Volunteering in the Kindergarten Classroom
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Pop into a typical kindergarten, and everything looks so neat and inviting. There’s almost always a rug to sit on, a bunch of books, little chairs near kid-level tables for drawing, cozy nooks full of hands-on manipulatives, and special activities. It all looks so…well…effortless.
But check with your child's teacher sometime, and you’ll soon discover that it’s anything but! Behind the scenes, most kindergarten teachers usually spend at least one hour, and sometimes two or three, preparing for every hour of classroom instruction. Those cute mittens with the shoelace sewing strings? Every one of them must be cut out and sorted ahead of time. Those cool field trips to see pumpkins and ducks? Hours and hours of planning and fretting. Which is why, if you’re a kindergarten parent, many teachers will warmly invite you to volunteer—as much as you can.
In fact, while it’s true that a big part of kindergarten is building kids’ independence, the year is also one of the most parent-intensive. Many parents look back on it, years later, as a special time when they got to know the teacher, met other children and their families, and saw key aspects of the way the whole school worked. Kindergarten gets kids off on the right foot for elementary school. But it can get parents off on the right foot, too. They key is getting involved. Not sure where to begin? Here’s some advice from two seasoned pros: Jan Harp Domene, president of the National Parent Teacher Association, and Joan Barksdale, a practicing kindergarten teacher for more than 30 years.
1. Sign up! Early in the year, often at Back to School Night, your teacher will let you know what’s needed. Listen, watch…and try to do at least something. This doesn’t have to mean you’re there every single minute; after all, an important goal in kindergarten is to help your children learn to be away from you. Whether you're a working parent who can't possibly volunteer on a regular basis, or a stay-at-home dad with hours flexible enough to volunteer once a week, there's a way for almost everyone to do something. Making time to help shows your child that school is important to you. Do try to “step up to the plate and get involved," Domene says, "You’re setting the tone for your child’s future!”
2. Find a match with your time and interests. Remember: there are lots of different ways to volunteer, and you don’t need any special skills. “Whatever they help with,” says Barksdale, “parents make a big difference. Like paint. I can’t do it right unless I have a parent there. Someone’s got to be there to help with the big paper and smocks, and I can’t be there while I’m handling the rest of the class.” You don't need to be on-site to help in the classroom. Often, for example, parents in Barksdale’s class will cut shapes at home, or paste booklets, making whole lesson plans flow the next day. There are one-time events, like field trips. Or, if your schedule keeps you from daytime activities, consider offering to keep a class list updated, or maintaining an email list and helping the teacher by sending out updates and reminders over the year. These tasks may take as little as an hour a month--but they bring teacher gratitude that lasts the whole year.