Earlier this year I moved to a new state with my family. Soon after settling in, we stumbled across an amazing preschool that my older son now attends and loves. I’m thrilled that we made this huge transition and that he is happy (phew!), yet I have found it harder than expected to be involved in the school community.
One of the challenges is that his school doesn’t have a clear volunteer policy or system in place, so there wasn’t an obvious path to classroom involvement. Additionally, as a work-from-home mama with a 1-year-old, I am often balancing childcare, attending meetings, and completing projects before heading out to pick up my older child from school.
As a former teacher, I know what the research overwhelmingly indicates: that regardless of income or background, students with involved families are more likely to have greater success in school—and in life. They have improved test scores, better grades, consistent school attendance, increased social skills, and overall improved behavior.
From my days in the classroom, I also know what teachers really need.
So what is a busy parent to do? Here are five ways you can boost your involvement in your child’s education with limited time and resources.
Be Proactive and Stay in Touch
If you’ve not done so yet, introduce yourself to your child’s teacher in-person or via email. Consider offering some skills you’d be willing to share to support the classroom. Are you a writer that could show students how to put together a book? Are you super organized? Do you love to sew or knit? Teachers are often running a classroom with 20+ students of varying needs—and it can be daunting. While most teachers really would like to seek out every parent, they often do not have the capacity to do so. By reaching out to them, you give them the opportunity to get to know you as you become involved.
You might also ask the teacher if there are specific needs for the classroom or ways you can support them. Can you coordinate a wish list of items needed? Take home projects to complete? Organize the classroom library or read aloud to the students each week?
Finally, do your best to attend parent-teacher meetings and follow up with any action items or ongoing concerns. Make sure that, if you notice an issue or have a concern, you bring it up to the teacher first (in a kind and respectful way, of course!) You might learn something new, support your child, or even identify an issue that the teacher was unaware of. This will create an atmosphere of trust and understanding.
Get to Know the Staff and Ask Questions
Seek out the school secretary, volunteer coordinator, or head of the PTA. Find out who the different staff are in the building. Who is in charge of lunch? Who is the playground support? What happens during aftercare? The more you know about the role of individual members of the community, the easier it is to support your child in their educational journey.
Ask questions about different ways that you can get involved at the school outside of the classroom, too. Maybe you can join in a once-a-month PTA meeting, or maybe you have an hour a week to support the school librarian. Perhaps you’d like to help with a yearly school event such as a winter fair. Whatever strengths and time you have available, there is undoubtedly a need. They key is asking questions and seeking out the people with the answers.
Once you have determined the school’s needs and your availability, volunteer! This might mean becoming a regular field trip chaperone, stapling homework packets together at home each Thursday night (one of my most appreciated parent volunteers did this for me every week and I was eternally grateful to them!), or picking up and dropping off books from your local public library. There are many ways to volunteer beyond being classroom parent or recess support.
Use the School Calendar
Read the school calendar or newsletter and take note when certain events are happening. Put these events on your calendar at home and ask your child (or their teacher) how you can prepare. Make it a point to ask your child questions leading up to the event and support them in getting ready. Consider reaching out to the teacher prior to the event offering your support or asking how you can extend the learning at home. By keeping track of what’s happening on a regular basis, your child will feel the connection between home and school and be more likely to share the little things happening on a daily basis.
Make Homework a Bridge to School
Good habits start at home, and homework can be a great way to support your child in learning time management and organizational skills. If your child has homework, make it a family activity—set them up to work someplace central like the kitchen table. Use it as a time to get to know what they are learning in school, and to make connections with activities at home. If you notice lots of time-related math problems, consider putting up an analog clock someplace prominent in your home. If you child is learning all about trees, think about visiting the local arboretum over the weekend. If you have younger children at home, include them by asking them to draw pictures about something they enjoyed that day.
Using these tips will help you build a bridge between home and school—not only for you as a parent, but for your child to truly feel that their learning is connected.
By Jasmine Gibson, an educational consultant with expertise in early elementary education, supporting teachers, and designing curriculum.