For the latest in our summer blog series focused on the important role fathers play in children’s lives and the need to support dads, we asked Spurgeons Senior Early Years Practitioner Angie Lovell to tell us about Saturdads, as it prepares to celebrate its 10th Anniversary, in August.
Every fortnight, Saturdads provides Saturday morning sessions at Honeyhill Children’s Centre, Peterborough, where fathers can encourage and get more involved in their children’s play and learning, meet other dads and develop their confidence as a dad.
I’m proud to have been involved in running the group, with my colleague Tor Bowker and our volunteers, for the last seven years of Saturdads’ 10-year history. Thanks to the dedication of the team, the enthusiasm of all the dads and the children, as well as vital funding from Peterborough City Council, this group has gone from strength to strength in terms of giving children the chance to be happy, healthy and able to develop a positive relationship with their male carers.
Most early years projects focus on maternal parenting but Spurgeons, whose founder Charles Haddon Spurgeon became known as the ‘Father to the Fatherless’ after launching his first orphanage in 1867, strongly believes that fathers can also make a real difference.
An Ofsted report said that Saturdads was “particularly successful because it enables male role models to establish productive relationships with the children. It also helps fathers learn more about how to support their children’s learning and development.”
Saturdads was started after we identified the need to reduce the attainment gap for young children, particularly those living in areas of deprivation, and to promote positive parenting. Being very much aware of the important role fathers play in child development, Saturdads aims to give fathers the opportunity to bond with their children on a Saturday morning, encourage them to engage in their children’s learning and build their parenting skills, resilience and supportive social networks.
The group works with Family Support Workers, nurseries, childminders, health visitors, children’s social care and faith and community groups to identify families (including lone parent father families and children – especially boys) that would benefit from having more quality time with their male role models.
Activities at Saturdads sessions are based on the children’s and fathers’ interests and include woodwork, cookery, First Aid, den building, gardening, Lego building and story sack making, for example.
Supporting dads to encourage their child’s early literacy is also important, particularly for boys, and fathers are involved in recording their children’s learning online. The value of this has been measured in terms of its effect on outcomes in Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) for reading, listening and attention. Of those who attended Saturdads at least 12 times during 2013-2016, 85% met expected EYFS outcomes, compared to 45% for those who did not attend or attend regularly.
In addition to the regular session activities, thanks to a bit of local fundraising, the children and dads will also go on special days out together, with the Twin Lakes attraction and National Space Centre being a couple of recent destinations.
In their own words…
But that’s enough from me. What do the dads think about Saturdads? I asked a few of them to comment and here’s what they said:
“My wife had to work evenings and every Saturday for money to pay for things. It was a bit scary having to look after my son by myself and discover fun and interesting activities to do together. I didn’t feel very comfortable or welcome at other play groups, where mainly women attended, as I felt judged by the mothers. Saturdads gave me a place to meet other dads like me and make friends. My son is an only child and seeing him make a close friend at the group, build his confidence and generally come out of his shell is just great to see.”
“I didn’t have much opportunity to spend quality time with the children and watch how they interact with other children. I’m now able to do this at Honeyhill. The children enjoy coming and it gives me the chance to speak to other dads about their experiences. The staff were able to help myself and my daughter with a problem she was having at school, which made a big difference to her.”
“I wasn’t very confident with taking my daughters out on their own. I didn’t know what to do if they cried whilst we were out. Saturdads has given me a great sense of community with other dads who were in the same situation as me. I now have the confidence to take both of my children out on my own and it has shown me a different world… my daughters love being able to spend time just with me, too!”
Nearly 250 dads and more than 400 children have benefited from going to Saturdads in the group’s first 10 years. Here’s to another 10 years and more opportunities for dads to help nurture their children in the future.