When Rene Staudacher’s youngest son Jake entered kindergarten, she went back to school – to her son’s school. Rene is one of many parents who volunteer in their child’s classroom every year. Karen Andrews is another.
“After my middle daughter, Sarah, began first grade, I started volunteering in her classroom,” Karen recalls. “I still had a preschooler at home, but my mother was able to help with sitting so I could be there regularly.”
Robin Plyler, veteran teacher and mother of five children, believes there are many benefits to classroom volunteering. “It’s a win-win situation,” she says. “It relieves some of the teacher’s workload and adds value to the child’s education.”
To get started volunteering in your child’s school first check to see if help is needed. “Our teachers send home notes with specific time slots,” says Rene. “If you can make a time, they set you up for it.”
Karen’s teachers send home notes, too. “Most just say if you can help with parties, field trips or other things, to let them know.”
Robin, who has been teaching for ten years, says most parents let her know if they can help. “Every once in a while I have to recruit people, but for the most part they volunteer.” Robin, however, takes it one step further. “Whenever parents volunteer, I ask what their strengths are so I can use them to the best of their abilities.” If the teacher doesn’t ask, she suggests parents let him or her know when you are available and what you enjoy doing. “Having the right volunteer doing the right kind of work can make all the difference.”
That is what Karen did. “I have always loved reading children’s stories and learning about authors,” she says. “One day as I was telling this to Sarah’s teacher, she asked if I wanted to lead short unit studies on various children’s book authors. I loved the idea.” Every Wednesday from that point on, Karen went into the classroom, and for a month at a time zeroed in on one particular author. “I read books written by that author and told the students a little about his or her life. Sometimes we even wrote letters to the author.”
Although Karen’s offering was a unique fit, more often than not what teachers need is an extra pair of hands. “You can’t believe what a difference it makes,” Robin says. “I’ve had parents help with difficult projects, work one-on-one with troubling math concepts and listen to the children read in small groups. It is especially helpful when you have a party or do a special project that requires a lot of direction.”
Even those who aren’t comfortable working directly with children can be of assistance. “If a parent isn’t comfortable in the classroom, I ask them to make copies, write newsletters or prepare cut-outs for projects. Anything they do helps.”
“I’ve done a lot of different things in and out of the classroom,” Rene reports. “I’ve torn out workbook pages, put graded papers in the kids’ boxes to take home, made arts and crafts copies and helped with parties and field trips.” Outside the classroom, she has organized the school’s book fair and assisted in the nurse’s office.
“The cool thing is, my kids love having me there, even if I’m not in their classroom.” Rene still remembers when Jake was in kindergarten. “He would say to me, ‘You are coming to school tomorrow, right?’ He was so happy I was there.”
“I think it boosts the child’s self-esteem and lets him know school is important when you volunteer.” Robin states, “It’s an active way of telling your child, without using words, that education is a priority.”
“That’s one of the reasons I do it,” says Karen. “To let my kids know I value them and encourage them in their studies. They come away with the idea that Mom cares about what I am learning.”
Every once in a while, having mom or dad there can create a problem. “If the child doesn’t obey his parents at home, he may act up when they come into the classroom,” Robin says. She recommends discussing the volunteer opportunity with your child before making the commitment. “Tell him what you will be doing and ask how he feels about you being there.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit to volunteering is the insight you receive from just being present. “You get to know the teacher on a more personal basis,” Rene says. “You also get to know your child’s peers and have a better idea of how your child is doing scholastically.”
“When the teacher has a relationship with the parent, it enhances the child’s education,” says Robin. “The teacher begins to trust the parent and will communicate her viewpoint if there is a problem.”
When it comes to volunteering, both Karen and Rene agree the investment of time in your child’s school is worth it. “You get more out of it than you put in,” Karen says. “And your child will have good memories of you being there.”
“It’s a way to tell your child ‘I value you,’ and tell his teacher, ‘I value what you are doing,'” adds Rene.
“Kids with parents who are involved are more well-adjusted,” Robin concludes. Her advice? “Go and find out what you can do. Even a little bit of time will go a long way.”
20 Ways to Volunteer in Your Child’s Classroom
- Read to the class.
- Help tutor.
- Help with an art project.
- Chaperone a field trip.
- Set a time to discuss your career with the class.
- Share your heritage. Include related snack, visual or craft.
- Lead a classroom activity.
- Help with a party.
- Help create a classroom newsletter or website.
- Assist putting up a bulletin board.
- Make phone calls to other parents for the teacher.
- Look for bargains on classroom supplies.
- Help plan a school or class event.
- Organize a community service outreach.
- Make copies for the teacher.
- Type material for the class.
- Prepare cut-outs for art projects.
- Donate books or other supplies.
- Help organize a class play or make props for it.
- Organize a teacher appreciation day.