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Dad’s Night helps new fathers find their groove

PETER BURNS SHARES picture books with young children and models techniques for reading stories aloud during Dads’ Night at a Burlington nonprofit called “The Family Room.”

It’s really important that fathers can feel confident to change things up with the story.
— Josh Miller

VERMONT — “Dads’ Night is about helping dads be comfortable as a parent,” says Josh Miller, executive director of the Janet S. Munt Family Room in Burlington’s Old North End. “Dads may do things differently from how a mother does them, but fathers can provide nurturing and support and affection.”
The drop-in evening program has been offered for over 25 years and is open to any father with children under eight years old. Every Dads’ Night includes a free dinner and activities, such as story time with Peter Burns.
“Guys really look forward to when Peter comes,” Miller says. “He increases their capacity to have fun with their kids during reading time, like doing a ‘big voice’ and a ‘little voice’ and a ‘silly voice.’”
Peter’s visits to Dads’ Night are supported by Vermont Humanities via the organization’s Read with Me program, in which facilitators share the importance and the joy of reading picture books with young children.
“It’s always casual, and Peter asks really good questions,” Miller says. “He notices the small pieces of the story and points them out to the dads, to show them how to connect with their kids on those aspects.”
But Peter’s approach emphasizes that it’s not crucial to tell a story exactly the way it’s written in a book. “I’ve really appreciated that, because of the different reading levels that guys have,” Miller says. “It’s really important that fathers can feel confident to change things up with the story.”
In addition, staff at the Family Room have appreciated how the books chosen by Vermont Humanities help teach emotional intelligence to both young children and their caregivers.
“The book ‘How do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad’ led us into a conversation of how you respond to your kids when you’re angry and frustrated,” Miller says. “It can be a very delicate topic. And what’s cool in a group is that you get to hear other dads talk about their experience, which gives fathers the permission to say, ‘Oh, I’ve never thought about it that way, I’ll try that.’”
Read with Me has offered titles focusing on emotional intelligence since 2018. “Learning good social and emotional skills is tied into both emotional stability and good cognitive development,” says Ali Palmer, director of Literacy Programs at Vermont Humanities. “Books can help children understand and manage their emotions — especially difficult ones.”
As part of the Read with Me program, caregivers receive free books to take home to read with their children. “Guys who haven’t done a lot of reading before have said that they read a book over and over again to their kids,” Miller says. “I think that’s pretty huge.”

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