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Lending a Hand

 © Kristian Sekulic | Dreamstime.com

This is the season when teachers pass around their lists asking for room parents and the parent teacher organization pulls out all the stops to up its enrollment.

I know when I lived in Central New York, our elementary school seemed to have the same 10 people handling every event. At the top of that list was the PTO president, whom we affectionately nicknamed CEO Barbie, because she was competent, willing to run anything and looked like a million bucks doing it. It’s hard to compete with a blond bombshell dynamo, but do we have to?

Most parents are going 90 miles an hour, hightailing it back from a busy day at work, only to do the soccer run or the carpool for youth group that evening. How can we possibly manage to squeeze in volunteer time at our children’s elementary schools?

The conclusion I came to is we are all busy. I don’t know one single parent who sits around eating bon-bons all day long. I might not have been able to sign up to run every event, but surely, I figured, there was something I could do to show my children that I wanted to be involved in their schools.

I scoured the sign-up sheets and found that while I couldn’t commit to every holiday party, I could find time to volunteer at one a year for each child. When I wasn’t able to offer my time, I made sure the party chair knew I was good for as many candy canes or peanut butter Easter eggs as he or she needed.

I also tried to help my children’s teachers by offering to come and participate in special class presentations. I remember once I volunteered to go into Bronson’s third-grade classroom. My assignment was to read one of my favorite children’s books aloud and then tell the students why it was my favorite.

I chose to read a short passage from The Secret Garden, and then I told the children about how as a military brat I moved around a lot. I was always nervous about making new friends, but it was reassuring to know I was taking many of my old friends with me to our new locations—Little Women, The Secret Garden and The Little House on the Prairie to name a few. I really enjoyed being able to see those third graders connect to my love affair with books.

One of the biggest smiles that day was from Bronson—because Mom was there in his classroom, and that made him feel special. The whole endeavor took two hours tops—an hour of preparation and an hour at the school. Out of that experience came a treasured memory for both me and my son.

Often teachers also need weekly help with learning small-group centers. A friend of mine volunteered for centers in her child’s class and said it helped generate a lot of conversation at home. When her daughter brought up a classmate’s name at the dinner table, Sharon knew the child and could say something like “Oh, Brittney! She’s the one with the curly, blond hair, right?” Such comments would often spur further conversation with her daughter.

Volunteering in the classroom is also a great way to see how the class dynamics work. You quickly learn who the ringleaders are, the brainiacs, the class clowns, and the ones who may need a special friend. In a way, you actually get to be the fly on the wall in your child’s classroom, which can help you guide your child socially throughout his or her school year.

If there is absolutely no way you can find time during the day to be at your child’s school, maybe you can help your child’s teacher with prep work such as cutting out shapes for an upcoming art project, redecorating bulletin boards in the classroom after hours, or setting up tomorrow’s science project. My daughter’s fourth-grade teacher sent out a memo asking for a parent to be in charge of tallying reading points each week—a chore easily done in the comfort of your own home on your own computer.

Another friend organized the General Mills Box Top fund-raising project for her child’s school. It’s quite a feat counting a gazillion tiny box tops, but she enjoyed having a task she could do on her own timetable. 

The ways we can contribute to our children’s education are endless. We may not all have the time or capability to be CEO Barbie in our children’s schools, but we can all find some way to help our children know we care about what and how they are learning—even if it is finding a precious hour a week previously networking with friends on Facebook. Trust me, the “friends” who really matter are pint-sized and would love to see Mom or Dad show up in their classroom some time and share a little of themselves with their classmates.

Kelly Taylor, her husband, Alan, and their five children in 2008 moved from their Liverpool home of 10 years to Greenville, N.C. Kelly holds a master’s degree in family studies. To comment on this article, write to editorial@familytimes.biz.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York