Selfish secrets of parental involvement
Does volunteering in the classroom make your child smarter?
By Valle Dwight
Everyone knows that teachers could use an extra set of hands — many are overwhelmed with trying to meet the needs of a class of diverse learners, and every adult body in the classroom helps. When money is tight, volunteers can blunt the sting of budget cuts.
But if the specter of harried, cash-strapped teachers doesn’t get you speed-striding down to your child’s school, a more self-serving reason just might do the trick. According to research, volunteering in the classroom gives kids an academic boost. One study from the Department of Education found that when parents are present in the classroom, the performance of all students tends to improve. Even closer to home, researchers also observed that parents who volunteered saw short-term and long-term benefits to their own children’s academic success. In the short-term, their children’s grades and test scores improved. They also tended to stay in school longer.
Christine Jensen, a mother of five from Utah, volunteers regularly in her kids’ classes and has seen the benefits for them in several ways. Spending time in the classroom gives her an up-close look at the teacher, the other students, and the learning atmosphere. When her son or daughter comes home and complains about another child, Jensen knows all the children involved.
“It gives me perspective,” she says.
Her very presence also sends her kids the message that she cares about their education and that she will support them as they go through their school years. “When you volunteer in the classroom,” says Jensen, “you show your child that you think school is important.”
Being in the classroom allows parents to pick up teaching tricks from the pros. Michael Leahy, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher in San Francisco, suggests that if there is an area of the curriculum you want your child to work on, you should talk to the teacher about assisting with that particular lesson plan. Working with the teacher may spark some ideas for you and help you carry over the lesson at home.
Jensen, who blogs about her kids at Pink Lemonade of Life, often uses tips from the classroom to reinforce lessons at home. In her daughter’s class, she learned a little rhyme about the value of money and was able to teach her other children with it. And being around students who are learning to read has allowed her to apply those lessons to her younger kids. Volunteering in different classrooms has also given her a broader view of the various techniques teachers use.
“I love to watch kids learn to read,” Jensen explains. “And watching all these teachers helped me a lot when I tried to teach my younger kids to read.”
Leahy says he loves parents’ help in part because it has “enormous indirect and often direct impact on the efficacy of my curriculum.” In the end, volunteers give teachers more time to focus on their lesson plans and work individually with children — including yours!