Parent Volunteers—More Than a Fly on The Wall

Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.By Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.

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Parent Volunteers—More Than a Fly on The Wall
Jennifer Atkins with her daughter, Luca and friends Nico Aguillar Olveras and Evelyn Stone.
Assisting in a classroom provides an experience that enables parent volunteers to be more than just a fly on the wall. “Topanga Elementary is a great example of how much can be accomplished when parents are engaged in their children’s education. I get to assist the wonderful teachers and staff who are committed to giving my daughter and her classmates a strong, supportive start to their elementary school education. I meet my daughter’s classmates and their parents, and watch my daughter and her friends grow and blossom. Childhood seems to go so quickly, and I don’t want to miss any of it.” —Karine Tchakerian, parent As a classroom volunteer, this is where parents and other family members can observe their own and other children, but more than that, they can directly engage and impact the educational program by assisting the teacher in implementing the curriculum, providing support for students needing extra help, and helping to prepare materials and maintain the classroom. They can also learn the dynamics of the classroom and gain an understanding of the teacher’s teaching style. “I love volunteering in class because I see my child flourish in her own independent setting and get a glimpse of where she spends a huge part of her day. I also see the joy on her face learning new things and playing with her friends.” —Natalie Kaldes, parent
Lara Hogan with her daughter, Dakota and friend Liya Kaldes
Often, a teacher will ask a volunteer to work with a small group of children, facilitating a learning game, assisting with assignments, and providing more immediate feedback when children need support. This helps lower the adult-to-student ratio and gives more students the opportunity to work in proximity with an adult.
“I look forward to Tuesdays in my grandson’s TK classroom. Those mornings give me a unique perspective into his life and witness him confidently interacting with friends, teachers, and learning. I’ve gotten to know and love some of his classmates, too, and was touched when a few of them gave me a big hug after I read the class a story. While I like to think I’m helping Ms. Weisberg and facilitating her ability to have students work in small groups, the real beneficiary of this volunteering is me!”
—Joan Saffa, grandparent

Adult volunteers often are excited to help in the classroom and many enjoy activities such as reading aloud to groups of children and helping children in learning centers by encouraging oral language development related to the topic.
“Watching our kiddos’ special friendships, learning to problem solve, help each other, and figure out their place in this very special ecosystem of our TK class is a treat. I’m so glad I can be there every week and create these memories with our daughter.”
—Martina Paradiso, parent

In my classroom, we recently had a “bakery” in our dramatic play area. The children acted in different roles as bakers, assistant bakers, customers, cashiers, and servers. They wore name tags with their roles on them, and used props such as menus, play money and pretend food. The bakers prepared the cookies and baked goods and served ice cream in this special shop. The servers took orders from the customers seated at the table and the cashier rang up the sales on the cash register using pretend money. This popular center was successful because the parent volunteer guided the children as they selected their role and learned about their job responsibilities. The volunteer had a page describing the activity with suggested vocabulary to introduce to the children to expand their vocabulary and lead to more content-related conversations. The parent volunteer also encouraged successful cleanup at the end of the play period. Having a volunteer turned the center from a simple play center to a play-based learning center related to our language-arts theme of bakery. It proved to be a very popular center!
“I love volunteering in Ms. Weisberg’s classroom! Not only have I gained a deeper understanding of my son’s life at school and the topics he’s learning about, but have loved getting to know all the students, who are each so wonderful, funny, and quirky in their own five-year-old ways. It makes me feel connected to my community to watch these kids growing in the classroom or meet them and their families around town. I feel tremendous fondness for each and every one of them!”
—Lauren Saffa, parent

Photos by By Amy Weisberg Anthony Jackson helps Gabe Long, Coco Roberts and Diego Cubria complete a puzzle.
Classroom volunteers come to school with their own talents and skills and an experienced teacher welcomes other adults who bring their specialty to class. We have a farm stand garden and a parent in our class is a talented gardener. She enjoys tending to the plants and teaching the children about what we planted. She helps on the days we taste our crops, and helps the children harvest plants to take home. Having an enthusiastic garden helper allows the children to learn from another adult. The children are excited when they see our garden helper come to class because they relate it to a fun experience.
“Volunteering in my daughter’s classroom gives me the opportunity to observe her exploring her newfound independence without stopping its progress. It’s also a great way to build community. You really begin to feel like “we’re all in this together.” And, of course, getting to know all the cute kids and their personalities is fun.”
—Anthony Jackson, parent

Classroom volunteers also benefit from observing techniques that teachers use when working with students and can replicate these techniques when helping their children at home. When volunteers have an opportunity to watch the teacher teach, see the materials and curriculum used for instruction, they gain an understanding into what is important, how their children are mastering concepts and how the teacher addresses State Education Standards. Parents then become informed participants in their children’s education.
“Volunteering in Room K is such a treat. Not only do I get to see what my daughter is working on and how she operates in her classroom, I also have gotten to know Ms. Weisberg and it’s inspiring to watch her teach. I have learned some valuable tips on how to work with my daughter at home. I’ve also gotten to know all the kids in the classroom. When I walk in on Monday morning, it’s wonderful to get hugs and hellos from all the little friends.”
—Lara Hogan

I love teaching transitional kindergarten! The four- and five-year-old children in my class are excited to learn and are growing every day. We really are a classroom family and having family members in the classroom as part of our team makes learning more individualized and gives all the students more adult attention. I encourage family members to take an hour each week to take advantage of this opportunity.
You won’t regret it!

It’s the Law
In case you didn’t know, parents and caregivers can take time off from work to volunteer in their child’s classroom, thanks to a California law, the Family-School Partnership Act. Parents, grandparents and guardians can take time off to participate in their children’s school or childcare activities. This law (Labor Code Section 230.8) first took effect in 1995 and its provisions were expanded in 1997 to add licensed child daycare facilities for kindergarten through grade twelve levels included in the original legislation.
Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.

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