Parent Volunteers

Our planned Hallowe’en Centres party for this week has generated a lot of excitement not just among the Kindergarten children, but for our classroom parents as well as it’s the first opportunity for them to volunteer for a classroom activity.

Most Kindergarten parents are very keen to volunteer in their child’s classroom.  They seem to have an innate sense that teaching a Kindergarten classroom can be very busy and wish to able to support their child’s teacher in any way they can, even if it’s just cleaning paints and brushes (and that is very much appreciated).  Many parents come from Parent Participation Preschool backgrounds so they are used to volunteering frequently in many capacities.  Sometimes parents wonder how their child is doing and wish to see them in action.  Although we know that everyone has different reasons for helping, what is most crystal clear to us is this:  parent volunteers can improve the quality of their child’s education, support the classroom teacher and the school, and model the importance of giving back to their community to their children.

The first time we ask for Kindergarten parent volunteers is at the end of October, although it can be later depending upon the children.  We’ve tried several times to ask for helpers in September; but the truth is, not all children are ready to have their parents come into the classroom in the early days of school.  We monitor separation issues between children and parents, and observe how the children interact with you before and after school.  We want your volunteer experience in the classroom to be positive one, and it can be hard if your child is clinging on to you and you are unable to fulfill your role.  We need to feel secure knowing that your children understand that when their mom or dad volunteers in the classroom, their parents are there to help the teacher.  The teacher is the one who is in charge and the class expectations are still to be followed.

There was a time when the classroom teacher needed parent helpers, she would post a sign-up outside the classroom.  But the problem with this method, as we found out both as teachers and working parents, was that the same parents would always get to volunteer as they would drop-off and pick-up their children so they could sign up first.  Back in our job-share days, when our children were still in elementary school, we often missed out ourselves to volunteer in the classroom because we happened to be teaching when the sign-up was posted.

We understood that the dates for classroom events might conflict with a teaching day for us; that’s just reality of the working parent.  It’s far easier for the teacher to hang up that sheet of paper, but the “first come, first served” model just doesn’t sit well with us.  We want to make volunteering more equal for all parents if we can.

When we plan a classroom event and require parent volunteers, we ask our classroom parents personally.  For each group of volunteers we have, we’re consciously trying to create a balance of new and former parents (of children we’ve taught previously), and parents with a second language to support the children who are learning English.  We try to accommodate parents’ work schedules, childcare for siblings and utilize parents’ talents, and we can only learn this through talking to them.  We try to give as much notice as we can for working parents so they can try to switch workdays if necessary.

Ridgeview, like many other elementary schools, has volunteer Room Parents for each division.  The Room Parents can support the classroom teacher in a variety of ways:  preparing teaching materials, sorting craft supplies for activities, asking for volunteers in the classroom or a field trip, or organizing the classroom parents to sponsor a school event (this last one is more for the older grades).

Because we speak to the parent volunteers ourselves, Christy and I ask our Room Parents to keep track of which parents have come in so we can be certain that each family has had at least one opportunity to volunteer for a classroom event during the school year.  Although we realize everyone would love to volunteer more, as long-time experienced professionals, we are quite accustomed to and truly enjoy planning, preparing and teaching everything ourselves.  But when we have a special activity for our students, and need more support, then we are able to provide an opportunity for parents helpers.

It’s important to remember that it’s a privilege to volunteer in your child’s classroom.  For many children, the classroom is a safe and special place, typically inhabited by just the teacher and the students.  We have our own rhythm, our own little jokes, our own way of doing things and an established set of expectations.  We’re like our own ecosystem where everything is in balance and it’s the classroom teacher’s responsibility to maintain that balance for each and every child.  But we also understand and value that parents want to, and should be, involved in the learning that happens in the classroom, and we want to include you.  

We expect that you will be involved with all the children you are working with, not just helping your own child.  It can be challenging because the teacher will probably have a task she wants you to accomplish with everyone and your child may want all your attention.  But as a classroom volunteer, your child will need to understand that you are there to assist everyone so that might be a conversation you have ahead of time at home.

Your classroom teacher is depending upon your discretion.  Sometimes the children in your group may have difficulty with their self-regulation.  Perhaps it’s hard for them to listen and follow your instructions.  Working with a small group of children in the classroom setting is not the same as having a play date at your house.  We are watching all the groups and will intervene as necessary.  But we’re trusting you not to talk about the children’s behaviour, nor their schoolwork, to the child’s parents or other parents.  

Please remember that in your role as a classroom volunteer, you are not there to compare your child to the other students.  It goes without saying that every child is unique, from a different background and a different set of early learning and parenting experiences.  As Kindergarten teachers, we love and accept every child where they are in their growth and development and try to nurture each one along from where they are through this special year in school.