Six Ways to Effectively Use Classroom Volunteers

Parents are often an untapped resource, offer them a variety of ways to help in your classroom.

By Eliana Osborn

hands raised

I spent my first day as a volunteer helper in my daughter's kindergarten classroom cutting construction paper. Needless to say, it didn't take me long to realize that if I wanted to be an integral part of her school experience for the long-haul, I was going to need to find a volunteer activity that didn't put me to sleep. This experience was a real eye-opener, because as a teacher, I hadn’t realized how much parents want to be involved, comfortable in the classroom, and useful to the teacher. Just like my students, I found that parents' skills, interests, available time, and temperaments varied depending on the individual. This means that a volunteer activity that is perfect for one person, won’t necessarily be a good fit for another person. If you want to get as many people involved as possible, come up with lots of options for helping.

Volunteering Extends Life Expectancy

Research from the American Psychological Association found that people who volunteer live longer—up to four years longer! Consider your classroom needs and see if you can put together a list for parents, grandparents, and community members to help make your year smoother, while allowing them to have a positive volunteering experience. Here are some suggestions to get you thinking about how people with various interests and temperaments can positively contribute to your classroom. 

Ideas to Get You Started

  • Make Copies: Before or after school, the copy machine tends to be very busy. At this time of day, teacher's waste valuable time waiting to use the machine. If someone has just twenty minutes during the school day, they could make copies while the machine isn't in use, thereby offering them a chance to volunteer, while saving the teacher (you) lots of time. 
  • Read to the Class: If anyone can offer you a consistent half an hour during the week, you can schedule them to read to the whole class. This allows you to have a little prep time. Tip: If you can find someone to come for the last 30 minutes of the school day on Fridays, you'll find it makes the end of the week much less crazy. While they read, you can wrap-up those last-minute details, like getting projects, papers, and notes ready to go home. 
  • Set-up for an Event: Do you want to get your room looking nice before a parent meeting, open house, or a science experiment?  Enlist a parent (or a couple of parents) to help. They'll feel useful, and you’ll have gotten someone new involved on campus.
  • Individual Tutoring: So many kids can benefit from a little personal attention.  If you have a parent available during the school day, consider matching her up with a buddy. Maybe they could review math problems together, preview upcoming assignments, or practice speaking English.
  • Organizing: Want a more inviting reading nook? A parent who loves organization or home decorating will embrace the opportunity to make your dreams a reality. Do you have a collection of manipulatives or puzzles that always end up a mess? Perhaps one of your volunteers can come up with a clever organization or storage solution. 
  • Give a Presentation about a Hobby, Job, or Passion: As you start out the school year, try to find out a little about this year's parents. Have kids complete a survey, or send home a short questionnaire. Then, as you plan thematic units or books to read as a class, see if you can bring in a parent with relevant experiences. Not only will it enrich student learning, but it gives parents a chance to contribute to their child's educational experience. 

Additional Volunteer Considerations

Schools need help all year round, not just at the beginning of the year when parents think most about getting involved. A monthly newsletter with ideas for volunteers can garner great results. Also, it is important to remember that parents' schedules change, and someone who was too busy in the fall might have more time available in January. Keep the lines of communication open. Consistently offer ways that a variety of parents from different walks of life can contribute to their child's school success. 

Get Parents and Grandparents Excited to Help

How to Motivate Parental Involvement in the Classroom

Parents may not know they are welcome at school—or how much you’d love to have them.Tap into their love for their children to build motivation.

Start the Year Right

Use back to school night as a chance to get to know parents and set them up to be advocates for their children.