More than ever, schools need volunteers. Whether you pitch in every week, once a month or even help with school projects from home, every hour adds up as education budgets go down.
“Volunteers and adult assistants in classrooms make a huge difference, especially with schools and teachers under so much stress,” says Paddy Eger, a teacher, parent trainer and volunteer. She is the author of “Educating America 101: Strategies for Adult Assistants in K-8 Classrooms” (Tendril Press, 2011).
“With a little training and a handful of strategies, most adults can effectively assist both teachers and students,” Eger says. “Assistants provide the extra hands and help to gather materials, lead small groups, prepare enriching activities and manage day-to-day tasks.”
In more than 20 years as a primary and intermediate grade teacher, Eger has developed many simple strategies enabling volunteers to help without being a distraction. Some examples:
• If you have questions for the teacher, schedule a meeting when students are not in the classroom.
• If the teacher provides materials for an activity, don’t expect him or her to walk you through it. Take time to read the directions and gather supplies days before your classroom visit.
• When helping students, choose your seat wisely. Sit in the middle seat along one side of a rectangular table so you can see all of the students, rather than sitting at one end of the table. It allows you to speak in a softer voice. For round tables, sit so you – not the students – face nearby tables or other distractions.
• Be prepared for a change in plans. Have an activity up your sleeve in case a schedule change means you’ll have less time with the children.
If you’re new to the school-volunteering arena, you can look online for resources and ideas. Project Appleseed, a nonprofit education advocacy group, provides a variety of resources for parents and teachers alike at projectappleseed.org.
Other volunteering tips from parents and teachers:
• Get older children involved in any preparation, and ask for their input on projects. Also, many kids need community-service hours for their middle and high schools. Volunteering in a younger sibling’s classroom could be a way to earn those hours.
• Young children do not want or benefit from a batch of projects to race through. They want experiences and connections. The more individualized the attention from a volunteer, the better the experience and the outcome.