A program that encourages playtime increases quality relationships between fathers and their children at local Monongalia Elementary schools. The joint effort combines the West Virginia University College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences and the WVU Extension Service.
Known as iFather, program organizers kicked off spring sessions at Skyview Elementary in March and have since held events at neighboring Ridgedale, Cheat Lake, Mountainview and Brookhaven schools.
The program is free and open to all fathers with students enrolled in Pre-K – second grades at participating elementary schools.
Byron Towner, CPASS clinical instructor and iFather activities coordinator, explains that fathers and their children divide into groups to participate in competitive activities.
Towner said the sessions help increase a father’s involvement with their child, using a holistic approach.
“We engage in activities that challenge the father and child physically, mentally, socially and emotionally,” Towner said. “We implement cooperative learning activities that increase father/child communication skills while also increasing activity levels.”
Eric Murphy, WVU Extension Agent and head coordinator, iFather programs, says that participants leave with an understanding of the importance of physical activity.
“Play teaches children valuable lessons about relationships and role of fathers,” Murphy said. “Valuable lessons such as self-control are modeled by the fathers as they engage in activities with their children while supporting them in a fun and non-disruptive manner.”
The program increases physical activity levels in children and their fathers. With West Virginia ranking as one of the highest states for obesity in the nation, the focus on physical activity makes sense.
iFather organizers say the program provides fathers with an opportunity to be physically active with their child and enjoy the gift of play without the feeling of being irresponsible.
“Research shows that an active father can be a preventative tool that can combat childhood obesity, family depression and opioid addiction,” Murphy said.
Active fathers create a change in community expectations. When the community expects dads to parent and not simply babysit, members see the importance of interdependence.
“This program creates a memory of positive attachment and connection,” Murphy said. “Modeling how fathers can play, children learn that they can be fearless or vulnerable just like their dads and that they are important because their dad said so.”
The program has received positive feedback from the local community, with volunteers from local high schools, fraternities, senior-citizen groups and wrestling clubs.
“Once the community buys in, the sky is the limit as to how far the initiative will go,” Towner said.
Towner hopes to expand the program to neighboring counties and, eventually, statewide.
“We've had great success in Monongalia County, but we know given the right opportunity, we could really get fathers throughout this state actively engaged with their children and lead them down the right path moving forward,” he explained.
Interested volunteers can contact Eric Murphy at the WVU Monongalia County Extension office or at 304.291.7201.
CONTACT: Kimberly Cameon, WVU College of Physical Activity and Sport
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