Why Every Parent Should Volunteer At School

I’ve had a few defining moments at the mother of a school-aged child. Some of them are more typical, like crying as I pulled away from preschool when I dropped my four year old son off for the first time. It was only a two hour separation but it felt like I was sending him off to college.

Then, in the afternoon, I sat in the carpool line like thinking things like Am I in the right place? Is this where I’m supposed to park? When do they bring the kids out? OHMYGOSH I’M SITTING IN A CARPOOL LINE! It was a small moment but one in which I realized I was entering into the journey that many mothers have taken before me. I was sending my baby off to school.

We’ve gone on to kindergarten where there were plenty of tears shed (his and mine) and tackled first grade. And now, we’ve got just a few shorts days of summer left before I officially put my SECOND GRADER on the bus.

When it comes to those defining moments, putting your kids on the bus is definitely one of them. You’re sending them off with somebody else and hope they’ll arrive safely. But the worst part is knowing that you won’t be there to help them off the bus and show them where to go. It’s a small but significant act of letting go.

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That first day of kindergarten seemed like an eternity. I wondered how I could possibly fill so much of my time during the day while he was at school. And how could he possibly bear to be away from me for so long?

I’ll admit it wasn’t easy for either of us to adjust to this new schedule. I hate getting up early in the morning and I hate making lunches. And he just doesn’t like to be told what to do. But after two years of elementary school, we at least know what to expect when school rolls around on Monday. He’ll know his teachers. He’ll know the cafeteria and the gym and the playground and he’ll probably know most of the kids. I’m hoping for a smoother transition.

As for me, I know generally what to expect as well. And I know that next Thursday evening, I’ll be attending Back to School Night where I get to talk to the teachers from a parenting perspective and I’ll also attend that all-important mandatory volunteer training.

In order to volunteer at the school in any capacity that involves working with the children, you have to attend a very brief training that goes over all of the guidelines and appropriateness of working with children. Once you’re training is complete, you can join in on field trips, game club, movie night, or even in the classroom.

It’s that last bit that I recommend every parent commit to, at least once during the school year.

I recognize that many many parents have full time jobs and/or small children at home and/or less than flexible schedules. But I encourage you to find a way to make it work. Take a vacation day. Call in a favor from your neighbors. Get the grandparents to come over. But get in the classroom at least once. Here’s why.

When I pick up Evan from the bus stop and ask him about his day, I get a typical response. The day was fine and nothing really happened. I’m usually pretty content with that answer because he just needs time to unwind. Sometimes, we have a snack and sit together on the couch and he’ll show me his papers. I’ll hear a few stories about the teachers or maybe some of the kids. Then at dinner time when we’re all talking about our day, Evan may offer up something random that happened during the day – good or bad. And we’ll talk about it. But the real magic happens at night.

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When we’re all ready for bed and finished reading a bit, I turn off the lights and turn on some lullabies. I’m convinced there must be some sort of subliminal truth serum in that music because that’s when the real talking starts.

The stories are specific. It’s something that happened with Robert at lunch or something that Sadie said to him in class. Or how the P.E. teacher didn’t see when the other boy cheated. And I listen.

Because I’ve been to the school, I know these kids and I know these teachers. I don’t know them as well as Evan does but it’s frankly pretty easy to spot the class clowns and the troublemakers. And it’s just as easy to see who comes from a difficult home situation. I can give perspective on whatever is going on.

Remember Robert’s mommy just had a new baby so maybe he’s feeling a little left out at home and wants a little more attention at school.

I think Sadie is a little extra sensitive so maybe she thought you were scolding her when you reminded her to pick up her scissors.

Next time you see that boy cheating, tell Mr. T. He’d want to know if maybe someone didn’t fully understand the rules.

Because I’m familiar with the names and faces and even teaching styles, I can talk to Evan on a personal level and he knows I get it. And it makes it easier for me to talk about stories of when I was in school. Honestly, the teachers and kids haven’t really changed much. It’s different faces and names but it’s a lot of the same things we dealt with as kids. For my son, it’s not enough to say, I understand. I went through that when I was a kid because frankly, that doesn’t help him. I have to show him that what worries him on a daily basis matters to me as much as it matters to him.

And the side effect of all this? You’ll also hear about the good stuff too.

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When Evan’s class was doing a play, he was cast as the Cicada Prince and a very cute little girl I’ll call Kayla was cast as Spiderella. When he told me about the casting, he revealed that he acted all mad about having to be the prince but was secretly excited because he knew Kayla was the princess!

By having the smaller, everyday conversations with your kids, especially as they head back to school, you’re laying the groundwork for the big conversations that will inevitably come.

Have you volunteered at your kids’ school? Have you found that it makes it easier to relate to the day to day conversations about school? I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice!

 

As a member of the #TalkEarly parent blogger team, this post is part of a campaign sponsored by Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. All opinions are my own.

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