As educators know and research verifies, a critical factor in a child’s educational success is parent involvement. A positive home-school connection not only benefits the child; it also benefits the teacher.
Parental involvement through volunteer contributions, either physical or material, can lighten the teacher’s load significantly. And when the teacher has the support of the parents, she finds “her children” come to school better rested and with assignments completed. Parental support also means consistent assistance in dealing with any behavioral or academic concerns she may have regarding the child.
Step One: Parent Volunteers
The first step in seeking volunteers is to extend the invitation. This can be done via the class newsletter or website, personally during a Parent’s Night, Open House, or other school function, or individually through the use of a parental letter.
The invitation, however you choose to issue it, should let parents know you value their time. Their child’s education is important to you, and with their help, all students will be better able to reach their full potential academically, socially, and developmentally. You are asking for their time, expertise, and talents—whatever they have to share. All contributions, large or small, are welcome. Everyone has something to offer. Finally, request that those interested contact you to discuss convenient times and activities that will be mutually beneficial.
Step Two: Parent Activities
Parents can help out in many ways, both in and out of the classroom. Keep the list of possibilities below handy when discussing volunteering with parents so you can reassure them if they feel they have nothing to contribute.
Working with Students: There are a number of ways parents can work with children in the classroom. They can help prepare for activities, work with small groups or individual children on special projects, read to the class, chaperone a field trip, help supervise the class at recess or in the library, and assist with a classroom party. They may also want to share information about their careers, cultures or ethnic backgrounds with the class. Some may even be able to share a special skill by involving the children in a unique activity.
Working with the Teacher: Parents who really prefer not to work with a group of children can lend a hand by making copies, assembling student-made books, proofreading newsletters, helping to plan a class or all-school event, assembling parent packets or party gift bags, or collecting recyclables to use for art. Many of these kinds of jobs can be done at home when the parent can squeeze in a few minutes between work and family obligations.
Additional Ways to Help: With a little imagination, parents may even come up with unique ways in which they can be of assistance. For instance, those who are connected socially may know of people who would be interested in donating materials, like clean copy paper or card stock headed to the recycle bin for art projects, and services, like newsletter printing. Fathers who feel they have nothing to contribute may be available to repair broken inside play toys or playground equipment. They may also be able to put together a much needed bookcase using scrap lumber – perhaps donated by a home supply store. The list is virtually endless.
Step Three: Parent Information
In order for your volunteer program to work, you will want to make sure your parents have the following information.
• They need to be on time. They should be aware of the fact that the school day runs on a schedule. Their promptness is essential. They should also know the length of their scheduled time.
• Confidentiality is a must. Stress the fact that it is inappropriate to share behavioral or academic information about other children in the class with anyone other than you.
• Volunteers should know where materials are kept so they can locate them if they need to.
• Parents should also maintain a positive, upbeat attitude when working with children, and they need to know your guidelines for how to handle those that don’t want to cooperate.
• Most importantly, they should have fun with the children and enjoy the time they spend in the classroom.
Step Four: Parental Feedback
Obtaining feedback from your volunteers will assist you in making improvements to your program. Take time to talk with each volunteer regarding the contribution he or she has made. Reinforce the fact that parental help is appreciated. Ask if volunteers would be interested in contributing again, and find out if they have any suggestions to offer that might improve the experience for themselves, other volunteers, or the children. Keep an open mind. Finally, have the children show their appreciation by thanking the parent for coming in.
In many classrooms, parent volunteers are still an untapped resource. There are parents who genuinely do want to help, but they may need a little encouragement. If you have yet to incorporate volunteers into your program, this may be the year to alter that situation.
Marie E. Cecchini has written several books for educators and continues to write articles for both parents and teachers.