Father’s day came early for Year 12 students at Dilworth School, when eight Plunket dads and their young children visited the all boys’ school earlier this month as part of Plunket’s Education in Schools programme.
Around 80 students got a first-hand experience of being a dad – bathing the children, reading to them and playing with them – while hearing from dads about what it’s like to be a parent.
Plunket Educator Juile Weatherall worked with Dilworth School to organise the session: “As Dilworth is an all boys school we wanted to see if we could get an all dads group along for the first time. Men communicate differently to women, and we thought the best way to connect with these boys would be getting dads involved. What struck me most was how the dads enjoyed it just as much as the students. One dad said that it made him proud to be a parent and it was ‘a good day to be a dad.’”
James Hart, a teacher at Dilworth School said: “Our boys found the experience with the kids a real heart-warmer, and relished the opportunity to learn more about babies, toddlers and child-raising more generally. Plunket taught useful concepts and shared advice and guidance our boys will find invaluable in later life. We would have Plunket back in a second and hope the programme continues long into the future.”
For Luke Rushton, bringing his two-and-a-half year old son Peter in to school was a bit of a homecoming, as Luke is a former student of Dilworth: “I was a wee bit motivated to give back to my old school. It’s unique, there’s nothing like it in New Zealand, and only one other place like it in the world – a free boarding school for people whose parents would benefit for some extra space, or time. The friends you make there you make for a long time.”
He said that initially the students at the parenting session were quite reserved, but soon warmed up when Peter went over to them with a balloon or toy. “We started with a play session, and we sat and answered a few questions and talked about what it’s like to be a parent.”
Luke is a Prison Nurse, and he and his wife have three children – Leon is 6 and-a-half, Peter, and Ria, who is 2 months old. He told the Dilworth students that part of being a father is spending a lot of time with your children, which can be rewarding but means less time for yourself: “I was a young father, not long turned 19 when our first son came along. We did pretty well and we had good support from family. I love being a dad. But the biggest change is the loss of personal freedom. At one time I surfed every day for 11 days in a row when I was in my first year of university. I’ve probably been surfing a handful of times each year since I became a dad.”
“You’ve got to find time to unwind – something to do where you’re not being a dad, a husband, a nurse. I play video games after everyone else has gone to sleep and that works for me. I also do some DIY.”
He says one thing new dads have to deal with is the influx of parenting advice: “The advice I give to people is – everyone’s got advice. My 12 year old brother had advice on how we should raise our child, when he should be walking, when he should be talking. I always say – listen to all the advice, and then take what works for you.”
In that spirit, Plunket provides free parenting classes across the country to help parents give every child the best start in life, and encourages dads to be involved positively in their children’s lives.
“Fathers play differently with their children than other family members and children become more secure and curious about the world when they get time with their dads. Spending time with your children is one of the most important things a dad can do,” said Ms Weatherall.
Yet dads often underestimate their role, says Ms Weatherall: “These sessions with students help send the message that dads are important to the wellbeing and happiness of their kids.”
The kids in schools sessions are part of Plunket’s ‘Caring for Kids’ Life Skills course, designed to introduce the students to the basic needs of young children. The course is one of several offered by Plunket through its Education in Schools programme, available to schools nationally.