Be A Parent Volunteer in Your Child's Classroom
The keys to success are not what you might think!
Your child has just entered kindergarten. She is probably excited, and so are you. A little nervous, too, perhaps. You want your child to succeed in school, and you've heard so much about what parents can do to support their children academically, but you're not sure how to get started with helping your child.
Volunteering in your child's classroom is an excellent way for a parent to become involved in her child's education at a very early stage. When Baby Boomer and Gen X parents were kids, parents in the classroom were mostly a rarity, but today's young parents --and their children's teachers -- know that parent involvement in a child's education can significantly help that child to do better academically than he might without parent involvement.
Bridging the Gap
When you show up to help in your child's classroom, particularly when the child is very young and new to the school environment, your presence helps to bridge the gap between home and school. Parents are their children's first teachers, after all, teaching them nearly everything they know from the time they are infants until they are ready for school. When a child sees her parent in her classroom, she makes the connection between learning at home and learning at school. Her comfort level in school increases.
Of course, some young children have a hard time in school at first: they miss home, they miss their mother, they miss the familiar routine of life at home with their mother. For such a child, having his parent in the classroom may help ease his anxiety, but it also may make matters worse, particularly when the parent attempts to leave the classroom. Ultimately, if the parent can be patient and hang in there, the separation anxiety should eventually ease as the child grows more used to school.
Other Kids' Parents
Even if you can't be a volunteer in your child's classroom, having other parents help out can be beneficial for your child. She will still have a sense that, "Oh, that's Stephen's mom, she's here to help, so what we're doing here must matter to her."
How Do You Find Out About Volunteering Opportunities?
Talk to your child's teacher. Good communication between home and school is essential, so talk to your child's teacher from the start of the school year. Ask if she welcomes parent volunteers in her room. Some schools and some teachers do not encourage parents to be present in the classroom during the school day, while others have institutionalized parent volunteering to the point that it is the norm schoolwide. No matter which way your school tends, be open with your child's teacher about your interest in volunteering.
She Said Yes!
If the teacher welcomes you with open arms, ask when you might come in. She may have times of day that are better for volunteers to come in; for instance, if the class is working on science projects at a certain time of day, she may need parents then to help the students with research or setting up experiments. Let the teacher tell you what she needs. Adopt an attitude of "I am the helper" and wait for your directions.
So...What Do You Do?
Again, let the teacher direct you. If your main goal is simply to be present in the classroom in a helpful way on a regular basis, the nature of your work may matter less than that you are actually there. That is, your presence may matter more than anything you might be able to teach the kids. Just try not to focus too much on what you'll be doing and think more about the quality of your interactions with the kids. Be friendly and helpful. If you're not a math person and the teacher asks you to work with a group of children working on math problems, go for it!
If you're really lucky, you may get a dream gig -- getting to actually teach something you know something about to your child and her classmates. If you were a biology major in college but never got to use your degree, maybe the teacher will welcome your teaching a weekly science lesson that's very hands-on.
Relax and Have Fun
If you are able to relax and adopt a helpful attitude in the classroom, your child will feel proud of you and his classmates will look forward to seeing you during your regular visits. When they connect to you they will learn from you.
So To Recap...
- Take your lead from the teacher and let her tell you when and how she needs your help
- Accept any and all assignments from the teacher (unless, of course, they are unreasonable or impossible)
- Think more about the quality of the interaction than the content you are helping with
- Relax, and have fun!