the Real Men Read UAE, a month-long campaign initiated by education company Know Do Serve Learn, replicating a similar campaign in the United States encouraging men to be role models and read to children at schools. The initiative also dovetails neatly with the country’s Year of Reading initiative. 

One of the sessions found Elnawaisah in the play area at the Al Maaref Private School, holding aloft the storybook Goldilocks and the Three Bears. “Who likes to read?” he asked, prompting several hands to go up in excitement. He then began to read, modulating his voice to mimic a bear’s growl, then switching to the shy tones of a girl, all the while interrupted with questions from the enthusiastic children: “How big was the bed? What did Goldilocks do next?”

Their class teacher, Abeer Abdel Baki, says she insisted that the students’ fathers take an active role in their education. Such is the dedication that she coaxes parents to Skype in from work during class to read aloud, as well. 

“We always have the mothers follow-up on their progress, but I want the fathers to take responsibility for their children’s education, too,” she said.

Across the hall, Hatim Karim, whose 9-year-old daughter Farah is in Grade 4 at the school, was reading an Arabic-language book to her classmates. “I think there is an injustice with reading time at schools nowadays, especially in Arabic,” says the Iraqi father, who went to a public school in the UAE. “We used to have dedicated reading time everyday, and now that’s not there.”

He says he makes sure his five children are reading both Arabic and English-language stories at home and reads to them ­frequently. 

In her study of 500 families in the United States, Duursma found that fathers tend to use more abstract and complex language during storytelling than mothers, often linking events in the book to the child’s experiences. This fostered creativity and better comprehension.

She also observed that collaborative reading strengthened the relationship between children and fathers, which affected their well-being. 

Stay-at-home-dad Mostafa Hassan, who hails from Egypt, was at the Collegiate American School in Dubai earlier this month to read to middle-school children, and said the children were rapt during story time. “I saw how their eyes lit up in anticipation of what came next in the story,” he recalled. “They learn to be inquisitive.”

At home he uses reading as the springboard for a variety of ­bonding activities with his two girls.

“We cook together. My 6-year-old reads out the recipes to me and we talk about the various cuisine,” he said, adding that he is working towards rallying other dads to read at school every morning before heading off to work. 

aahmed@thenational.ae

Updated: March 13, 2016 04:00 AM

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