The kids are enjoying their last few days of summer relaxation; the parents, especially the stay-home moms, are counting the days until their lively charges get back into the structure of school. Now is the time for “parent homework” as I call it, filling out all the paperwork, updating school information, signing up for committees, writing checks to the school. It’s time to think about how involved you’re going to be in your child’s life during the school day.
Volunteering at school can help your elementary age child in several different ways. If your child is new to the school or is having social difficulties within the classroom, being a parent helper can smooth your child’s path. If there are behavioral problems you will be there to see them in person and be better able to help your child with his own behavior or to deal with the behaviors of others. Volunteering shows your child as well as others that people care enough to give their time freely, which in turn sets a good example for them. At that age it is cool to have your mom or dad involved at school, so take advantage of that while you can!
I have been volunteering at our elementary school for years as a classroom helper and as a library assistant. I enjoy getting to know my kids’ classmates and find it very satisfying to be able to help them understand their math or to know their phonics, or to give a little reading or presentation that they find fascinating (we had fun the time I read a rap version of Little Red Riding Hood from “Yo, Hungry Wolf.” The kids know that I am there for them and that I care for them, and so they say “hi” in the hallways or give me hugs. That’s a sweet reward for me. Many kids are just plain full of love and smiles, but some kids might come from homes where they can use all the love they can get, and I am happy to give what I can.
When classmates get to know and like you, that gives your child an “in” with them. Shy or new kids get a helping hand from having a friendly parent who’s popular with their classmates. You can encourage other kids to work with your child in a group for reading or math work, or for any free time educational fun. Our school has “First Friday Reading” where on the morning of the first Friday of the month, the first 20 minutes of class is set aside for parents to come in and read with their child. If a parent is thoughtful, he or she can gather a “parentless” child or two and have a little group reading. You can show children the value of being thoughtful and including others who may feel left out.
It is also important to know your child’s classmates so you can participate better in the old “so what happened in school today” question asked at the dinner table. By that time, it can be too late for your child to remember (little minds quickly go on to other things), so you can ask about who they played with or whether anyone got in trouble – you know, the important stuff! Not every parent can help out regularly at school, but at the least find out the names of the kids in class and ask your child about them… be a part of their daily school life even if you can’t be there. Your child will have a parent buddy who knows what’s going on in their life.
I have seen how happy and excited children can get when a parent (or two) shows up at school, and I have seen how wistful others can be when their parent has not been able to attend an event. Think about escaping from work sometime when your child’s class has an event that welcomes parents. Think about signing up to help be it every couple weeks, a bit of time once a month, at the occasional party, or chaperoning a field trip. Parent volunteering – or just showing up at a daytime school event – makes your young child feel valued. They will remember those times when you showed you cared.