In our time-crunched society, it can be a struggle to stay active in your child's school. Many of us work during the day, or have younger children at home and can't come to school regularly to volunteer in classrooms, attend PTA meetings, be the party-planning room parent or chaperone field trips. There are still many ways to stay active in your child's education from kindergarten through high school that will not only benefit your child but you as well.
Children achieve more when their parents are invested in their education. By being present at school conferences, performances, and competitions, children see that their parents are interested in them and their day-to-day life. You get to see your child in the context of his peer group, meet his friends, and get a sense of the culture of the school. Children see you form relationships with their teachers and friends, and by extension, the school community.
What can I do?
Visit an elementary school on any given day and you will see a steady stream of parent volunteers signing in and out of the office. The end of the year Volunteer Appreciation Assembly at the school where I teach in the Detroit area is attended by no less than 100-200 volunteers who have helped in some way throughout the year.
There are many opportunities to help in elementary school. You can:
Listen to children read or practice math facts
Be a "Mystery Reader" and read a favorite book to your child's class
Copy or laminate teaching materials
Plan a class holiday party
Offer to present programs such as Art Smart or the Math Pentathlon
Help organize fundraisers, such as Box Tops for Education
Chaperone a field trip
Organize or participate in an after-school program such a Study Buddies, basketball, Spanish Club, Wordmasters, etc.
Help in the Media Center, shelving books or assisting with technology
There is a decline in parental involvement in middle and high school, partially because of the children's struggle for independence and the importance of the peer group, and partly because many parents return to work as their children grow older. There are still many ways of staying connected to school.
Offer to take tickets at the door or run the concession stand at a dance or sporting event
Chaperone field trips
Attend sports, music, and theater performances
Sign up for snack duty at sporting practices
Offer to take photos for the school yearbook
Attend Parent-Teacher Conferences and Open House Night to build relationships with your child's teachers and school staff
Work with the drama department to help build sets or repair costumes
Run a fundraiser
Attend school board and PTA meetings
How to be an effective volunteer
Schools and teachers welcome volunteers as important members of the school community. Many active volunteers mean that schools can focus their attention on academics while still providing enriching, meaningful opportunities for the students. You can make it easier by:
Arriving on time
Honoring each child by keeping academic and personal information confidential
Communicating with the teacher any concerns you may have
Respecting limits (don't be the field trip chaperone who arrives back at the bus with ice cream cones for his child and two friends).
Don't expect privileges for your child because of your involvement
Don't hover over your own child. Give him some space.
Both you and your child will benefit from your involvement in school. Your child will see that you value and are invested in her education and the school community. You will see your child in the context of other children, friends, and peers, as she begins to establish an identity that is uniquely her own.