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Ask an Expert: Making the most of volunteering at school

Q. I have never volunteered at my son’s elementary school, but I’m thinking about it this year. I am very busy with my job, however. Is it really worthwhile for parents to volunteer in a classroom? How should I make the most of my experience so that the students get something out of my time? I don’t want to simply file papers.

Start asking questions

Volunteering at your son’s elementary school is an excellent way to show that you value and care about his education.  There are lots of opportunities to volunteer at most schools. Often it is just a matter of asking.


It sounds like you might be interested in working in the classroom with students. From a teacher’s perspective, if you are willing and able to come in at a set time each week it is easier to plan for you to work with kids either individually or in small groups.  For instance, if a teacher knows you will be coming in during math time every Thursday, she may plan some simple math games you can play with a group of students.

When you are signing up to volunteer, you will need to make clear to the teacher what you are hoping to contribute to the classroom.  Some parents prefer to file papers, make copies, and put up bulletin boards. If you want to work directly with students, make that clear and ask for times when that most likely will happen. Be sure to be reliable!  If you cancel or don’t show up for your volunteer time, the teacher will be less likely to have you work with students when you do come.

Other volunteer options

Volunteering in the classroom is one possibility, but there may be other ways to volunteer that you might enjoy as well.  I don’t volunteer in my daughter’s class because I find that she misbehaves when I am in the classroom.  So, I volunteer in other ways.

For instance, I am on the School Accountability Committee—a committee that is required in every public school in Colorado.  It is a great way to find out what is happening in the school and to get to know the principal and other key people in the school. At her school, the meetings are in the morning before school starts so that I am generally able to go directly to work after the meeting.  At some schools the meetings may be in the evenings so that working parents can be more involved.

Another possibility is volunteering for a specific event such as a school carnival.  You can volunteer to help plan the event which you could work on in the evenings.  Or, you can volunteer time during the carnival to help run a game or sell concessions.  And, finally, don’t forget possibilities like the school library, computer center, or writing center.  There may be many opportunities to work with students in these settings that might be more flexible to accommodate your work schedule.

Parents really are partners with their children’s schools.  Spending time at the school is one way to show your support.

– Kathleen Luttenegger

Mark up your calendar
Parents have various ways to volunteer. A parent may ask the teacher what they need. Many parents have a busy work schedule, but one does not need to volunteer weekly. Throughout the school year there are special events: Field trips, performances, field day, classroom celebrations. Parents can get the information needed ahead of time and mark these days in their calendars so that they can ask for time off from work or prepare their schedule for a designated event.

Some schools have after-school programs. Again, one may volunteer with these programs also. One could assist the teacher in contacting or speaking with parents on any issues related to the classroom or school.

– Rosalie GomezParents as team players

When parents engage in their child’s learning as part of the team, everyone benefits.  This engagement doesn’t always equate to helping directly in the classroom. Engagement can take many forms.Researchers A. Harris and J. Goodall  remind us of that in their book Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement, Do Parents Know They Matter?

As  you engage, check with your child’s school about what is already in place for parents.

A list of questions is a place to start:

1) Is there a parent orientation? 2) Is there a sign-up for specific jobs (e.g. help in the classroom, in the library, on the playground)? 3) What training can I receive so I know how to be supportive? 4) What training can I organize for those wanting to help but not feeling very skilled?

Microsoft education provides a teacher’s guide that provides information on digital storytelling in the classroom.  Instructions are provided about how to create movies and slide shows.  Links to free software are identified.  The content is suitable for parents, students and teachers.  This would be a useful site for parents willing to volunteer to help teachers with a specific unit.

There are other such resources that target a specific skill.  Parents can help organize training in nutrition, Love and Logic parenting,  Discovery Education to help organize a science fair, technology. The list is endless.

Parents do matter. Everyone benefits when you engage positively as a team player.

– Suzanne Lustie

(Editor’s note: Do you work full-time and stress out about how to find the time to volunteer at school? Read this post to get some ideas on time management.)

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