Hello, I'm Martin a proud dad of two boys aged 5 and 8yrs old. Finding ways to bond and stay connected to Cillian and Ethan, as they grow, has been so important to building a really strong and rewarding relationship with them both. Being a parent is not easy, as everyone who's ever been a parent has said. But it's more than just not being easy; in my experience there is a whole collection of thoughts and feelings that start to shape how you see yourself as you become a dad. I can only speak to being a dad, and the journey so far has had many peaks and troughs.
My journey to becoming a dad was challenging, having not spoken to my own dad beyond the age of 5, so I was unsure what a dad was meant to be or do beyond the stereotypical characters I saw in TV shows or adverts. To try and create strong bonds with my children, I've tried to be as present as possible from the moment they were born. I ran my own business for many years and chose to work 4 days a week, so it meant I was able to have a weekday with them both, and they could spend more time with my wife and me than in nursery. This allowed us to build a routine we wanted for them and has given us the freedom to share with them a wider range of experiences as they grow up i.e., supporting their love of animals through day trips to museums, at-home creative play like building dens and watching Savanna animals roam through finger binoculars, watching TV programs like Octonauts, talking about what they were seeing and using apps like Earthcubs or pretending to be dinosaurs in the park. These different experiences allow them and us to develop knowledge about things they love in fun ways and create lasting memories for us.
Once I knew I was going to become a dad, my head was filled with questions, and over time I managed to find a few potential answers about what kind of dad I would try to be. Keeping this image in my mind was vital for me to think about when parenting was tough or to support me through challenging situations. Ultimately, I think I simply wanted my children to have a better life than I do, to have more opportunities and to see and experience more than I have.
A core part of this is ensuring they get the broadest education they can - both within and outside of school - and for me that means that I fully support and engage in the learning journey with them. Education is not just about the 3 r's, it's about a more comprehensive set of skills to support my children to become the best people they can be. A core part of this is understanding and learning 'soft skills', which revolve around communication, relating with others and self-discipline. These skills allow them to approach problems and situations in different ways and will become vital skills in their future life.
Connecting through a love of reading
I knew I wanted my boys to love books and reading - the opposite of my relationship to books. I was diagnosed in my early 20's with dyslexia and always avoided reading books unless I was forced to read. Reading at home has been highlighted by numerous organisations as being critical in early years development and future achievement of children. Pretty much from the first day they arrived home from the hospital, we have read daily with our boys, taken them to the local library to read a range of books and been fortunate to be able to surround them with books of every kind. Building a routine of reading with my children has brought an enormous amount of joy to me, my wife and them. It's a dedicated time where we sit together as a family without distractions and focus on the stories. Seeing their smiling faces and answering their questions as we read an old favourite for the 1000th time or turning the page of a new story, not knowing what will happen next, is something that never gets old to me. In the eight years of Cillian's life, I don't think there has been an evening where either my wife or me has not read him a story before bedtime. I believe the time we have spent reading together has directly led to Cillian's love of reading and how he can get lost for hours reading books.
The joy of play
My boys are super active and always want to understand something new. I try to make the most of our time together, and 'learning through play' has always made sense and fits the approach I want to take when raising our children. In my experience, almost any moment, situation or time together can be turned into an opportunity to learn through play while also having fun and creating brilliant memories. Child-led learning is such a powerful tool. Allowing your children to really unleash their imagination and creativity means that you can follow them on their adventures and just be there to gently guide them and facilitate their ideas (often requiring a ready supply of sticky tape and junk modelling cardboard in our home).
Incorporating their interests into daily routines makes them playful and lowers the stress of them for you as a parent. I think a great example of this is a hack we came up with to get the boys dressed; which was a point of stress and tension for us every morning. So 'Jake the snake' was born. Ethan’s limbs became different animals, and the animal's movements helped him move them through the clothes. This helps with the development of fine, gross motor and communication skills as well as filling the rooms with laughter. Getting dressed now only takes a few mins. We first played this when my youngest was 3, and he still likes to play this two years on. The hack was so successful that the activity ended up making its way on the EasyPeasy app.
Parental engagement at school
I’ve also wanted to try and proactively support the boys in-school education and so I became a school governor at Marlborough primary school. Being a school governor has been such a valuable experience in understanding early years and primary education and the different pressures and difficulties within the Education sector that affect me and my children and all parents. The time investment helps show how much I valued their education, and they also liked the idea that daddy was helping the school be the best it could be. I was able to help improve school meals and champion soft skills through the school curriculum. Part of this work was around empowering the children to feel confident to try new things and not worry if they made a mistake or things did not work as expected. Being free to fail is an essential skill that's often learned too late in life; I was not shown this way of learning until my early twenties, and since then it has changed how I approach problems and challenges in my life and work.
The role of technology in learning
I fully believe technology has a role to play in every child's life. My career in design and technology has given me many chances to share different ways of learning with my children. They’ve had loads of fun with physical technologies that teach subjects like coding and game creation - i.e. Cubetto and Hackaball, risk and construction with Beasts of balance and music-making with Odd. I have struggled to strike the correct balance of screen time versus real world interaction, and every parent has a different take. The best way I can sum it up is that I just ask myself what is being offered by the screen or technology they are using at the time? If it's being used to enhance or give additional ways for you to bond, explore or share an experience, then fantastic. However, if it's being used to pacify or isolate, maybe it's not the best solution. Having said that, I don't know a parent who hasn’t needed to put the TV on for 10-15 mins to do something or get a short break! Even in these cases, their is a choice of what they watch and an opportunity to use that programme to play and bond after it finishes.
Being an EasyPeasy dad
My journey as a dad has been supported and challenged by my current job. I've been working with EasyPeasy as a senior product designer for the past 2 and a half years. The role gives me the chance to reflect daily on how I’m doing being a dad and how this differs from the dad I want to be. Allowing me to refocus and try to be the best dad I can to Cillian and Ethan.
EasyPeasy is an evidence-based app of parenting tips and activities ideas, personalised for you and your 0-5-year-old, with content from our playful community of parents and experts. One of the things that first attracted me to EasyPeasy was the mantra of 'Learning through play’. As I mentioned previously, this resonated with me and matched the ideas of the parent I was trying to be. But more importantly how I wanted my children to see and experience their early years of life.
At EasyPeasy, we want to make learning through play accessible to all. We do this by having a community creating activity ideas and tips that don't require a parent or carer to have anything special. Our activities and tips are based on things you'll find around your home, daily moments and should fit into your everyday routine. The content is easy to digest, playful and helps improve your child's development areas, all without feeling like learning.
I’m really excited to be able to announce our brand new ‘dad’ tag on the app, where you can head to find loads of activity ideas and tips specially curated for dads and children aged 0-5.
EasyPeasy is happy to give away to the Dadvengers community, 100 free '3 months' passes to our app. The app is available on both iOS and Android – to access the free pass, all you need to do is download the app from here and enter the code DADVENGER100 when creating your account.