In the past, having classroom volunteers always ended up being a lot more work for me. I had to plan ahead when I was mostly living day by day. I had to prepare activities (with directions) for parents to do with students. Organizing small groups for parent volunteers was my nightmare. Without the content knowledge and background of what and how I was teaching, it was difficult for parents to support students without a lot of instruction and explicit direction from me. I even went to the extent of writing a mini-lesson plan. Whaaat?? That's outrageous! Ain't nobody got time for that.
Then I realized I was going about it all wrong. There are millions of ways for volunteers to support a classroom, big and small. I wasn't thinking about involving parents in our classroom the right way.
When I think of classroom volunteers I no longer limit my thinking to in-class support. In fact, it was all the in-class support that was stressing me out. Now, I think about what can I honestly commit to and what would make my life easier, benefit my students, and make learning more meaningful and fun.
Here is a list of easy ways I've found to utilize parent volunteers in any classroom, but especially upper elementary and beyond.
1. Mystery Readers
Invite a parent to come in once a week or once a month to read a picture book to your class, but don't tell your class who is coming in. It is the most fun when it is a surprise. I suggest collecting names at the beginning of the year of those interested and emailing out a Google Doc sign-up sheet in the first few weeks with all the dates for the school year.
2. Art in the Classroom
Have a crafty or artistic parent? Invite them into the classroom to do an art project with the kids every couple of months.
3. Copy Heroes
Have a parent make copies for you. I recommend a 1/4 sheet with directions that you can paper clip to the top of each page you need copied. One sided or two? Staples? Holes? This minimizes questions and allows you to keep on teaching when your amazing copy hero shows up to help. You can easily make your own or click the image below to download my Superhero Copy Volunteer Form for free.
4. Sending in Supplies & Requested Materials
This is a great option for working parents and we ALWAYS need glue, like always. Our classroom couldn't run without the help of these generous parents, so they get an A+ as a parent volunteer in my book.
5. Sharpening Pencils
Send home a bag of new or dull pencils to be sharpened at home with a student. You will never have to sharpen a pencil again!
6. Cutting, Folding, & Creating
Another great at-home help is sending home lamination to be cut, centers or games to be created, or foldables that need folding. I always send home all necessary materials (baggies, craft sticks,etc.) and an example what I would like done.
7. Bulletin Board Help
Invite a parent with a great design eye to put up and take down your exterior bulletin boards.
8. Parent Show & Tell
Show and tell is not just for kids. Invite a parent to show & tell something from their job, their hobbies, or their lives. I had a parent bring in a piece of a meteor and the kids were fascinated. They all immediately made a beeline for the space books after that presentation. It is a bonus if it connects with something you are studying, but either way real world connections will be made, classroom community will be built, and parent-student-teacher relationships will grow.
9. Classroom Party Help/ Room Parent/ Field Trip Chaperone
I just grouped all the usual suspects together. :)
10. Science Lab Set-Up
Give a parent the directions for an upcoming lab and have them get the science lab all set up.
11. Technology Support
This is a great role for the beginning of the year in particular. Invite some tech savvy parents to join you in the computer lab to help get students logged in and troubleshoot any unforeseen tech glitches.
12. Door Decorating
Invite a parent to decorate your door for the season, a unit of study, or a special event. For example, I have parents design and decorate my door for Writing Camp. You could also do something for Dr. Seuss week, the 100th Day of School, Global Read Aloud, etc.
13. Book Clubs
Parents who love to read? Invite them to lead a weekly book club with a group of students.
14. STEM Challenge Help
This is a great way to get more dads in the classroom. Invite parents in for a monthly STEM challenge. They can organize materials, help groups get started, and assist with the excitement of discovery during the activity.
15. Scholastic Book Club Manager
Invite a parent to put together your monthly book order flyers from Scholastic. They can write in your classroom code and due date, staple multiple flyers together, and/or attach a top sheet with recommendations and order info.
You'll notice that most of my suggestions are ways for parents to help outside the classroom, help with special projects, join in our classroom community, and/or participate in a whole class activity at one time. This allows me to plan accordingly and maintain my class scheduled as much as possible. It also allows me to have all those "extras" in my classroom without taking my precious planning time. This means I can put all my energy into lesson planning, but my bulletin boards still look good. :)
Over the years, I have learned to utilize classroom help. It is still a work in progress, but I have found that classroom volunteers really do make life easier. I simply had to figure out what worked for me and I hope some of my ideas work for you too!
Happy teacher, happy parents, happy students, happy classroom!
I highly recommend creating your own Volunteer Sign-Up sheet at the beginning of the year. This way you can list the help that you really want and will really use. Be specific with the help you need. Parents will appreciate direct requests and clear expectations knowing their time is valued and appreciated.
Once you know how your parents will be volunteering, it is time to get organized. I use my Classroom Volunteer Forms to keep track of volunteer contact information, preferred volunteer activities, and classroom help provided. I put all of these pages (and my original sign-up sheets) in my teacher binder for quick reference throughout the year. The Volunteer Log is especially helpful towards the end of the year when it is time to write thank you notes and give appreciation gifts. Click here to read about how I thanked my awesome volunteers this year.
Classroom Volunteer Forms also includes at Volunteers at Home directions sheet which has been an absolute life saver for me in my classroom.
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