As a teacher, when I talk to parents at Meet the Teacher Night in the beginning of the school year, I go through a list of typical topics: the curriculum, our assessment process, and our policies on illness, absences, and birthday parties. Then I always close with one of the most important subjects of all: I invite parents to help out in the classroom, and point out the benefits of volunteering at school.
Whether it's reading a Llama Llama book to the class, bringing in a tray of pierogis or bao dumplings for Heritage Day, or helping ring up sales at the holiday shopping fair, being active at school is beneficial for everyone involved. "Volunteering in your child's class gives you a delicious peek into your child's daily life," psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore told NY Parenting.
Happily, more parents are recognizing the value of being an active part of school life. A recent report from the nonprofit research organization Child Trends found that a record high of 89 percent of parents surveyed had attended a general meeting at their child's school in 2016, and another 79 percent went to a school or class event. Close to half (43 percent) had been a parent volunteer or served on a committee, a 4 percent increase since 1996.
As a teacher and a mother, I've seen first-hand how parent involvement can make a difference in both the school and in the children whose parents pitch in. It may not seem like much, but your participation is more valuable than you think for so many reasons.
1. Your Child's Grades May Go Up
A 2005 California State University study of urban elementary school children published in the journal Urban Education found a "significant" relationship between parental involvement and student achievement. Although the report doesn't suggest a reason for the connection, it's not hard to suppose that parents who participate in school life might also encourage their children to put their best effort into their schoolwork.
2. Your Child's Behavior May Improve
My preschool classes love our "parent story time" days, when moms or dads come in to read a book to the class. I love these days, too, because I know how excited everyone is to see someone's parent being a part of the classroom, and it brightens the whole atmosphere. I've seen kids who normally interrupt or get wiggly during circle time turn into models of etiquette when there's a mom or dad reading to them. As for the child of the visiting parent? Talk about an ear-to-ear smile. For the rest of the day, they'll tell their friends, "Did you see that my mom was here today?"
3. You'll Get An Insider's View Of School
Being present in your child's classroom gives you the opportunity to put faces with names (so that's the Zach you've heard so much about) and get to know how lessons are conducted. You can also spot potential issues or concerns that you might not be aware of otherwise. An article on parent volunteering in The Wall Street Journal cited the story of a mom who noticed that her daughter's math teacher had a harsh classroom management style: Being in the class allowed her to see the problem firsthand and deal with it by meeting with the principal.
4. You'll Feel A Closer Connection To Your Child
Just as those Take Your Child to Work days help your kids see and appreciate the job you do, being a school volunteer helps you understand and appreciate what goes on in the place where your kids spend a sizable chunk of their lives. This, in turn, can strengthen your relationship with them. Parenting author Christina Hibbert told NY Parenting, “Volunteering helps your child feel connected to you. As you participate in his world, he’ll feel the love you have for him, and he’ll know that you support him."
It also sends the message to your child that you value their education. If they have a "meh" attitude toward school, seeing how much you care may spur them to put in more of an effort.
5. You'll Make The Teacher's Job Easier
Only a portion of a teacher's day is actually spent teaching. The rest of the time is devoted to prep work, lesson planning, attending meetings, and tending to a hundred other little tasks. Just having an extra pair of hands to set out paper and paint for a class project or put memos into student take-home folders makes the day flow more smoothly, and leaves more time for the teacher to conduct lessons or spend one-on-one time with students.
6. You'll Have A Good Time
You don't have to invest tons of time in order to be an involved parent volunteer. There are lots of ways to help out at school, as the website KidsHealth suggested, from chaperoning field trips to prepping class materials to printing worksheets from home. The key is to find something that works with your schedule and interests. Even though I'm busy with my own classroom during the day, I help at my daughter's school on evenings and weekends when I can. I've sold concessions during class plays and volunteered at book fairs. But my favorite way to participate is performing in the haunted walk-through at the Halloween festival. (I've heard my daughter's friends ask her, "That creepy clown was your mom?!")
Whether you're a PTA president or a once-in-a-while class helper, the work you put into your child's school will result in big rewards for everyone: the teachers, your child, and you.