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HomeHealth & Behavior

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!

Valle Dwight is a reporter, writer, and mother of two school-aged boys. She has written for many magazines, including FamilyFun, Wondertime, and Working Mother.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/10/2009:
"Like many things in life it depends on the teacher and her previous expereince with classroom volunteers. Also on the support or lack thereof from her principal. There jobs are tough enough and sometimes they feel like its just another set of eyes critiquing her/his every move. Be willing to help outside of class. Perhaps making copies in the prep room, cutting/sorting at home. Or just purchasing some supplies or helping with field trips. I know I have been a distraction in class by no fault of my own. Its just the nature of kids to want to engage a nice adult. If you are shut out all together then time for Advocate Mom to put on her cape and start asserting her rights ever so slyly.Know your school board policy and see if its conducive for home/school callaboration if not, let your school board know, it time for change."
10/8/2009:
"I am a parent and a teacher. Whe a parent volunteers the same class every time, every week, creates a rupture with the class flow, and the students loose instructional focus. Voulunteering once in a while is healthy but doing it all the time id definitely not. I know as parents we can learn a lot from our children's teachers, but we have to aim for the best for the class, and not only what we, as a parents, can gain. Be considerate with the teachers."
09/21/2009:
"Seems to me that primarily the private schools don't allow parent volunteers in the classroom. If this is the case, maybe the mom should question why they are so secretive, and seek a public school that welcomes involvement and constructive criticism, and whose curriculum is based on time-tested standards rather than suspicion of parental oversight (or parents pulling students or suing?)"
09/18/2009:
"Yes, I volunteered just Monday, and I saw an improvement with my daughter's conduct, she's a big talker, 2nd grade, but it does help and the other children kind of watch you, as a parent when they want to get out of hand. It's also nice to see what the teacher teaches them and how the circulum goes in class. I suggest to parents to find a little time at least 2 times a months to go and assist in your childs classrooms so you wont be too surprised when things come up."
09/18/2009:
"I do it once a week and only work with the P.E. teacher. I don't go into classrooms only P.E. class. I help around and walk the halls making sure kids aren't messing around.I wish I could do more but they have rules and I must follow. But I really wish parents knew there kids... man some just make it so not worth the pay. I feel for them but thats their job, just like a stripper you know what you're getting into. Oh and I hate the parents how just drop off the kids and expect the teacher to make them good people."
09/18/2009:
"If your child's school doesn't allow volunteers in the classroom, you might consider helping with an after school activity or chaperone on a field trip. You might even volunteer for lunchroom/recess duty. Most teachers won't turn down the help if you do what they ask you to help with, not take charge and do your own thing. Usually schools that do not allow you to volunteer in your child's class does that to eliminate those parents who will focus on their child's needs only."
09/18/2009:
"The sad truth is that the school officials and employees do not want parents in 'their' schools. Our school system always gave lip service to 'parents are welcome in our schols anytime', but when we actually went they made it clear we were not wanted. The schools only want parents there when they need money or labor for specific projects. I am sure there are some school systems which do welcome parental involvement, but they are few and far between."
09/18/2009:
"Interesting - many of us have ths same concern! Schools are not letting parents volunteer in the classroom (I thought it was just my school!). GreatSchools, can you please address this issue? "
09/18/2009:
"What if you are volunteering but the teachers don't want the help (ie, don't want parnets in the classroom) and the Principal also is anti-parent and believes parents don't belong in classrooms? This is the culture at our -- highly rated -- school. It's frustrating that I can't be a part of my child's elementary school experience, and that parents don't really get a glimpse of the classroom dynamics. What do you suggest?"
09/16/2009:
"I volunteered in my kids' classrooms, and realized how much violence is in the schools, so thankfully now we are homeschooling. They have grown by leaps and bounds. (What student wouldn't with one on one.) And they're now both in the gifted and talented program."
09/16/2009:
"This all sounds great and is the reason why I tried to volunteer in my childs classroom, but the teachers at her school dont accept parent volunteers in the classroom! They will let you volunteer in a different classroom, but not your childs! "
09/16/2009:
"The problem in my child's school in Doral Florida is that parent volunteers are not allowed in the classroom."
09/16/2009:
"Pls note, that parents should ask how the teacher feels about having volunteers in the classroom. If parents listen carefully to what and how the teacher responds, then the answer should be clear. Of course, most teachers will be polite and not turn down parental help, but try to see beyond the politeness. The presence of parents can be intruding and can interrupt the teachers' flow or teaching style. Let us be considerate. As a parent, I appreciate help sometimes but I would not appreciate my mother-in-law coming into our home everyday to 'volunteer,� would you?"
09/16/2009:
"I find that being in the class room helps me know what to say at home to help my kid with homework. Knowing the teachers little saying help alot at home."
09/16/2009:
"I have a 6th grader. Her middle school doesn't allow alot of parent volunteering, especially in the classroom. I feel disconnected a bit now. Other ways to help? "
09/16/2009:
"I couldn't agree with this article more! You gain so much insight by being IN the classroom. Everyone benefits. I just wish Middle and even Secondary schools encouraged/welcomed parent volunteers. Talk about an untapped resource! As someone who has 'been there and done that' I can't begin to tell you how my presence at the school helped us stay in touch with what, and how, our kids were doing. I was so much more a part of their lives in elementary because of volunteering. Liked it so much, I went on to substitute teach, which allowed for even greater insight."
09/16/2009:
"I would love to volunteer in my child's classroom but the principal and teacher's at my daughter's school have made it clear that they don't want you in the classroom. You are distraction to the students. The only thing they want you to volunteer for is for parties and fund raisers."
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