So, the big question is, do you use parent helpers in the classroom or not?
I think it comes down to what you feel comfortable with and what works for your class. It’s important to fully understand the parent volunteers policy for your school before you embark on this path. Personally, the thought of having parents in the classroom while I was teaching, completely and utterly terrified me, to begin with. However, I quickly realised that any help you can get in the classroom is beneficial!
For me, the saying “many hands make light work’ comes to mind! Just having that extra set of hands can make a massive difference.
When parents are involved at school, the performance of all the children at school, not just their own, tends to improve. The more comprehensive and well planned the partnership between the school and home, the higher the student achievement (Henderson and Berla).
Here is a detailed view of how I planned and organised parent helpers in my classroom.
How to Coordinate Parent Helpers in the Classroom
At the beginning of each year, I sent home a letter to the parents of my class. I gave the following options to volunteer with the class:
- reading with children in the mornings
- small group assistance during the day
- art and craft afternoons (once a term – dates given in advance)
- volunteers for excursions.
- assistance with laminating, cutting etc at home.
I never pressured parents to help in the classroom, however, I tried to make sure there was an option for all parents to help at some point in the year.
Prior preparation and planning with parent help in the classroom is a crucial element. Once everything is organised and the parents know what to expect, it’s really not as daunting as it first seems…
Obviously, there are some classroom tasks that are more appropriate for parents than others. Here is an overview of how I utilised parent helpers in the classroom.
Small Group Assistance
During Maths or English rotations, I would have one or two parent helpers in the classroom. The parents that helped with this became used to the routine of who they worked with and how I would run the rotations in my classroom.
I would have prepared a special basket with their names on each, this had all of the resources they needed for the activity their group was working on.
The parent helpers knew to come into the classroom, pick up their basket and wait to the side until I sent their group to them.
I made sure the activity that the parent helpers were working at was a revision of a key concept and a fairly easy activity for the children to do. During the rotation, they would often have two separate groups for 10-15 minutes each.
Here is a list of activity examples:
- writing sight words with chalk just outside the classroom
- playing BINGO
- hands-on activities
- reading a story to the children and completing comprehension questions.
Listening to Children Read
Students reading daily in my classroom was imperative. Having parents come and listen to the children read was a no-brainer for me!
This was often popular with parents who had to go to work during the day but could spend 10 minutes in the morning listening to children read. This again became part of our morning routine. The children came into class and grabbed a storybook from their leveled reading box (this could also be their home readers) and then worked on an activity that I would write on the whiteboard (usually handwriting practice).
The parents would sit just outside my classroom and wait for the children to come to them. It worked really well and the children loved it!
I would usually start with the child of each parent helper first, and then send out other students as they finished.
Art and Craft Afternoons
These afternoons were always heaps of fun! I love crafternoons, so again it was a no-brainer to have parents come and help with the craziness!
There was always a theme… Easter, Space, Seasons…
I would plan 4-5 tables of different crafts and the children were able to go from craft to craft. The parent helpers stayed at the same activity the whole afternoon, this meant I only needed to explain one activity to each of them.
The children would come in after lunch and each craft was explained to both the students and parent helpers.
This was always very popular as the dates were all predetermined and parents were given ample notice to organise time off work if they wished to do that. If I had eight parent helpers, then that meant 2 parent helpers on each activity. The more the merrier!
Sight Words / Number Facts
If I was ever overwhelmed with parent volunteers, this was another fantastic use of time with an extra adult in the room. One afternoon a week, I would have a couple of parents sit one-on-one with a couple of students and revise their very own set of sight words and number facts.
Each student had their own sight word and number fact folder. These folders contained the words or number facts suited to their level of understanding.
I simply used a manilla folder cut in half for each students’ corresponding flashcards. There was also a notes section on the back so parents could let me know how the students went and if I needed to retest them and put them up a level.
Source: Henderson, A.T., and Nancy Berla. 1995. A New Generation of Evidence: The Family Is Critical to Student Achievement. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Education, 14–16.