Volunteering at your child's school brings about a wide range of benefits. According to the National Institute of Education, "effective parent involvement correlates with students' earning higher grades and test scores." The website Parent-Volunteers.com adds that "parent involvement provides valuable resources in terms of volunteer time and contributes to increased support for the school." And educators report that schools that experience parental volunteering involvement outperform schools with little parental involvement. In short, the child benefits from a parent's direct involvement, and the class is more enriched. Also, the school enjoys better test results and reviews overall, which may attract expanded school programs and budgets.
On a more personal level, your child will absorb the message that you care about his or her education enough to devote your time to coming in and helping out. If your chosen volunteer task is considered "cool" by your child's peers, such as running creative art projects or a stargazing event, your child basks in the glow of your being a hit with the kids.
Of course, volunteering isn't about being a star with the students. Teachers are in great need of support in all aspects, from proctoring exams to helping to organize the classroom closets to caring for classroom plants and pets. From just one day of volunteering, your organizing strengths can refresh the classroom environment, earning the teacher's appreciation and admiration. "After enjoying a particular parent's fabulous volunteer work on creating updated bulletin boards and wall decal displays," says an anonymous teacher, "I found myself greatly relieved from the unbelievable stress and pressures on teachers, and I must admit I was likelier to return that parent's call with her questions about her son's work than I was to return a call from an aggressive, noninvolved parent. I know, it's terrible to say that, but it is the truth."
According to a recent poll by Harris Interactive and GreatSchools -- a nonprofit parent-involvement group -- 53 percent of parents plan to volunteer at their children's schools, up from 44 percent last year.
*How To Help
First, think about what your skills and talents are and create a list of the specialty activities you might lead or assist with. Then reach out to your child's teacher with a friendly email saying, for example, "If you ever wish for me to volunteer in the classroom on special projects, I am a graphic designer by trade and can help the children design greeting cards." Teachers say they welcome general "I'd like to help" emails or offers made during the parent-teacher conference.
Here are some of the most popular volunteer activities that you might wish to sign on for:
--Class work support
Make printouts or photocopies of handouts and work sheets provided by the teacher.
Set up art, science and other projects.
Fold and staple booklets.
Design or simply put up/take down bulletin boards.
Sort paper and art supplies in the closet, labeling bins.
Test and organize markers, discarding those that are dried out.
Clean tables, desks and work surfaces.
Clean bookshelves and organize books.
Clean pet cages.
Repot and deadhead classroom plants.
--Reading and teaching tasks
Read to children.
Teach a basic lesson, such as a sports method or creating a song to remember the states.
Make flashcards and lead the class in using them.
Give a presentation on your job during Career Day.
Give a presentation on your hobby.
Chaperone field trips.
Conduct a lecture or activity during a field trip.
Organize other parents to volunteer or contribute snacks for class trips.
Organize and oversee class fundraisers for the field trip.
Design and plan the party details.
Recruit other parents to join your party committee.
Shop for and make all party supplies.
Plan party activities.
Set up and clean up.
And of course, planning and running fundraisers -- such as carnivals, bake sales, plant sales and more -- can keep those important arts, sports, science and other programs in your child's school. Many parents run for positions on the school board so that they can make a difference on a larger scale.
*Help From Technology
The Internet has streamlined the volunteer process, with teachers enjoying the ease of sending out volunteer requests and organizing volunteers through websites such as VolunteerSpot. Last summer, this site saw a 50 percent increase in use.
Volunteer realistically with your available time and both you and your child will benefit.