My first thought is that we need to expand our definition of “parent involvement”. There may have been a time when that meant volunteering in the classroom. That may still work in some schools, but I’d like to think about “involvement” in three different ways: homework, parent education, and volunteering.
HomeworkAs a parent of upcoming third and fifth graders, I can tell you that I have a whole new perspective about homework. As an educator, I was shocked in May when I was more excited about the end of the homework routine than my girls were. It makes me think about parents who don’t have experience with certain math or reading strategies and it’s no wonder the homework isn’t getting done. Sometimes the homework is so difficult for parents to understand that they cannot help their students get it done. Here are a couple thoughts to ponder:
- Think about your community and choose your battles carefully. If you teach in a community where homework is not traditionally done, consider assigning a minimal amount of homework and make it something easy to accomplish. This might be two or three simple math problems or studying a couple spelling words a night. These tasks are easy for parents to understand and can be done in a very short period of time.
- Make sure the homework truly is practice work. Consider doing the first few problems or activities together in class in the hope that students will be able to do it independently at home. We need to make sure that students understand the homework well enough to do it without parent support.
Family ActivitiesHere are a couple thoughts about activities that you might host for your families:
- One of my favorite activities to do with parents was Family Math Night. Once a month (scheduled at the beginning of the year) I held Family Math Night in my classroom. This event was for my students and their parents and was really a lot of fun for all of us. I used the book shown here which made it really simple. I didn’t have to do a lot of searching for activities. All of the activities in this book are high-interest, fun games for parents and students to do together. While we were having fun playing games, we were also doing some parent education because I could model different questions and strategies that parents might use with their students at home. In the section on volunteering, I’ve suggested a way for you to have these games made for you.
- If math is not your favorite subject, consider hosting a Family Reading Night each month. You might begin the evening with a read-aloud so you can model this for parents. After that, you might let students and parents read together. I think about the families who don’t have books at home and know that this would be at least one opportunity for families to enjoy this activity together.
- As we all know, food makes everything better. Consider providing a few snacks to help warm the environment.
- One other fun element is to give away door prizes at these events. The prizes could be as simple as one of the games you’ve had made for Family Math Night or books that you purchase with your book club points. You might also ask your PTA and/or local businesses to donate door prizes.
- Practicing Math Facts – one teacher I know asks for volunteers each day during math to help students practice math facts. She sets it up at the beginning of the year, trains parents the first time they come in, and then it flows very smoothly for the rest of the year. Basically, parents go in , get the Volunteer Basket (with class list, timer, pencil, and flash cards), and then they call each student out for one minute to see how many facts they can get done. She gives math facts quizzes each week so, once the students pass the addition quiz, she makes note on the recording sheet so the parent volunteer will help that student with subtraction. Students love it and parents truly feel like it’s a good use of their time. There is no language barrier with math facts.
- Preparing Materials – teachers need many materials and games prepared and we don’t need to spend our time doing it. Whether parents come in or can make materials at home, regardless of their native language, we can have them make games for us. I can make one example of the game, gather the materials, and the parent can copy what has been done. Parents love to help prepare tools for the classroom.
- Are you still searching for a great way to schedule parent volunteers? One teacher I knew did her scheduling by having you sign up on the calendar outside of her room. This wasn’t very convenient, especially if a parent had a last minute opening and could drop in to volunteer. Instead, consider using an online tool like www.signupgenius.com. This fabulous, free tool is easy to use, allows parents to check the volunteer schedule any time, and even sends them a reminder. Making it easy to sign up and sending a reminder will increase the number of volunteers you have in your classroom.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could get each one of your classroom parents involved in one way or another? I challenge you to set this as a goal for yourself for the upcoming school year. Your students will certainly reap the benefits!
Kelly Bergman is a master of classroom management. In her 22 years as an educator, she has become known as a person who can help educators simplify the teaching process in order to meet high accountability standards and still enjoy this incredible profession. Kelly is also the author of professional resources for educators including Quick Tips: Making the First Six Weeks a Success and a video and guide on 4 Keys to Successful Classroom Management. She will be presenting the keynote address entitled “Joyful Teaching Through Changes and Challenges” at this year's annual NCAEE conference in October. Kelly is being sponsored by Scholastic.