The value of parent volunteers in the classroom

  • Published on September 1, 2017

I have always welcomed and appreciated parent volunteers in the classroom. The value they add to the classroom program and children’s learning is enormous. I always loved that we could do much more with the assistance of parent volunteers than we could without.

But effective use of the parent volunteer’s time requires a certain amount of organisation and preparation. Just as there is little point in a parent volunteer turning up at a scheduled time if you are unprepared; there is also little value in a parent appearing at the door during class time and asking, “Can I help?”

Parent volunteers can play a very important role in the classroom, especially with group work in literacy and maths, assisting with art lessons, outdoor activities and work in the computer lab. They may also help in administrative-type roles such as changing reading books and checking sight words. Perhaps they could read to groups or individual children, or listen to children read.

How their support is utilised will depend upon their availability and your class program.

For a variety of reasons, not every parent is able to offer regular assistance in the classroom. Indeed, parent help should not be viewed as an expectation but appreciated as a gift of their precious time.

when parents volunteer

Sometimes parents welcome the opportunity to share a special skill or information related to their interests, hobby or employment that the children are learning about.  A doctor may be willing to talk to the children when learning about health. An artist may like to demonstrate techniques and guide children in an activity. People may like to share information about their family’s culture and traditions. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and the availability, skills, and interests of parents.

Parents may also be willing to do things at home, such as

  • Cut out laminated cards and pictures
  • Prepare materials for art and science lessons
  • Make playdough or glue
  • Fold paper envelopes
  • Make tubes for threading from pages of magazines
  • Cover books

It is always great to have the assistance of parents during classroom celebrations or on excursions. Additional supervision helps to minimise risks and ensure events flow smoothly.

In this post, I discuss:

  • Organising the timetable to identify where support can be utilised
  • Requesting parent help
  • Scheduling volunteers
  • Preparing activities
  • Things to remember

learning activities with parents cover

This information and more is included in one downloadable reference Learning activities with parent volunteers in the classroom. The resource also includes a sample letter, and some suggested activities.

Organise the timetable

Identify lessons in which the assistance of parent classroom volunteers will be beneficial, for example:

  • literacy groups
  • maths groups
  • art lessons
  • outdoor activities
  • computer lessons in the lab.

Take into consideration other assistance that may be available; for example, teacher aides or support personnel.

Plan how your lessons will be structured and how you will utilise parent support.

Request parent help

Send a letter to parents requesting assistance at specified times. Explain the purpose of the support required; for example, for reading groups. Include requests for other assistance such as changing reading books or preparation of materials.

Scheduling volunteers

When you have details of all support available, finalise the structure of your lessons for the week.

Send parents an acknowledgement of their offer of support and inform them of times you have scheduled their assistance.

Preparing activities

To make best use of parent volunteers in the classroom, it is essential to be well prepared. With instructions for a variety of activities printed, laminated and stored for easy access, it is a simple matter to gather required resources prior to the lesson.

Reading groups

Involve parents in activities such as:

  • playing a sight words or phonics game
  • completing a follow up activity to a book read in class or in a guided reading lesson with the teacher
  • following a procedure such as How to make a paper plate cat face (search for other suitable procedures)
  • introducing a new book
  • reading to children
  • listening to children read

Maths groups

It is great to involve parents in playing games with children. Through carefully chosen games, children can practise their mathematical learning while learning important social skills. Games can be indoor or outdoor, purchased or teacher made.

A variety of games suitable for maths groups are available on the readilearn site, including Snakes and Ladders, Pass the Bag of 3D shapes, and Games for maths groups #1. (Search ‘maths groups’ or check out Games and Puzzles for other suggestions.) These games include instructions that can be printed and laminated to explain the activity to parent volunteers.

Art lessons

Parents can be wonderful assistants in both setting up and cleaning up for art lessons. They can be used as an additional pair of hands in a whole class lesson or to supervise a small group activity.

Computer lab

An extra pair of hands can be useful in the computer lab to provide assistance with logging on, repairing accidents or explaining processes.

Things to remember

  • Parents are busy people too. They are forgoing other activities when they commit to assisting in your classroom. Welcome them to your classroom, acknowledge the value of their contribution, and show appreciation for the effort and commitment they have made.
  • Parents are not teachers. They do not have the training that you have. Do not give them a teaching role or expect them to intuitively know what to do. You must provide explicit instructions.
  • It is usually not possible to give detailed verbal instructions during class time, so prepare written explanations that parents can read through, perhaps when you are organising the children.
  • It helps to be consistent with the types of activities you ask of parents. They are more comfortable if they know what to expect.
  • The activities need to be enjoyable for the parents as well as the children. If they don’t enjoy what you ask of them, they may not come back.
  • Involving parents in your class program is an exercise in public relations and helps to build community. It is important to be professional, warm, and appreciative. Others will soon get to know about your classroom environment and your interaction with the children. Ensuring it is a positive experience for all will increase your support in the school community.

An additional consideration: Will the parent work with the child’s group? There is always a range of factors to consider but young children love to work with their parents at school and parents want to know that they are helping their child.

How else have you used parents in the classroom? What other factors do you consider important?

I hope this post has inspired you to engage the support of your parent volunteers.

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Comments

    Thank you for popping over to read and comment, Marje. Yes, the parents who find the time and opportunity to help out, add great value to the education provided. They need to be both appreciated and congratulated.

    We don’t really use parent volunteers in our private schools, Norah. They actively discourage parental involvement at Greg’s school. In South Africa though, people volunteer to go to the underprivileged schools and help the children with reading and other things. I have shared these tips as they would certainly be most helpful to these volunteers.

    I’m pleased you were welcomed into your children’s classroom, Charli. I think there’s a few reasons parental support declines through the years. Parents become busier as their children get older – becoming more involved with work commitments or other younger children. Children become more independent and are less inclined for their friends to know they even have parents. Classroom work (often) becomes more formal and there is less opportunity for them to be involved. I still helped out in Bec’s classroom (after she started school) in year five and six, but wasn’t wanted in year seven. That was a bit sad. But I worked at the school part-time then anyway so we still got to share in the school community.

    I enjoyed being a parent volunteer, and maybe it was only a few times a year. I think my kids enjoyed it, too. And not just me, but enjoyed meeting the parents of their friends.

    I’ve sort of replied to your comment, in a response to your comment to Robbie, Charli. Helping out is a great way to meet other parents and families. It’s an especially good opportunity for families new to a school.

    Wow! I’m so surprised any school would discourage parent involvement. A child’s education should be a partnership. Parental input (and not just payment to a private school) is important in helping teachers get to know the children and their needs. It’s great to hear that people do volunteer to help out in other schools where their support is valued and appreciated. Thank you greatly for sharing this post. I appreciate it.

    All boys private schools are quite a different experience all together, Norah. I went to a public mixed school so sometimes I find it a bit hard. I feel the preference is that you drop your child off at the gate and fetch them at the end of the term. I hardly ever see the teachers either. It has lead to some clashes between me and the school when I feel they are overstepping the boundaries and trying to make parental decisions on my behalf.

    I would find that situation difficult, too, Robbie. But I think you’ve commented previously, that your boys are doing well at this school, and that is what really matters; that they are happy and learn. It is necessary for you to stand up for your parental rights and advocate for your boys though. Well done.

    Fantastic ideas for teachers to include parent interaction. When I was a young one in elementary school we had parents volunteer to come on field trips. I would have loved my mother to come on one. but unfortunately, she was too busy, and not working. Many moms didn’t work back in those days. Nowadays I imagine it would require a good schedule to organize volunteers, especially when so many moms are working moms. :)

    Thank you for your lovely comment and sharing your childhood experience, Debby. I have no recollection of parents helping out in the classroom when I was young, and my Mum definitely wouldn’t have been available anyway, as there were seven children younger than me! Dad used to drive my team to tennis matches on the weekend when I was in high school though. Helping out at school does require quite a bit of commitment on the part of the parents. Many make an effort to help in the early years, but there seems to be less commitment to offering that support as the children go up through the school.

    I have to agree, about the efforts fading out as children grow. But glad you were involved in some activities and at least your dad drove you there. :)

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