Parent volunteers – the mere words can cause panic in some teachers while others breathe a sigh of relief. When it comes down to it, of course, you'd LOVE to have extra help in your classroom. It would free you up for so many other things—like lesson planning—but you haven’t yet taken the plunge…or maybe you have with disastrous results.
Perhaps the issue isn't so much that classroom volunteers aren't a good idea in your classroom, but more of a struggle with how best to use them without having to put in a lot of extra time and effort into preparing for their help. It's also very likely that you are so swamped with all the things on your to-do list that you don't even have time in your day to think about getting started or refining how you use parent volunteers. Instead of giving up, let's break it down so you can get started and get that much-needed support ASAP.
Getting Ready for Parent Volunteers
Make a plan for how you envision using volunteers. Once you've thought about what you want them to do, make a plan for how you will communicate that information. Depending on the tasks you are considering and where they will occur, here are a few items you might want to have ready:
- Sign up sheets
- To do lists
- Instruction sheets
- Videos (for projects parents might do at home…or even to use the copier)
Make a file with all these things so you don't have to reinvent the wheel each year. You can make small adjustments based on how well things go to help you continue to refine your processes.
Acquiring your parent-volunteers
If you're lucky, and it is the beginning of the school year, your best bet is on Parent Night or School Supply Drop-off. Special events and parties are also great opportunities to get parents thinking about volunteering, but before they arrive you'll want to have a clear picture of HOW you envision using their support to reduce the likelihood of frustration from your end or theirs!
Have your sign-up sheets ready with suggestions on how they can volunteer, contact info, and a list of special event days that they can help in your class.
No more parent days this year? Send out an email blast or send a notice home with a class newsletter!
Rules, rules, rules
Make sure you are aware of your school or district policy regarding parent volunteers. Many districts now require volunteers to submit to a background check before volunteering. Making the parents aware of any policies your district has can help save frustration on both their end and yours.
How to Utilize Parent Volunteers
There are a ton of ways you might utilize the parent volunteers in your classroom. For the purposes of this post, I wanted to focus in on some really simple ways to get started. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Tackle the To-Do List
For those of you who aren’t sure if you want a parent working directly with students, just create a growing ‘Volunteer to-do list’ that you jot down tasks as come up during the week.
Keep it in a handy spot for any volunteers that come in, attach needed items, and just watch the magic happen as your tasks are miraculously taken care of! Just think about all the extra PLANNING TIME you will have when all of these little, yet time-consuming tasks are done for you!
Here are a few sample tasks you might include:
- Give a make-up spelling test to Taylor
- Make 30 copies of the science test
- Sort and organize weekly ‘take-home’ folders
- File the last set of writing assessments
- Check out 6 engaging Autumn-themed read-aloud books from media center
- Research easy and inexpensive winter holiday craft projects, email the ideas to me
2. Crafting Days/Special Projects
Have a few volunteers come in on those days you know things might get a little crazy. Matter Day was always one of these for me. There was just no way I could run all the stations and not end up with a mess. I created a set of volunteer directions for each of the stations, and I was able to use them year after year. I also had the added bonus of being able to send them home early so parents could read them and come prepared with any questions they had BEFORE we got started.
3. Math & Reading Centers
You'd be surprised at how well parents can help kiddos in a station if they've received directions and a little advanced prep. Many parents who volunteer really want to be IN the classroom not just making copies. By giving them a task like supporting station work, you'll be able to focus more intently with your small groups knowing that the other students are more likely to stay on task and have support. Depending on the parent, it might be important to remind them about the importance of praise or to ensure their own child doesn't end up in their group.
4. Lit Circles, small group reading, or read aloud
Hearing someone other than their teacher read to them is very beneficial to kids! There are so many benefits to be gained from being read to: improved fluency, new vocab, story structures, pronunciation, the list goes on…
Even parents who work during school hours and can’t come in can read to the class or group through skype – how cool would that be!?
5. Technology Help
This can be a lifesaver early in the year, and it can be as simple as having a parent circulate to help kids login. When we begin working with Google Docs and other digital tools, I love having parents around to help keep everyone on track and answer all those tech questions.
For parents who aren't able to volunteer during the day, you might consider a task like emailing class photos to a parent who can them organize them for a year-long classroom scrapbook! Think of how awesome the finished product will look in your teaching portfolio or as a class gift for the end of the year.
Still too busy for the ideas above?
Let’s face it, sometimes preparing tasks ahead of time is out of the question for your schedule. If that’s the case, then just go the no prep route and have parents help with the following:
- Circulate and help with any workbook work or current task we are working on
- Have them sit with a student or two and go through flashcards that cover areas that they need practice with
- Help a kid organize their folders and backpacks!
- Read aloud while you work one-on-one or in a small group with a student
Bringing in and using parent volunteers can be SO simple and SO helpful, you just need to figure out how best they can help and take the plunge! You’ll be so glad you did!
I've talked about volunteer appreciation before (you can find it here), but it is worth another conversation. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, so don't forget to show your parent volunteers just how much their support means to you. This past year, I gave each volunteer a $5.00 Starbucks gift card and ended up spending about $30 out of pocket. I let some early finishers color the paper and attached the gift card, and DONE!! Super simple, but WAY cute.
You can get a free copy of these “Thanks a Latte” cards free just by clicking the button below.
If you’d like more ideas from The Third Wheel, be sure to follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to keep up to date on the latest tips, tools, and freebies for your classroom.
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