Using Parent Volunteers in Your Classroom
Sometimes it’s a wonder we teachers accomplish all we do in a typical day. Especially kindergarten teachers. They are responsible for teaching the whole gamut of foundational academics (and social skills) to little people with very short attention spans. Add in the fact that some of these little people are maybe away from home for the first time and just learning to be in school. Thank goodness for parent volunteers lending an extra set of hands!
Without help, it’s nearly impossible to do it all. That’s where parent volunteers can be invaluable. Not only can they make your life easier, they can also be a great benefit to your students and your school as a whole. After all, research has shown that family involvement is critical to student achievement.
Here are four tips to help you make the most of parent volunteers in your classroom.
Have a grand plan.
Think about how helpers can have the most impact for you. Where do you need the most help? Is there a certain task or time of day where you could use an extra set of hands?
Maybe you like parents to do one-on-one reading with students. Or maybe you need parents to help coordinate or oversee small groups during center time. Maybe you need behind the scenes help like copying, filing or gathering materials for lessons. Or maybe you need someone to be your go-to for parties and special events.
Every teacher’s needs and comfort level for having other adults in the room are different. It is important that you stick to what is comfortable for you and works for your schedule.
Approach volunteers early.
The beginning of the school year is the best time to recruit parent volunteers to fill these roles. Have a sign up available at back to school night or kindergarten open house. (Check out the one I included at the end of this blog post.) If possible send out an email before school even begins.
Make parents aware of your needs, but also ask if they have any talents they would like to share. Maybe you have a techie parent who wants to help you maintain your website. Maybe a parent is a physician and wants to come in to talk to the kids about safety. Or maybe you have an exceptionally artistic parent that wants to do all your bulletin boards.
Every year the pool will be different and being open to using parents’ gifts will help them feel involved and welcome.
If parents are required to fill out volunteer forms, be sure to let them know and send home a copy of the form. Check to make sure the paperwork is completed and on-file in the office before volunteer work begins.
Be organized and prepared.
Most people these days juggle busy schedules, so it’s a bummer to set aside time to come into school to volunteer only to find there’s not really anything constructive for you to do. Planning ahead and having tasks ready to go makes parents feel that they are really making a contribution to the classroom.
I liked to have a designated spot for volunteers in the classroom with an ongoing list of tasks that needed to be done posted along with all the materials necessary. Volunteers come in, go straight to the list and get going without interrupting the classroom flow.
In addition, if you have any changes to your daily schedule like an assembly or field trip, be sure to let parents know ahead of time so they don’t waste a trip.
Show volunteers appreciation.
Nothing burns volunteers out faster than not feeling noticed or appreciated. Take the time to thank the parents that support you, even if it’s just a quick email or a shout-out in your newsletter.
I always liked to give my volunteers gifts at the holidays and again at the end of the year. Nothing fancy- a candle or small plant or gift card- just a small gesture expressing my gratitude. If a small gift isn’t in the budget, a handwritten, heartfelt note goes a long way.
A few ideas for parent volunteer roles:
It’s a great idea to have a variety of tasks that parents can help with. Some parents will be ready and willing to jump right in and work with students. Other parents would prefer to work on tasks “behind the scenes”.
Both types of parents can be incredibly valuable, so keep that in mind as you are planning and preparing.
Here’s some examples:
Working with students:
Station helper: a weekly volunteer that can come in and help supervise and manage classroom centers. They can either run their own station or circulate the room while you work with small groups.
Reading helper: someone who comes in during reading group time to read one on one with students
Academic helper: someone who comes in to work with one to two students who could use some extra practice
Special guest reader: parents who volunteer to do a read-aloud (while you get other things done!)
Library helper: a volunteer who helps kids pick books on library day, or fill students’ at-home book bags, or helps keep your classroom library neat and organized.
Working behind the scenes:
Office helper: a person who helps prepare for lessons and activities by copying, laminating, cutting and collating, etc. This person can also tear out workbook pages or file papers.
Supplies helper: a person who sharpens pencils, cleans paintbrushes, checks for dried-out markers, cleans work surfaces, fills glue bottles, etc.
Decorator helper: a person who takes down/hangs up student work or bulletin board displays
Homework folder preparation: someone who helps you assemble and organize your weekly take-home folders
At home helper: a parent who cuts, staples, assembles, or collates pages at home
Special project helpers: anytime you’re doing a big project that requires a few extra hands like a science experiment or special art projects, these are volunteers that can come in and lend an extra hand
Parties and events coordinator and helpers: people who plan the activities and snacks for class parties. They coordinate with other parents for supplies and station helpers.
Field trip chaperones: volunteers who come with you on field trips
Free Parent Volunteer Forms
Organization is the key to a successful parent volunteer program. You need to find out when parents available, find out their interests, and then create a schedule.
To help you get and stay organized this school year I’ve put together a free kit of classroom volunteer forms. These forms will help you recruit parents, find out their availability, and create a schedule. Some of the pages are editable, so you can customize them to fit your classroom needs. (You will need Power Point to edit the file.)
Included is a sign-up form that you can leave out during parent events, a letter and survey to help you organize, and an editable calendar that you can share with volunteers.
Download your copy of the free Parent Volunteer forms.
Kindergarten is a very special year in the life of young students and for their parents as well. Open up your classroom and involve families as much as you can. Everyone will receive the support they need and you may even be surprised to walk away with some lifelong friends.